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Dirt and Worm

Buying Time

By Joe Haldeman 

22 Jun, 2023

Big Hair, Big Guns!

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Joe Haldeman’s 1989 Buying Time (also published as The Long Habit of Living) is a stand-alone science fiction novel.

The Stileman Process delivers immortality on the installment plan. In exchange for a million dollars (or all of a person’s wealth, whichever is more) the Stileman Foundation restores youth and vitality … for about ten years. Without another round of the Process, death swiftly ensues. It’s strong motivation for would-be immortals to keep earning fortunes.

Dallas1 Barr is adept at making money. What he needs now is a talent for running away.

Briskin is a fellow immortal, a man with a grand vision. That grand vision is that Briskin and a carefully selected cabal of immortals should be in charge despite all the checks and balances in place to protect the world from Briskin. Armed only with determination, a complete lack of ethics, and a lot of money, Briskin’s covert efforts to commandeer the Stileman Foundation have been successful.

Dallas Barr and Maria Marconi have learned too much about Briskin’s little project. They are not the first people to discover what is up. Others have made similar discoveries; they have soon died. Briskin can afford an army of assassins. This army is now looking for Dallas and Maria.

Pursued by legions of surprisingly inept killers, the couple flees across Earth, then into space itself. The Solar System is vast, but Briskin is rich and fanatical. Dallas and Maria may not find any place sufficiently far to escape Briskin.


Readers may wonder why the Stileman Foundation has policies that appear designed to impoverish the rich. This is because Stileman hated rich people and wanted to impoverish them. Like many social policies, this one does not appear to have accomplished its goal; the rich are adept at finding ways around the rules and they still run the planet.

Unlike some SF authors I could name, Haldeman doesn’t expect all of today’s nations to survive to the late 21st century in their late-1980s form. However, his guesses as to which nations would survive or change are amusing in retrospect: the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are still hale and hearty, but the anarchistic Conch Republic has split from the USA. Ah, well. If SF authors could see the future, they’d be investing in stocks, not writing SF novels.

The novel also betrays its age with a foray into Population Bomb fears. Specifically, what would happen if the Process were more widely available? This fear is raised so it can be dismissed: the Process is by its nature labor-intensive and expensive. It will never be something the average person on the street can afford.

Haldeman uses the same stylistic approach he used in Tool of the Trade, dividing the book’s POV between Dallas and Maria. Both plots consist of numerous pursuits and narrow escapes, which I found somewhat episodic and eventually boring. At least I liked Dallas more than I liked protagonist Nick from Tool.

Both Buying and Tool are minor mid-career Haldeman novels. There’s not much to either book beyond the surface. If you’re looking for a book in which two people get pursued by a malevolent cabal around the planet and off into space, you might enjoy this adventure novel. If you desire more, look elsewhere.

Buying Time is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: Under no circumstances think of Bloom County while reading this novel.