Friday night I saw Joe Haldeman speak at UMass. Haldeman is a seminal science fiction writer, and far and away my favorite author. His sentences are cut gems, hewn from important ideas and then reduced to glittering concision. He said he only spends about three hours a day writing.
Haldeman’s most important (and most widely read) book is The Forever War. It’s been billed by some as a play-by-play rebuttal of Heinlein’s militaristic Starship Troopers, but Haldeman said on Friday night that’s not true. The book is a staggering indictment of war. The main characters are draftees, compelled to fight a war against an incomprehensible enemy on the other side of the galaxy. The relativistic effects of their almost-as-fast-as-light travel mean that when they return to earth, centuries have passed, though to them it’s only been months. Everything has changed. Everyone they knew is dead; their former home is as alien as things they’d been trying to kill.
The book is really about Vietnam, and the profound sense of displacement many servicemen felt upon returning from that war. Haldeman served, but not willingly. He was drafted. He told the audience that he was a pacifist then and that he’s one now.
I spent a blissful fifteen minutes talking to Haldeman after he gave his remarks, and he signed my copy of Starbound, his most recent book. I don’t go all fanboy very often, but in this case I made an exception.