Dealing in Futures

Another retro-review (with no Nazis), this time from September 18, 2000.

Review: Dealing in Futures, Joe Haldeman, 1985.

Haldeman’s second short story collection has not only science fiction but also horror, poetry, and Haldeman’s only sword-and-sorcery tale.Dealing in Futures

It starts off strong with two stories set in Haldeman’s Confederacion universe, most notably used in his novel All My Sins Remembered. A team of anthropologists are unpleasantly surprised when their seemingly peaceful alien subjects become murderous. Haldeman constructs a grim, suspenseful story from the first person narratives of people fleeing for their lives across an alien world. Much less serious is “A !Tangled Web” about linguistic and cultural confusions during a trade negotiation with aliens. These aliens have an elaborate and hilarious repertoire of self-deprecating phrases.

Haldeman’s prose often has wit and irony in even his most serious novels but that aspect of his work really livens up “Seven and the Stars” despite its worn plot of a science fiction writer meeting a real alien.

Horror of the traditional and supernatural sort is featured in “Manifest Destiny”, an interesting tale mostly set in Mexico during the Mexican-American War, and “Lindsay and the Red City Cross”. The latter is set in the unpleasant, sinister bazaar of Djemaa El Fna in Marrakesh. The story was inspired by an unpleasant trip Haldeman took to Morocco though his luck there was obviously better than his protagonist.

Though inspired by Poe and, in a roundabout way Daniel Keyes’ classic “Flowers for Algernon, “More Than the Sum of His Parts” is high-tech, rather than traditional, horror. The narrator’s body is mostly replaced with cybernetic substitutes which help him realize his egomaniac and increasingly lethal fantasies. Haldeman’s alternate title, “Tom Swift and His Electric Penis” should give you some idea where this story goes. It’s one of the high points of the collection.

Pastiches of other genres show up twice. “Blood Sisters” is a Mickey Spillane type story with the Mafia and clones and, of course, lots of sex and gunplay. “Blood Brothers” is Haldeman’s sole entry into the sword-and-sorcery field. Written for Robert Asprin’s Thieve’s World universe, it’s a minor story about a villainous tavern owner.

For Haldeman fans, the most interesting story will probably be “You Can Never Go Back”. It’s Haldeman’s first draft of the story that eventually became the Sergeant Mandella section of his most celebrated work, The Forever War. It’s not only longer than the novel version but features a violent, more depressing America and different family details for Mandella and Potter. Haldeman likes this version better though he admits that it would have slowed the novel down too much.

Unfortunately, the last two stories in the collection are minor. “No Future in It” is a gimmicky alternate history/time travel story which leaves out the meat of an alternate history story: why things changed. “The Pilot” is about a cyborg starship that gets really annoyed with tv interviewers.

As with his most recent short story collection, None So Blind, Haldeman finishes the book off with some of his accomplished verse, here three science fiction story poems. Each entry in the collection features an introduction and afterword by Haldeman explaining the origins and inspirations of the stories.


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