A SEPARATE WAR AND OTHER STORIES
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright Â© 2006 by Joe Haldeman
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Haldeman, Joe W.
Â Â Â Â Â Â A separate war and other stories / Joe Haldeman.â1st ed.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â p. cm.
Â Â Â Â Â ISBN 978-0-7865-8411-6
Â Â Â Â Â 1. Science fiction, American. I. Title.
Â Â Â Â Â PS3558.A353S47 2006
Â Â Â Â Â 813' .54âdc22
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 2006006120
For my students, MIT and Clarion;
may their ideas be just crazy enough.
The first time I ever met Joe Haldemanâ¦
That's how you're supposed to begin these things, isn't it? With an anecdote about how you first met? But, as is the case with many of my favorite authors, the first time I ever met Joe Haldeman was in the aisles of the public library, where I found his wonderful novel,
The Forever War.
I read science fiction avidly all through my teenage years, beginning with Robert A. Heinlein, so I'd already read
Time for the Stars
and lots and lots of science fiction about faster-than-light travel and futuristic soldiers and intergalactic war.
But I had never read anything like this.
The Forever War
was a riveting adventure story about a threatening and exciting future, the very stuff of science fiction, but it was much more than that. It actually tried to deal with all the complexities, horrors, and paradoxes of war. (Some critics see the book as a rebuttal to
and I definitely think it is, but that's only one aspect of the book.) It was filled with ironyâbecause of the time jumps involved, a soldier could find himself obsolete during the course of a single war, or a single battle, and eternally separated from the things he was ostensibly fighting forâand compassion for the human condition without an ounce of sentimentality.
But it was still unmistakably a science-fiction novel, which used a standard SF deviceâthe relativistic effects of faster-than-light space travelâas a metaphor for the displacement and alienation of soldiers returning to a society with which they can no longer connect. And it was an adult novel, in the best sense of the word, which didn't flinch at harsh realities or harsher conclusions about who and what we are as a species and what sort of universe it is we inhabit.
In short, it was an amazing book, and an unforgettable one. In the years since I first read it, I've thought of it often, most recently when I read about the lack of armor for the soldiers in Iraq. (In
The Forever War
, the “collapsar” time jumps the soldiers make can render their weapons and armor fatally outdated.) More than anything else I've ever read or seen, it gave me insight into the Vietnam War and the experience of the soldiers who were there (Joe was wounded in the war, where he served as a combat engineer). And all wars before and since.
The war novel it most reminded (and reminds) me of is Erich Maria Remarque's
All Quiet on the Western Front
, and that's the highest compliment I can pay it. I fell completely in love with it, immediately read all the Joe Haldeman I could find, and hoped someday I'd be lucky enough to meet him in person.
A few years later I did, and fell in love all over again. This is not always the case. Meeting authors you admire is often disillusioning and sometimes disastrous. But Joe Haldeman was everything his stories had led me to believe he would beâintelligent, thoughtful, charming, and funny.
And gracious. He's nice to everyone, fans and students (he teaches writing at MIT) and fellow writers alike, and there's not an ounce of nasty competitiveness in him. He was wonderful to me the first time I met him (I was awestruck and awkward and, as I recall, gushed something eloquent like, “Oh, gosh, Mr. Haldeman, I love your books!”), and every time since, and I consider myself lucky to be a friend of his. And extraordinarily lucky to have been allowed to present him a richly deserved Nebula Award.
Before I went to Spain the first time, he sent me a list of helpful travel tips, one of which kept me from ordering raw meat (Joe: “
means uncooked”), getting lost (“Always carry a card with the hotel's name and address on it so you can show it to the taxi driver if all else fails”), and generally making an idiot of myself in a foreign country. And everyone who knows him has stories just like that, of considerate things Joe has done.
He's also modest, even though he's one of the most respected and admired writers I know. He has won any number of awards, including the Nebula Award (given by the Science Fiction Writers of America) and the Hugo Award (voted on by the membership of the World Science Fiction Convention), has been president of SFWA, and is one of science fiction's most famous writers. But you'd never know it if you met him.
Joe never touts his own accomplishments, never boasts, never talks about his advances or his sales or his awards. Or his books. Besides
The Forever War
, he's the author of
Tool of the Trade
All My Sins Remembered
, and the acclaimed
series. He's just as famous for his short stories, including “Out of Phase,” the Hugo-winning “Tricentennial,” and the stories in this volume. He's also edited several anthologies, among them,
Study War No more
, and has had a long and distinguished career.
Which is much harder to do than he makes it look. Writing careers tend to be nasty, brutish, and short, and Joe had the additional problem of sudden fame. When
The Forever War
was published, it was instantly recognized as a science-fiction classic. It won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and the Australian Ditmar Award, and ever since has been regarded (and rightly so) as one of the most important and groundbreaking books of the field.
Which it is. If I were asked to rank it, I would put it on a
short list of novels along with Frank Herbert's
Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s
A Canticle for Leibowitz
, and Philip K. Dick's
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
, all of which deal with serious and timeless societal and philosophical issues and which transcend the conventions of the genre at the same time they employ them.
It also catapulted Joe to stardom, with all its attendant difficulties. Writing a classic, especially early in your career, is not necessarily a blessingâlook at J. D. Salinger and Truman Capote. Writers who've risen to sudden prominence frequently fret about “topping” their previous work so much that they work themselves into terminal writer's block. Or turn into pretentious, preening jerks. Or settle into a deadly routine of repeating themselves or writing endless sequels to please readers who want more of the same.
Joe Haldeman hasn't fallen into any of those traps, or, to my knowledge, even given them any thought: He simply writes what he's interested in and passionate about, from Hemingway to poetry to the human condition, and that intensity has resulted in novels and short stories all very different from each other, except in quality. He writes about traditionally science-fictional subjectsâfrom telepathy to orbiting space colonies to black holes to immortalityâbut he employs them in uniquely nontraditional ways to explore what it means to be human in a variety of identity-splintering environments.
My personal favorite is
The Hemingway Hoax
, an eloquent novel about the torments and inescapabilities of the writing life and of life in general. It's beautifully researched and even more beautifully written. It uses a traditional science-fiction trope, the alternate history, which imagines the very different world that would result from a single different action at some point in the past. Alternate history has a long and noble history, beginning with Ward Moore's
Bring the Jubilee
, but it's often used to play shallow historical chess games or advance pet political agendas. But Joe Haldeman uses it to explore all the choices and chances of our lives, and the near impossibility of keeping our footing when the ground continually shifts beneath us.
This attempt to keep one's footing, to find meaning in the world even if it is a world without meaning, and the beyond-difficult task of defining morality in such a world, are what Joe Haldeman's work is all about. His intense belief in that search for meaning permeates everything he writes.
He cares deeply, passionately about his writing, and at the same time is a total professional. He's dedicated to the art and craft of writing. He writes every day, working meticulously to get each sentence absolutely perfect before he goes on to the next. And that devotion to craft, to detail, is what makes his work so good.
All of his work is painstakingly researched, but it's never nitpicking or pedantic. I talked before about
The Hemingway Hoax.
Reading the story, it's obvious Joe knows every single detail there is to know about Hemingway, but it doesn't stop there. He has also made a real effort to understand the man
Every single work of his reflects that same dedication to detail. One of my favorite stories about Joe is the one Sheila Williams, the editor of
Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine
, tells about dealing with Joe and a first-time-out author on the same day. She left phone messages one after the other for both, asking them to check on possible errors in both their stories. The first-time author called back to complain about the arrogance of an editor daring to touch his deathless prose and to whine, “I don't see what difference it makes. The readers will never notice.” (Not true, his mistake was both major and inexcusable.) Multiâaward winner Joe Haldeman, on the other hand, whose error really was minor, complained not at all. Instead, he called back in the late afternoon with his changes and to say he was sorry he'd taken so long to get back to Sheila, but the necessary book had been checked out of his local library, so he'd ridden his bike fifteen miles into the city to the main library to find it. “That's why he's Joe Haldeman,” Sheila says admiringly.
It is. He's a complete professional, from the seemingly minor details of a story to its larger emotional truths, from teaching to signing books for fans (some of whom interrupt him in the middle of dinner), from his stories to his friendships. He'll expend any amount of effort to get it right.
Which is why I still find opening a Joe Haldeman book (like this new collection of short stories) just as exciting as finding
The Forever War
in the library and meeting Joe Haldeman for the first time. I know you will, too. It's a gem. Just like Joe Haldeman.