Haldeman’s first novel under his own name1, a fix-up titled The Forever War, won a Hugo, a Nebula, a Ditmar, and a Locus. There’s something to said for not winning that many awards the first time out, because it’s hard to go anywhere but down from such initial success. After that, a single Hugo nomination (something that would normally seem a boast-worthy success — assuming, of course, that this did not result from inclusion on a Puppy slate) will seem like a comparative failure.
Which brings us to Joe Haldeman’s 1976 standalone Mindbridge, his second novel as Haldeman.
By the mid-21 century, Earth is a garden world, an artificial Eden for eleven billion humans. This idyll is dependent on complex technology, and on the solar power that drives that technology. If anything were to disrupt the system, billions would die.
The Levant-Meyer Translation (LMT) providentially offers humanity an off-site back-up. But there’s a catch. Several catches, in fact.
LMT can teleport cargoes to the surface of distant worlds, as long as those worlds are no closer to the originating LMT device than about nine light years. Energy constraints limit the range to roughly one hundred light years. So, minimum and maximum distances. An additional catch is that translated objects remain on the target worlds for a limited time, after which the objects revert to their original location2. Humans have figured out how to work around these constraints: they use Tamer teams, delivered by LMT, to terraform alien worlds.
Jacque Lefavre overcame some major anger management issues to become a Tamer. Chance puts him on the first Tamer team sent to the habitable world of Groombridge 1618. Nobody expects to find a useful world around that dim star. Much to the Tamer’s surprise, they find an Earth-like world (albeit one whose ecosystem was greatly simplified by the Texas-sized crater in one hemisphere). They also discover a local life form that can create a temporary telepathic bridge between any two people touching it. This nifty mindbridge will turn out to be extremely useful far sooner than anyone expects.
Dispatched to investigate gravity waves in the Achernar system, a Tamer team found something interesting. Since they came back in pieces, they cannot say what it was they found. Happily, their powered environmental suits have on-board recording devices. What the Tamers found was an improbably Earth-like world, Achernar. Also, aliens. Homicidal aliens. Homicidal aliens in possession of mountainous relativistic starships.
Achernar is a hundred light years from Earth. As the aliens seem limited to sub-light speeds. Earth apparently has time to consider how to respond to a superior, hostile civilization. Or so it seems until scientists realize that the death rays the aliens used on the dead Tamers are hand-held LMT devices. And until Earth detects the gravity waves from decelerating starships in the Sirius system.
Some lucky Tamers will have to LMT out to reconnoitre. Lucky Tamers like Jacque …
Tamer suits are awesome but … I have no idea, aside from romantic dedication to in-person exploration, why Earth invests so much effort armouring squishy humans before sending them off to painful deaths. Why not fling expendable probes at target worlds? Nobody ever sentimentalized a machine, right?
Many Haldeman readers wanted more The Forever War. Mindbridge does have some elements in common withthe first novel. Tamers have powered suits a lot like the ones in The Forever War. The first ESP-related fatality in both books is the Asian guy (Ho in The Forever War, Ch’ing in Mindbridge). Both books are about the consequences of bungled first contacts.
However, Mindbridge isn’t The Forever War Mark II. The most obvious difference is that Tamers are neither military nor drafted. Tamers have very poor odds of surviving long enough to retire, but all of them understand the risks and all of them accepted those risks willingly3. They had to work hard to become Tamers.
Mindbridge’s 21st century Earth is also nothing like the one we see in The Forever War. That earlier version was teetering on the edge of Malthusian collapse. The Earth in Mindbridge is peaceful and prosperous; the LMT program is not driven by necessity but simple prudence. While comparatively wealthy future Earths were unremarkable in the 1960s, this vision of Earth was unusual when Mindbridge was published in the gloomy 1970s.
Like many other readers, I was hoping for another extraordinary book. What we got was a book that I would describe as perfectly competent. The crisis is driven by a misapprehension (which is in turn due to mere authorial fiat). The solution turns out to be mindbridges + coping mechanisms Jacque learned to become a Tamer. All books are contrived to some degree, but here, alas, the contrivance is a little too visible.
If this had been the first Haldeman I read and not the second, it would have been more impressive, particularly since I had a much higher tolerance for the psionics-solves-it trope back then. As it was, I liked Mindbridge enough to hold onto my copy for four decades.
Mindbridge is available here.
2: When the time is up, the translated objects located within a certain range of a guide device will return to that device. If not, they just vanish. If some careless clerk sends two LMT guide devices to the target world, the returning objects try to appear in the same volume, which is a good way to turn a mountain into a deep valley and spread heavy fallout from Albuquerque to Mexico City. This kind of manoeuvre is contraindicated.
3: Female Tamers are required to have babies on the terraformed worlds; for hand-wavy reasons, the babies can remain on the worlds where they are conceived and born. This is reminiscent of the off-putting bit in The Forever War in which soldiers are required to be promiscuous. At least in Mindbridge, the women who become Tamers are volunteers. In this book, it’s the babies who do not volunteer. But then, did any of us volunteer for what we got in the way of parents and upbringing?