Other worlds, other times, but still human

Review Science Fiction

September 24, 2006|By John Coffren

A Separate War and Other Stories

By Joe Haldeman

Ace Books / 269 pages / $23.95

Don't believe the dust-jacket hokum about "a journey through a writer's growth" story by story like a time-elapsed film of a rose from bud to bloom.

Growth implies that some entries, presumably early works, are less defined, more rough-edged than others. But readers will be hard-pressed to find a sub-par effort by science-fiction master Joe Haldeman in A Separate War and Other Stories.

And two of the longer pieces, "A Separate War" and "For White Hill," sing above the rest.

The title story reads like a lost chapter of Haldeman's classic The Forever War (1974). The focus shifts from the novel's protagonist, Maj. William Mandella, to his paramour, Capt. Marygay Potter, but the backdrop of the thousand-year human/Tauran conflict and accompanying social upheavals remains the same.

After losing her true love, Mandella, to relativity (he gets whisked centuries and light-years away to fight on Sade-138), Potter leads an assault on Aleph-10, "the Elephant," an enemy stronghold. Between collapsar jumps (time travel in a spaceship) she goes with the flow and falls in love with another woman, fellow soldier Cat Verdur.

Future humans wholly embrace homosexuality, produce progeny artificially and view heterosexuality as an anarchistic throwback. The romance comes off as believable, and everyone gets caught up in the remorseless wheels of time.

In "For White Hill," a group of off-world humans returns to a biologically ravaged Earth as part of an artistic contest to make sense of what has become of the mother planet. The narrator and the sexy, enigmatic White Hill find love and mortality among the devastation.

Other standouts include "Faces," where two human explorers are drawn deep into the alien wastelands of Lalande by the siren call of ancient ruins. "Finding My Shadow" depicts a plague-ravaged future Boston as a police officer enters the quarantine zone in search of love and uncovers a conspiracy. An indictment of the current administration, "Civil Disobedience," first appeared in the anthology Future Washington.

Unlike some other writers of hard science fiction who are too busy trying to wow readers with their knowledge of applied physics or molecular biology to be bothered with such trivialities as plot and character, Haldeman never forgets that even in science fiction it's all about us humans.

John Coffren is an editorial assistant at The Sun. His latest story, "Gone Native," appears in "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 9" (Pocket Books).

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