Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu May 31 18:21:57 EDT 1990

Raymond's Reviews #59

%T Buying Time
%A Joe Haldeman
%I Avon Books
%D June 1990
%O paperback, US$3.95
%P 295
%G 0-380-70439-0

The novel The Forever War won Joe Haldeman a rep as one of the best and gutsiest new writers in SF. Subsequent work including the novels Mindbridge, Tool of The Trade, All My Sins Remembered, and the brilliant anthology Infinite Dreams confirmed his reputation as a first-class prose craftsman unafraid to stretch the limits of the SF genre from inside.

In Buying Time Haldeman gives us the story of Dallas Barr, one of the elite group of `Stilemans' who earn rejuvenation every ten years at the cost of all their worldly goods. As the novel begins he is one hundred and thirty-six years old but still young in mind, an adventurer who routinely takes hair-raising physical risks for fun and disdains the paranoid caution and conservatism of other Stilemans.

When approached by a conspiracy of Stilemans who aim to break the Stileman Clinic's rules against accumulation of wealth and take covert control of the Solar System, he is repelled and rejects the offer. Shortly thereafter he and his Stileman lover Maria are attacked and his best friend Eric Lundley is brutally murdered. The hunt is up; He and Maria and the downloaded `Turing Image' of Eric's mind must somehow escape and expose the assassins of the shadowy `Steering Committee'. And the Committee-controlled media of the System have framed him for his friend's death and painted him as a homicidal psychotic to be shot on sight...

This is of course a fairly conventional running-man plot; it's the characters and scenery that make this novel special, giving it a texture of surprise and suspense and dark humor and authenticity many writers would kill to match. The sequences in the Conch Republic and the asteroid cities of Novysibirsk are particularly well done, depicting cheerful if violent anarcho-capitalist societies that might remind one of L. Neil Smith's books (except that there's no polemic here and the writing is much better). They cause me to suspect that Haldeman's politics might be taking a somewhat libertarian turn lately (I wouldn't mind living in Conch or Novysibirsk myself).

Haldeman's gift for the telling detail and humorous throwaway line is in evidence here (this is the same man who wrote A !Tangled Web, the story that added "All die! Oh, the embarrassment..." to the SF fan's phraseology). The cross-eyes in Big Dick Goodwin's signature (p. 163) and the menu list on the window of the Novosibirsk brothel ("Liability release required, pervert!") are worth the price of the book by themselves, in context.

This book doesn't quite meet the ground-breaking, Hugo-quality standard of Haldeman's earlier work -- but then, I don't think it was meant to. I think Haldeman was basically having fun when he wrote this one -- and I think you'll have fun reading it. One Raymond's Reviews Black Flag award for Every-Which-Way-But-Loose Anarchobackground, and my respect to the author for having enough other good ideas not to obsess on it. Enjoy!

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu May 31 18:21:57 EDT 1990

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>