The Best of Joe Haldeman
by Joe Haldeman
Edited by Jonathan Strahan
Cover Artist: Lee Moyer
Review by Benjamin Wald
Subterranean Trade Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596065260
Date: 31 March 2013 List Price $45.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Joe Haldeman has made his formidable reputation as a hard science fiction author, combining knowledge of science with sparse yet elegant prose and an excellent grasp of what makes people tick. The Best of Joe Haldeman showcases his range, with stories from science fiction to horror, tongue in check comedy to deeply serious meditations on mortality, and from short big idea stories to lengthy investigation of character and setting. Haldeman is a compulsively readable author; even the stories I was less fond of were never less than engaging. Haldeman is clearly a major talent, and this collection showcases his strengths.
Haldeman is probably most famous for his depictions of war, and that side of him is well represented here. The collection starts off with the story “Heroes”, which forms the first chapter of his Hugo and Nebula winning masterpiece The Forever War. It's a good story, and stands up well on its own, although I couldn't help but think, after having read the full novel, that it suffers a bit without the broader context of the novel. "The Monster" and "Graves" both deal with the Vietnam war more directly, in the mode of horror instead of SF. Both are excellent, drawing on the authors first hand experience of the war to great effect.
My favourite stories in the collection are the longer novellas. "The Hemingway Hoax", "For White Hill", and "Different Seasons" all give Haldeman the space to really flesh out his characters, which allows him to showcase his ability to get inside his characters' heads. The longer format also allows Haldeman to develop his themes with more subtlety, making for emotional and haunting stories.
Not every story is a hit for me. I found "Mars Girl" suffered from the flaws of too many YA-aimed stories, with a voice that came across as thin and inauthentic and a plot that moves too quickly for me to get my bearings on the events as they occur. Some of the earlier stories, such as "Tricentennial" or "Blood Sisters" feel a bit pulpier as well, not holding up as well compared to the greater sophistication of his later works. Still, even these misfires were readable, and overall the collection has far more hits then misses.
Haldeman is a hugely talented author, as this collection amply demonstrates. For a writer best known for hard SF military writings, this collection also shows how multitalented he is. He can write horror and period-fantasy every bit as deftly as SF, and can evoke the life of a soldier and the life of a contemplative artist with equal verisimilitude. This collection is an excellent opportunity to revisit Haldeman's work, or discover it for the first time.