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Haldeman, Joe

Entry updated 1 May 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1943-    ) US author who took a BS in physics and astronomy before serving as a combat engineer in Vietnam (1968-1969), where he was severely wounded, earning a Purple Heart; later, in 1975, he took an MFA. This range of degrees was an early demonstration of the range of interests that have shaped the Hard SF with which he has sometimes been identified; his experiences in Vietnam have in fact marked everything he has written, including his first book, War Year (1972), a non-sf novel set there, and the concurrently drafted (though much delayed) 1968 (1994).

Haldeman began publishing sf with "Out of Phase" in Galaxy for September 1969, and came to sudden prominence with the critical and popular success of his first sf novel, The Forever War (June 1972-January 1975 Analog; fixup dated 1975 but 1974), opening the Forever series whose description of the life of soldiers in a Future War counterpoints and in some ways rebuts Robert A Heinlein's vision in Starship Troopers (October-November 1959 F&SF as "Starship Soldier"; 1959), clearly treating that difficult novel as a problematic precursor text throughout. In The Forever War interstellar travel is effected by "collapsar jumps", which are subjectively instantaneous but which in fact take many years to accomplish (see Relativity), so that they work as a kind of one-way Time Travel; propelled by this cruel device to temporally distant battle theatres on planet after planet, soldiers are doomed to total alienation from the civilization for which they are fighting, and if they make too large a jump face the risk of coming into battle with antiquated Weapons. Their deracination (see Tale of Circulation) is savage, their camaraderie cynically manipulated. As a portrait of the experience of Vietnam the book is remarkable; as Military SF it is seminal. It won a Ditmar Award, a Nebula and a Hugo; a Graphic-Novel version – comprising The Forever War 1 (graph 1991), The Forever War 2 (graph 1991) and The Forever War Volume 3 (graph 1992), all drawn by Marvano, the pseudonym of Belgian comic artist Mark van Oppen (1953-    ) – is very competent. "You Can Never Go Back" (November 1975 Amazing), published as a kind of coda, is Haldeman's original version of one segment of the novel that had been regarded as too downbeat by Analog; this was reinstated in the 1991 edition [see Checklist].

Two further novels – Forever Peace (1997) and Forever Free (1999) – are linked to The Forever War, though the first of these does not share any other elements than its title. Forever Peace, which won a John W Campbell Memorial Award, a Nebula and a Hugo, introduces, into what has since become a familiar twenty-first world raddled by local conflicts, two transformative Technologies: cyberlinking of humans into collaborative networks so they can better operate semi-animate tank-like Mecha; and a huge advance in Nanotechnology – "nanoforges" capable of transforming almost anything into usable goods. As cyberlinks make humans too empathic to kill one another, and as nanoforges quickly eliminate scarcity, peace becomes inevitable, and reigns. Forever Free, on the other hand, is a direct sequel to The Forever War, dealing with the now objectively ancient (but subjectively middle-aged) soldiers who return to Earth find their species turned into Hive Minds; until they rebel, they are retained as warrants of the past, insuring against errors in Evolution.

Mindbridge (1976), a novel whose narrative techniques are suggested by its dedication to John Dos Passos (1896-1970) and John Brunner, is composed in alternating sequences of straight narration, reportage, excerpts from books (some written long after the events depicted), graphs and other devices. The underlying story itself is a relatively straightforward space epic, with Matter Transmission, Telepathy-inducing "toys" – actually small aquatic animals – abandoned by an extinct race of godlike Aliens, with a chance of Uplift in the offing. All My Sins Remembered (fixup 1977) returns to the existential chaos of Earth, and introduces an enduring model of the Haldeman protagonist: a competent hero whose identity is threatened from without, by the Memory-Edit manipulations of worldly powers, and from within, by the need to make sense of an existence without ultimate meaning. In Haldeman's novels, making sense of things is itself an act of heroism. As his most typical books revolve around this task – and are resolved in its often ambiguous accomplishment – it is not surprising that when he has written sequels they tend to be loosely knit, and work most effectively as comprising linked approaches to thematic issues.

Forever Free aside, there are further series to note, the first being the Worlds sequence comprising Worlds: A Novel of the Near Future (1981), Worlds Apart (1983) and Worlds Enough and Time: The Conclusion of the Worlds Trilogy (1992). These books differ from his typical work in featuring a female protagonist (see Women in SF), and are distinguished by the broad compass of their portrayal of a Near-Future Earth under the threat of nuclear Holocaust, which is soon realized. In the surviving Space Habitats – each a small world representative of a different kind of civilization – some sense must be made of the human enterprise: the relict planet itself must be preserved and, in the third volume, humanity must attempt to reach the stars. The later Carmen Dula sequence comprising Marsbound (2008), Starbound (2010) and Earthbound (2011), assembled as Marsbound; Starbound; Earthbound (omni 2013), whose protagonist is also female, similarly confronts a Near-Future Earth with what may be a terminal challenge: the human exploration of Mars has triggered an alarm, and the Alien civilization monitoring Homo sapiens is only momentarily assuaged by human governments' seemingly mature response to their presence. Indeed, after being gifted by the monitors with free energy (see Power Sources), Earth becomes bellicose, defies the alien demand that we do not yet attempt to exploit space; and is duly quarantined, deprived of modern energy sources, and left to stew. The protagonists escape to Mars.

Haldeman's singletons of the 1980s are only intermittently successful. Tool of the Trade (1987), a Technothriller, repeats in a damagingly affectless manner the themes of earlier books; and Buying Time (1989; vt The Long Habit of Living 1989) weakens a central tale about the purchasing of Immortality by a displeasing failure to address the kind of society in which this might be acceptable, or the kind of human who might pursue the goal. Later novels range through the sf repertoire. The Hemingway Hoax (April 1990 Asimov's; 1990), the magazine version of which won a Nebula as Best Novella, movingly entangles its typical Haldeman protagonist in a complex set of dilemmas (and Alternate Histories) which test to the utmost his capacity to retain moral choice, to remain even approximately whole (see Time Paradox). The Coming (2000) is a character-based meditation on First Contact; Camouflage (2004), which won the James Tiptree Jr Award and a Nebula, follows the Gender-shifting experiences-as-human of an Alien long stranded on Earth; in Old Twentieth (2005), Immortal time travellers (see Time Travel) from the future visit the twentieth century to taste its blood and savagery.

Some of Haldeman's stories, assembled in Infinite Dreams (coll 1979), Dealing in Futures (coll 1985), Vietnam and Other Alien Worlds (coll 1993), None So Blind (coll 1996), which won a Locus Award, and A Separate War and Other Stories (coll 2006), are of less interest than his novels – though "Tricentennial" (July 1976 Analog) and "None So Blind" (November 1994 Asimov's) won Hugos and Locus Awards, and "Graves" (October/November 1992 F&SF) won a Nebula – but sometimes illustrate with clarity the themes which drive them. Throughout his career there has been a sense – not usual in American sf – that Haldeman thinks of his novels as necessary acts in a lifelong enterprise, a moral theatre whose meaning will be defined only when he finishes. It is perhaps for this reason that he is not good at repeating himself, that those books in which he attempts to do so can be less sparkling than his initial take on their central concerns, and that after two decades his readers continue to await each new title – each new act in the drama of his changing understanding of the world – with very substantial interest. In 2010 he received the SFWA Grand Master Award, and he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2012. [JC]

see also: Asimov's Science Fiction; Astounding Science-Fiction; Black Holes; Colonization of Other Worlds; Faster Than Light; Medicine; Poetry; Robert A Heinlein Award; Skylark Award.

Joe William Haldeman

born Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: 9 June 1943




  • The Forever War (New York: St Martin's Press, 1974) [fixup: dated January 1975 but published 1974: Forever: hb/uncredited]
    • The Forever War 1 (New York: Nantier, Beall, and Minoustchine, 1991) with Marvano [graph: rendering of the above, part one of three: a version of this text was published in France in 1988: graphic rendering of part of the above: Forever: pb/Marvano]
    • The Forever War 2 (New York: Nantier, Beall, and Minoustchine, 1991) with Marvano [graphic: rendering of the above, part two of three: Forever: pb/Marvano]
    • The Forever War, Volume 3 (New York: Nantier, Beall, and Minoustchine, 1992) with Marvano [graph: rendering of the above, part three of three: Forever: pb/Marvano]
    • The Forever War (New York: Avon Eos, 1991) [rev of the above, reinstating original second section rejected by and reworked for Analog, separately published as "You Can Never Go Back" (November 1975 Amazing): pb/Dorian Vallejo]
  • Forever Peace (New York: Ace Books, 1997) [Forever: hb/Bruce Jensen]
  • Forever Free (New York: Ace Books, 1999) [Forever: hb/Bruce Jensen]
  • Forever Peace. To Stop War (Upper Montclair, New Jersey: Temporary Culture, 2008) [poem: graph: first appeared as "Endangered Species" in Vanishing Acts (anth 2000) edited by Ellen Datlow: illus/Judith Clute: linked only thematically to Forever: hb/pastepaper over boards by Henry Wessells]

Attar the Merman

Star Trek


Carmen Dula

individual titles

collections and miscellaneous works

works as editor

about the author

  • Joan Gordon. Joe Haldeman (Mercer Island, Washington: The Borgo Press, 1980) [nonfiction: pb/Stephen E Fabian Sr and Stephen Fabian]


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