Joe Haldeman is deservedly famous for The Forever War. Until recently, that and its sequels were most of what I knew about him. Unfortunately, the limits on that fame may also be deserved. Reading my second new-to-me Haldeman novel in a few months, I again found myself underimpressed.
Haldeman’s writing style itself is fine. He quickly establishes his lead character, and his prose is simple but effective. The book, despite its nominal structure as a collection of historical documents, is eminently readable, and moves quickly and surely most of the time.
The plot is a different matter. The plot feels constructed of disparate materials, stuck together only thanks to Haldeman’s engaging style. That style falls through at the end, which is essentially infodump-ex-machina, with a small coda to wrap up. Overall, the effect is of a really thoroughly written set of authorial background documents wrapped into a synopsis – as if Haldeman sent a concept package to his agent, who said “Looks great! Listen, why don’t you work on something else, and I’ll try to sell this as is.” It’s disappointing, because the story could and should have been quite a strong one. What we have, however, feels very half-baked, with no great effort put into the resolution. If you really like Haldeman, go to it. Otherwise, there are better uses for limited reading time.