Joe Haldeman is one of my favourite authors. His science fiction is some of the best I’ve read, and I try and read everything he publishes. He writes primarily fiction, and usually science fiction. This book is good, but not one of his best.
The protagonist, Jack Daley, is a war veteran, as is Haldeman (Vietnam), and since writers are suggested to stick with what they know, he does that. Haldeman has a nuanced talent for putting the reader in a particular place, time, and space, and describing it so as to make it almost real – and he continues that here. An unusual package he receives forces the lead character and his significant other into some rather unique situations, and they’re forced to travel quite a bit of the US in order to get out of them. There is also science fiction horror story within the story – Daley, who is an author himself, is writing a novella during the unfolding of his story, and that story is science fiction horror. That sub-story has the intriguing mini-plot in which we’re not sure if that protagonist is an alien or human. It’s a well-layered if unusual plot device that does help to keep you engaged.
The moral hazard facing Jack Daley is the question of whether he’ll kill someone to save his girlfriend. As a sniper in the army, he had obviously killed before, but he struggles throughout the story with the concept of whether he can kill again, and for what reasons. This question is never successfully resolved. There are events at the ending which provide suggestions, but since he is forced into those it doesn’t satisfactorily address his quandary.
The ending feels a bit rush and is somewhat anti-climactic. As I was reading this book on my kindle, I got to 97% finished and the characters were still embroiled in their various adventures, so I presumed that there would be a straightforward resolution. This is hinted at throughout the book, as the characters themselves often wonder how the situation they’re in could have been created, and Occam (with his razor) takes centre stage at the finish.
With his usual great writing, and a satisfying-if-not-entirely-enjoyable ending to the book, the best analogy I can use for the experience of reading it is when you’ve had a good meal but the dessert was disappointing! It’s not something that would prevent you from going back to that restaurant, but you’ll definitely hope for a better ending next time.