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Vietnam & Other Alien Worlds by Joe Haldeman

Vietnam & Other Alien Worlds

by Joe Haldeman

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My reactions to reading this collection in 2004.

“Introduction” -- Introduction with brief notes on all the contents of this novel. The fiction is all the short fiction set in Haldeman’s Confederación universe which is also the setting of one of my favorite Haldeman novels, All My Sins Remembered and There Is No Darkness (aka Starschool) written by the Haldeman brothers. Haldeman throws in some essays and journalisms not printed elsewhere and then some story poems which he sees as an attempt to revive public interest in poetry by presenting work that is “more interesting”. Haldeman has said once that, if he could, he would make his living as a poet. He takes his poetry seriously and warns the book will explode in flames if the poetry isn’t read.

“Passages” -- This is the second time I’ve read this story, and I didn’t have much of a reaction to it beyond noting that it belongs to the old, pulp-sf subgenre of (as a couple of anthologies were titled) men hunting things and things hunting men. I did wonder, in the context of this being a Confederación story, if we’re ever going to again see the Obelobelians given that they’re a telepathic, highly advanced race that outwardly appears to be stone age primitives but has (or had) access to space travel given that their chemistry is alien to the planet they live on. (One wonders how, biochemically, they get food from the planet, but Haldeman doesn’t go into that.) The balaseli initiation test is reminiscent of the initiation Paul Atreides undergoes at the beginning of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Haldeman, as a self-described pacificist and war veteran, has long had an interest in the questions surrounding violence, and I think that is a main source of the ending of this story where the protagonist (unlike Raj) survives by embracing the full, passive acceptance of his Buddhist philosophy. Haldeman, in the introduction to this collection, notes that this story shares a common character -- Dr. Avedon, a xenologist -- with a story in his fixup All My Sins Remembered which takes place about a year later than this story according to him.

“A !Tangled Web” -- This is at least the third time I’ve read this story, and I enjoyed it the third time around as much. It does give you some sense of the economic background of the Confederación, but then Haldeman doesn’t seem to interested in providing a detailed future history. The Confederación universe is just there to provide a colorful background for human interaction with a lot of aliens. Here that interaction, at least for the narrator, works out pretty well-- though in “Passages” and All My Sins Remembered the human alien interaction is, at least sometimes, benevolent.

“Seasons” -- This is the second time I’ve read this story, and I think it still works as an adventure story. However, I noted, this time, a flaw I don’t think I noticed the first time. When you aren’t swept up by the initial impressions of the story, you notice the contrivance of Haldeman’s narrative structure (of course all stories are contrivances but you usually aren’t supposed to notice, and I don’t think that Haldeman intended to call attention to his technique). The tale is composed of several first person viewpoints (which is an unusual device in sf) that are edited together from reminisces spoken into recorders surgically implanted into teeth. The accounts are edited together so that the account of fleeing the Plathys is related in chronologically order. That’s fine. The contrivance comes in when this conceit still allows appropriate background exposition to be conveniently accomplished with little redundancy and relevant timing.

“The Mazel Tov Revolution” -- Like "A !Tangled Web", this is a deliberately humorous story that tells something of the economic background (domination by the Hartford company which owns the monopoly to stardrive technology) of the Confederación. It seems to describe the beginning of the end for the Confederación since it and Hartford are described as the twin pillars of man's interstellar society, and the story details how Hartford is bankrupted by the schemes of Chaim Itzkhok. Once Hartford is bankrupted, the Confederación disappears because its number one taxpayer is dead. Anarchy descends on man's interstellar civilization, anarchy which Itzkhok plans for and welcomes as a needed change.

"Vietnam and Other Alien Worlds" -- Interesting essay about Haldeman's military experience as a combat engineer in Vietnam. It's built around a sf convention speech he gave. The alien worlds are Vietnam, combat, recovering from severe wounds over five months, and the problems of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Haldeman notes that you don't stop being a soldier when you take off the uniform and that elements of his war experience led (this is a 1992 essay) to his novels: War Year, The Forever War, All My Sins Remembered ("guilt associated with socially condoned murder"), Worlds and Worlds Apart (themes of "stress and survival"), and, of course, 1968 which is most directly about his Vietnam experience.

"Not Being There" -- I was unaware that Haldeman had a past of journalism. This piece talks briefly about his space journalism and was a post-Challenger disaster story commissioned for Rolling Stone. Haldeman is a smart man and a good fiction writer and poet, but he is politically naive and inconsistent. He takes Ronald Reagan to task, complete with a brief swipe at his Nicaraguan policy, for his appointment of James Fletcher to head NASA, yet, while mentioning it, he doesn't seem as angry at the other politicians' -- Presidents back to Lyndon Johnson and Congress -- bad space policy. I don't agree with him that the benefit of the space program is to foster the internationalism (it doesn't seem to work well these days) needed to save an Earth threatened by resource depletion. He also criticizes the Strategic Defense Initiative in a gratuitously liberal 1980s kind of way. Jerry Pournelle is certainly a critic of NASA but also is pro SDI.

"Confessions of a Space Junkie" -- Another essay taken from a sf convention address he gave. The date is listed as being from June 1981, and the essay is a history of the United States space program and Haldeman's personal enthusiasm for it.

"War Stories" -- This essay had its genesis as a review of several books about Vietnam by Vietnam War veteran Haldeman. The most interesting thing, and Haldeman doesn't really give his explanation (if he has one) as to why this is so, about this essay is how many combat veterans of Vietnam -- and those who obsessively studied the war so they could fake being veterans (a species that has been better documented since this collection came out) -- are intent on claiming they committed atrocities in the war (John Kerry comes to mind as a famous example) when, in Haldeman's experience, very little of that took place in his unit.

"Photographs and Memories" -- A not very successful linking of the power and intent of notorious photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and Civil War photographer Matthew Brady. (Haldeman makes the unconvincing -- though, in the early days of AIDS when its cause was unknown, more convincing when this was written -- comparison of death by AIDS and death in combat. Haldeman does make the valid point that art can be pornographic and serious which is true. I have no doubt that Mapplethorpe was an accomplished artist -- when not showcasing his erotic obsessions. ( )
  RandyStafford | Mar 20, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joe Haldemanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kidd, TomCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0915368528, Hardcover)

Includes four Confederacion stories, five essays, and several poems. Color dustjacket art by Tom Kidd.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:20 -0400)

An engaging tour through the work and life of one of America's great science fiction writers Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author Joe Haldeman burst onto the literary scene with the hugely popular novel The Forever War, but his career also took off on the strength of his short fiction. This brilliant collection brings together examples of his science fiction as well as his writing on Vietnam-and reveals the inexorable connections between the two. The works included in Vietnam and Other Alien Worlds are united by its title essay, in which Haldeman explains how his past informs his envisioned futures. One of these futures is a grouping of four stories from the Confederacin universe, which includes his novels All My Sins Remembered and There Is No Darkness. An anthropological expedition goes awry as a research team's subjects become murderous, and trade negotiations fall apart, comically lost in translation. The collection closes with one of Haldeman's most affective works about Vietnam-the moving narrative poem "DX." Vietnam and Other Alien Worlds proves to be an anthology as versatile and multifaceted as the author who wrote it. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Joe Haldeman including rare images from the author's personal collection.… (more)

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