All reviews copyright 1984-2011 Evelyn C. Leeper.
THE ACCIDENTAL TIME MACHINE by Joe Haldeman:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/05/2007]
THE ACCIDENTAL TIME MACHINE by Joe Haldeman (ISBN-13 978-0-441-01499-6, ISBN-10 0-441-01499-2) is a return to classic science fiction themes. Matt Fuller accidentally builds a time machine that jumps forward into the future. But each time the button is pushed, the time jump is twelve times greater than the previous one. This is very reminiscent of H. G. Wells's Time Traveler stopping at various points, except that Fuller has no control over when he will stop. The only problem is the end, which seems a trifle contrived, but in spite of this I would recommend this to all of you who miss the good old stuff.
To order The Accidental Time Machine from amazon.com, click here.
FOREVER PEACE by Joe Haldeman (Ace, ISBN 0-441-00406-7, 1997, 326pp, hardback):
One, this is not a sequel to The Forever War. Two, the title of this is Forever Peace, not The Forever Peace.
Haldeman has claimed that Forever Peace is part of a triptych of thematically connected novels containing The Forever War and 1968. This is true, but only to the extent that they are all about war and what makes us fight and kill each other. And while the idea of Forever Peace is that there may be a way to end the killing, most of it is devoted to descriptions of battles and attacks and killing.
One problem is that the pacing is off. We spend half the novel following Julian Class, the operator of a "soldierboy"--basically a remote-controlled robot soldier. Then suddenly within a few pages, we find out that there is something happening that can destroy the universe, and that there is a way to convert humanity to a non-aggressive state. Another problem is that while the first plot twist is moderately believable, the second I found completely unconvincing. All the problems that are introduced are solved with a wave of the hand. It's as if we have a solution to world hunger that involves getting to Proxima Centauri in an hour, and then on the next page someone says, "Oh, by the way, we just discovered how to travel faster than light." (And while we're at it, Haldeman also postulates the miracle of nanotechnology, which can provide for all material needs.) Another problem (at least for me) was the foreshadowing, where you would read some first-person narrative from Julian, and then a third-person omniscient would break in to say, "But Julian had no way of knowing how wrong he was," or some such.
But Forever Peace is still worth reading. Haldeman is at his best when he is describing everyday life in the "permanent war footing" of the future, with all its restrictions and "acceptable" dangers. If The Forever War was the Vietnam War transposed to the future, then Forever Peace is Nicaragua, Kuwait, and Oklahoma City. It's a world full of security precautions that don't work, but which are followed because they make people feel better. (Exactly what purpose does showing a picture ID serve when you fly somewhere now?) It's a world of elaborate rules of friendship based on who gets paid what, and when, and how. (And haven't you heard of someone picking up a dinner check by explaining that they can claim it as a business expense?) One of the aspects of science fiction I like is the way it looks at the near-future and consequences of our current politico-economic situation. Had Haldeman just written about nanotechnology and the war between the haves and the have-nots, it would have been far more satisfying. As it was, there was too much going on here for any one thread to be given sufficient space.
As I said, I think Forever Peace is worth reading, though not for the plot so much as for the setting. The obvious comparison will be to The Forever War, and it doesn't stand up to that--but then, that is very high standard.
To order Forever Peace from amazon.com, click here.
"Four Short Novels" by Joe Haldeman:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/09/2004]
"Four Short Novels" by Joe Haldeman is really four connected riffs on immortality, each linked with a classic title from literature. (I have forgiven F&SF for describing this in the previous issue as being "four short novels by Joe Haldeman", implying a rather thicker issue than either usual or delivered.) You could think of them as short-shorts, but they do relate to each other such that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.