Fiction Reviews

A Separate War and Other Stories

(2006, reprint 2008) Joe Haldeman, Ace, £7.99/Aus$20.95/Can$10.99 / US$7.99, pbk, xvi + 295pp, ISBN 978-0-441-01517-7

This collection of shorts is from the author of the 'must read' SF classic The Forever War (1974) and indeed this collection's title story – 'A Separate War' – is Forever War's sequel the plot of which takes place betweenForever War and its follow-up novel Forever free (1999). It sees Madella's girlfriend and comrade-in-arms, Marygay Potter, on rest and recuperation before they are ordered their separate ways to go off on different missions against the Taurans. The story is told from Marygay's perspective. If only for this story alone, this collection is worth it as an addendum to one of SF's landmark novels.

The other stories are a mix, but there is some good stuff in there too, though it has to be said that from this showing Haldeman is a much better SF novelist than a short story teller, as a few of the shorts are decidedly average.

'Diminished Chord': a musician gets an old instrument whose affect is magical… Not the strongest story in this collection with an all too predictable payoff even withstanding the short story format.

'Giza'. Creating a new species for zero gravity work is all well and good… Until, that is, they want independence.

'Foreclosure'. A 'real estate' agent gets a strange visitor whose interest concerns the entire planet and our species… This story is the sort of thing I used to read with great enjoyment back in the 1970s and '80s from writers like Bob Sheckley. Good to see this sort of thing still cropping up.

'Four Short Novels'. A short story that is comprised of four stories that each begin with the words: 'Eventually it came to pass that no none had to die…' This is the sort of prose that might arise out of a writers' class exercise. Here Joe Haldeman does it very well, giving the reader four short but very different bursts of sense of wonder all beginning with the same line.

'For White Hill. Artists visit Earth in the far distant future.

'Finding my Shadow'. A team track infected humans in the quarantined and decaying Boston… At least that is what everyone is told… A neat conspiracy yarn.

'Civil Disobedience'. In a global-warmed world, it does not pay to cross the authorities… This story is as much about the description of the story's world as it is about the story's end.

'Memento Mori'. A very short story of life and death in the future… I do not want to spoil this one for you but half way through this three-pager the set up you thought was happening all changes… This one is a tad better than the two similar-sized stories we get later in this collection that originally was published as part of the Nature 'Futures' series of very short stories.

'Faces'. A two person exploration team on a newly colonised world come across some strange structures… A good dollop of sense-of-wonder.

'Heatwired'. A wife seeks to re-ignite the fire in her marriage and so seeks pharmaceutical help… This is one of the two stories in this collection originally published in the Nature 'Futures' series of very short stories.

'Brochure'. In the far future, uninhabitable Old Earth is given a new lease of life as a mega-theme park enabling visitors to re-live key moments in its history… This is the second of the two stories in this collection originally published in the Nature 'Futures' series of very short stories.

'Out of Phase'. Even advanced extraterrestrial young have to learn about life. This is the first of two very entertaining connected stories. (It turns out that this was the first story Joe Haldeman wrote in an SF writing course he took when at university and which was subsequently published in Galaxy in 1964.)

'Power Complex'. Our advanced extraterrestrial from the preceding story is now President of the US… and still has a lot to learn.

'Fantasy for Six Electrodes and One Adrenaline Drip: A Play in the Form of a Feelie Script'. The planet's ultra-wealthy gather for a party, but one of their number is out to assassinate another… If you like your stories written in play format then this could do it for you.

So what we have with this collection is a mixed bag. There is some good stuff in there, some average, and for my taste a couple I could easily have passed over. However you may disagree with my own personal tastes. However with more hits than misses and the follow-up to one of SF classics (not to mention that these short stories are by a great SF novelist) then this collection is for the seasoned SF reader most certainly one well worth getting. Meanwhile readers whose explorations of SF are just beginning then I would recommend checking out The Forever War and some of his other novels as it is in the longer form of writing that this author truly excels.

Jonathan Cowie

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