by Joe Haldeman
ACE Hardcover: ISBN 0441009778 PubDate Dec 02
Review by Paul Giguere
240 pages List price $22.95
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Joe Haldeman writes novels about journeys… journeys of the heart, journeys of the mind, and even journeys through time itself. His latest novel, Guardian, takes us on a journey of destiny. Rosa Tolliver is a young woman living in the time of the Civil War who finds herself on the run from Sherman’s March. Her flight to safety takes her to Philadelphia to live with relatives after the death of her parents. There she meets a handsome business man whom she eventually marries (though not for love) and has a son, Daniel. Years later, Rosa flees with Daniel, now 14 years old, when she discovers that her husband is abusing their son. On the run, the pair begin a trek that will eventually take them to Alaska’s Yukon Territory during the height of the gold rush in the hope of securing their independence and freedom from the past.
Throughout this journey across 19th century America, Rosa and Daniel some spend time in various towns (soon to become cities). Rosa’s destiny is continuously prodded along by a mysterious raven who gives her warnings that help stave off her husband (who is in hot pursuit of the pair). Along the way, there are many hints of the destiny that await Rosa and Daniel as they continue their journey, a destiny that will eventually effect the whole world and many generations to come.
Most of Guardian reads like a work of historical fiction and with the exception of the fantastical elements, it could have been a mainstream novel next to the likes of Shreve’s Fortune’s Rocks and Allende’s Daughter of Fortune. The descriptions of the of 19th century West are highly evocative and the characters are well drawn. Haldeman’s vivid and descriptive passages evoke a feeling for what life must of really been like for people seeking their fortunes in the gold fields of the Yukon (the description of the sounds made by the rock-crushing machines was palpable and is something I won’t soon forget).
The problem with Guardian is that when the fantastical elements started to really come to light in the novel (actually towards the end), I found myself viewing those elements as an intrusion into a fascinating story of a woman who is setting her own course in life in a time when many women didn’t. This intrusion, and the truths that are revealed, somehow make Rosa and Daniel’s destiny somewhat less than what it could have been without the fantasy elements.
The novel however is saved because of the skill and mastery of Haldeman who manages to bring all of the elements together in a satisfying manner. I still can’t help but think what this novel would have been like if it had not been written as a work of science fiction and rather, had been written and released as a mainstream novel. Haldeman is definitely up to the task of taking on many of the mainstream literary writers who we constantly see on bestseller lists. The science fiction-reading public should simply consider itself very fortunate that Haldeman has chosen the science fiction genre to set his stories in.