By Geek's Guide To The Galaxy)
Photo: José Manuel Ribeiro Feliú
Joe Haldeman is a leading science fiction author with dozens of novels to his name. He’s also an Army veteran who was drafted to fight in Vietnam, where he was wounded in combat. The theme of war recurs throughout his work, from early novels like The Forever War, an acknowledged classic of the field, to his most recent novel Work Done for Hire, the near-future story of a soldier who returns from war in the Middle East only to find himself ensnared in a deadly game. And though Haldeman has spent a lifetime railing against the folly of war, he’s not optimistic that things will change any time soon.
“I suspect that war will become obsolete only when something worse supercedes it,” says Joe Haldeman in this week’s episode of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I’m thinking in terms of weapons that don’t look like weapons. I’m thinking of ways you could win a war without obviously declaring war in the first place.”
Increasingly sophisticated biological and nanotech weapons are one direction war might go, he says, along with advanced forms of propaganda and mind control that would persuade enemy soldiers to switch sides or compel foreign governments to accede to their rivals’ demands. It’s a prospect he finds chilling.
“One hopes that they’ll never be able to use mind control weapons,” says Haldeman, “because we’re all done for if that happens. I don’t want military people, or political people, to have that type of power over those of us who just get by from day to day.”
Listen to our complete interview with Joe Haldeman in Episode 101 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxypodcast (above), in which he discusses the prospect for compulsory orgies among soldiers, describes the day he became a spandex-wearing hero, and explains why writing a book about his cross-country bicycle trip was a really bad idea. Then stick around after the interview as guest geeks Kat Howard and John Langan join host David Barr Kirtley to discuss our favorite examples of writers as characters in books and film.
Joe Haldeman on female soldiers in The Forever War:
“The guy who edited Analog showed me the file of letters they got about the story. It’s hundreds of letters, and they were mostly about, ‘How dare you think that we could be so inhumane as to make women into combat soldiers?’ And those probably outnumbered by 20 to one the ones that said, ‘Well, this makes sense. Why should men have to do all the fighting and killing?’ Which is basically my own thinking behind it. The subtext is no longer obvious, but when I was fighting in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese did have female combat soldiers, and we thought that was just bizarre. … Of course now women do fly combat missions, and they work hand-in-hand on the battlefield with men, and I think by and large it’s a good thing.”
Joe Haldeman on Ernest Hemingway and macho writers:
“The guys who were 20 years older than me, whom I hung around with in the ’60s and ’70s when I was still a young writer, they were heavily influenced by this hairy-chested Hemingway myth. And we saw it change over the next 20 years, 30 years, into an obvious rejection of masculinist ideals. … You don’t want to be a hairy-chested, overly male writer, because it’s way out of fashion. … Now I think you get more points for being politically concerned — if not correct. … You don’t want to be a jerk. Hemingway was a jerk. I mean he was really a great jerk. He was a good writer and he did all sorts of things that I would never have the courage to do, but I don’t think I’d enjoy being in the same room with him. He’s not my kind of person.”
Kat Howard on the origins of her story “A Life in Fictions”:
“I’d been reading about Queen Elizabeth I, and there were multiple attempts to depose her during her reign. And at one point one of the attempts involved the performance of Shakespeare’s play Richard II, because there’s a scene in that play that involves the deposition of the king. … It’s an apocryphal story but it’s a pretty good one that when Elizabeth heard of this, her response was, ‘I am Richard II. Know ye not that?’ Saying that, ‘Of course I know why they’re putting on this play. They’re trying to show me, oh look, we can do this to the king.’ And it just made me think, ‘Well, what if you really were the character in someone else’s story? What happens?’ … We joke all the time about writers ‘stealing’ things — you borrow somebody’s walk, you borrow somebody’s phrase, you borrow somebody’s personal tics and you put them in your characters. So it’s sort of logical to think, ‘What if those things don’t come back? What if you take them away from the person and they’re just gone? They show up in your fiction and they don’t get to have those things in the real world anymore?’ Which is kind of terrifying. It makes being a muse sound much less enticing.”
John Langan on the origins of his story “Tutorial”:
“I’d sent my second story to a magazine, which rejected it, and the editor sent me a note saying I needed to read Strunk and White. And I just saw red, indignant as only a young, self-important writer can be indignant, and I resolved that I would write this polemical story in which Strunk and White became this instrument of oppression. … Years and years ago, when I was an undergrad, one of the people who was teaching in the creative writing program at my college was notoriously suspect of anything that was not ‘mimetic naturalism,’ as Salman Rushdie calls it. … So ["Tutorial"] is about a guy who has had to deal with that teacher, and has been sent to the tutoring center, and the tutoring center is ultimately revealed to be this infernal collective which is trying very hard to get this guy to write what he’s ‘supposed’ to write. … Don’t write this weird stuff that makes people think or shakes them up. And it feels in retrospect, 10 years later, it feels a little ham-fisted to me. At the same time, I got an email a couple of months ago from a guy who said to me, ‘I just ran across this story and I’ve got to tell you, that was my entire graduate writing experience.’”
The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy is a science fiction/fantasy talk show podcast hosted by John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley. Adams is publisher and editor of Lightspeed Magazine. Kirtley is a fiction writer who teaches at the Alpha science fiction workshop.
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