Stories by Joe Haldeman are always a good things and Subterranean Press has recently put out this “Best of” collection edited by Jonathan Strahan. The hardcover book has 504 pages and includes a general introduction by Joe Haldeman and 19 of his stories. Each story also has a short introduction which reveals some insight into its crafting — perhaps where the idea came from, or some trouble he had writing or placing it, or how he did his research, or his interactions with his agent or editor. I’m not a writer, but I always find these author introductions interesting.
The stories are, in order:
- “Hero” — (1972) This is the opening of Haldeman’s best-known novel, The Forever War, which I loved. I skipped this story since I’d read it before (it takes up about 50 pages in this collection). “Hero” will give readers a sense of what to expect if they haven’t read the novel, but in my opinion the novel only gets better after “The Hero,” so this story works better as an introduction to the novel rather than a representative sample.
- “Anniversary Project” — (1975) Humans from a million years in the future capture two humans from 1951 in their timecasting net. They want the old humans to help them analyze the ancient languages of humanity. This speculative story takes a look at how alien we might be in a million years. It’s an interesting and depressing study of the structure of communication, literature, and time.
- “Tricentennial” — (1976) It’s American’s 300th birthday and the world is launching the exploratory spaceship Daedalus. This story is about the end and beginning of the human race and I felt so conflicted after I finished. It’s depressing, yet hopeful. It’s going to stick with me. “Tricentennial” won a Hugo award.
- “Blood Sisters” — (1979) This is a fun story with sailboats, explosions, and beautiful naked female clones. I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was published in Playboy. “Blood Sisters” is fluffy (like the bunnies) but fun (also like the bunnies, I guess.)
- “Lindsay and the Red City Blues” — (1980) A salesman spends a few days in Marrakesh. This story is incredibly evocative. I felt like I was there. But after reading this story, I don’t think I ever want to go to Marrakesh.
- “Manifest Destiny” — (1983) This one tells the story of the Mexican-American war from the perspective of an American youth who’s acting as a spy. I was impressed with the authentic feeling voice. “Manifest Destiny” has only the slightest fantastical element.
- “More Than the Sum of His Parts” — (1985) After an industrial accident, Dr. Wilson Cheetham, an engineer, is now half-cyborg and is writing a journal to chronicle his rehabilitation. It’s fascinating to watch him gradually lose his humanity. The introduction to this story is interesting, too. Haldeman reports that it began as a sample for one of his writing class’s assignments. (Haldeman teaches writing at MIT.)
- “Seasons” — (1985) A 12-person xenological expedition moves along successfully for months, then suddenly goes very wrong. We meet the survivors as they’re trying to get back to base camp. I couldn’t put this down.
- “The Monster” — (1986) A black Vietnam veteran explains what really happened to the fellow soldiers he was accused of killing. This is another of Haldeman’s experiments with voice and it’s effective.
- “The Hemingway Hoax” — (1990) A scholar of Ernest Hemingway vacations in Key West and is tempted by a conman to forge one of Hemingway’s lost works. I’ve reviewed this novella previously. “The Hemingway Hoax,” which takes up about 90 pages, is the longest story in the collection. It won a Hugo and Nebula award.
- “Graves” — (1992) This creepy story was inspired by a macabre incident Haldeman witnessed when he was a soldier in Vietnam. It’s about the army guys who work in “Graves” — the ones who deal with the dead bodies that come off the battlefield. “Graves” won a Nebula and World Fantasy Award.
- “None So Blind” — (1994) About half of the human cortex is devoted to visual processing. So what happens if you free it up to do something else? The story is fascinating. Haldeman’s premise that blind people aren’t using the visual cortex is not correct, but it’s still a really cool thought exercise. “None So Blind” won a Hugo Award.
- “For White Hill” — (1995) Artists from other planets are touring a ruined Earth to get inspiration for a project. When they get trapped on Earth by the planet’s imminent doom, one of the artists pens the last love story written on Earth. “For White Hill,” which features a woman who plugs into people’s brains to deliver therapy, illustrates one of the things I like about Joe Haldeman’s work. For Haldeman, it’s not space that’s the final frontier. It’s the human brain. The narrator says about the therapist: “I’d been to three times as many worlds as she. But she had been to stranger places.”
- “Civil Disobedience” — (2005) Continuing with the destruction of the Earth theme, this very short story was inspired by warnings of flooding from global warming.
- “Four Short Novels” — (2003) These four amusing stories each tell of life in the year 3001. Each is only a couple of pages long and begins with the phrase “Eventually it came to pass that no one ever had to die…”
- “Angel of Light” — (2005) I loved this story about a future where Islam and Christianity have merged into “Chrislam.” Our protagonist is a fundamentalist who has discovered an old pulp magazine in his cellar (it’s the issue shown here). He proceeds to analyze it through his Chrislam lens (with comments such as “I don’t think the artist was a good Muslim) and then tries to get rid of it.
- “The Mars Girl” — (2006) Joe Haldeman was asked to write a Heinlein Juvenile in a modern adult style, so this novella is his spin on Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars. It’s more risqué than a Heinlein Juvenile and it’s lots of fun.
- “Sleeping Dogs” — (2010) This is another story that must be inspired by Haldeman’s experiences in Vietnam. The protagonist, who is now out of the military, tries to recover the memories of a war he once fought on another planet. But maybe he should have let sleeping dogs lie?
- “Complete Sentence” — (2011) Another fascinating thought experiment. Could we punish criminals with virtual reality? In this story a convicted murderer can complete his life sentence in only one night.
All of the stories in The Best of Joe Haldeman are reprints, so some fans may already own many of them. Those who don’t however, will appreciate this collection. The Best of Joe Haldeman is a diverse set of stories that demonstrate the author’s versatility and mastery of the short form. For readers who aren’t familiar with his work, this collection is a great way to get to know Joe Haldeman.