Joe Haldeman’s 1978 Infinite Dreams is a collection of science fiction and horror stories. It is either his first collection or his second, depending on whether you see 1977’s All My Sins Remembered as a collection or a fix-up.
Something I had not noticed until I ambled over to ISFDB to snag the TOC: if Haldeman has had any new books since 2014, it’s not noted in his ISFDB entry.
Fans of my series “Young People Read Old SFF” will note the presence of “Tricentennial” in this collection. That story and the commentary that accompanies it are the reason I had a sudden urge to revisit the collection. Not only is this a representative sampling of Haldeman’s early SF, but each story is accompanied by the author’s own commentary.
There are elements that appear over and over.
● Visionary billionaires as a force for social change are featured in a number of stories. I found it rather counterintuitive that the changes were more often positive than negative.
● Haldeman was very fond of last-minute twists in which matters work out very badly for his characters. If you’re looking for happy endings, you may want to stop reading a few pages before the end of each tale.
With the exception of “Armaja Das,” which relies on the tired (and outdated even by the 1970s) gypsy curse trope, the collection stands up fairly well. Yes, there’s a certain amount of zeerust, particularly concerning computers, but the works do not feel as antique as many of its contemporaries do. I do not begrudge the time invested in revisiting this.
I did not find it at either Book Depository or Chapters-Indigo. The first does not surprise me as Book Depository deals in physical books while this collection appears to be in print in ebook form only, but I am surprised Infinite Dreams isn’t available as a Kobo ebook.
And now for the stories themselves!
“Counterpoint” • (1972)
The lives of two seemingly dissimilar men appear to have touched only at a moment of tragic misjudgment in Vietnam. In fact their lives are linked in other, more subtle ways.
“Anniversary Project” • (1975)
Celebrating the millionth anniversary of the written word proves to have a tragic price-tag.
The Mazel Tov Revolution • (1974)
The Hartford Corporation and the Confederation cooperate to commandeer as much of humanity’s economic surplus as possible. There is, however, a loophole in the arrangement, one a visionary billionaire plans to exploit.
The scheme depends on a conspiracy with thousands of members having no defectors whatsoever. I’ll buy FTL but not that.
“To Howard Hughes: A Modest Proposal” • (1974)
A visionary billionaire delivers reasonably priced freedom from Mutually Assured Destruction. Yet another visionary billionaire.
This story is a fine example of the classic 1970s/1980s trope, a better world through nuclear blackmail. See also Alongside Night, War of Omission, and Ecotopia.
“A Mind of His Own” • (1974) • novelette by Joe Haldeman
An embittered, disabled war veteran is subjected to well-meaning therapy intended to help him come to terms with his new reality.
“All the Universe in a Mason Jar” • (1977)
Human-alien relations unexpectedly depend on one talented moonshiner.
This is the second first-contact-meets-moonshine story I’ve reread in the last few months. How many of these are there? Surely, Howard Waldrop has written at least one.
“The Private War of Private Jacob” • (1974)
Advanced technology provides soldiers with morale enhancement beyond their wildest nightmares.
“A Time to Live” • (1977)
Given a second chance at life, Thorne Harrison rejects reprising his first life as a visionary billionaire in favour of something entirely different … or so he thinks.
“Juryrigged” • (1974)
Involuntary service in regional government takes a tragic turn.
“Summer’s Lease” • (1974)
A resource-strapped community’s escape from a hostile world may rest on a single visionary unravelling the clues in an obscure historical document.
Or perhaps this is a Joe Haldeman story where failure (or sabotage) is almost guaranteed.
“26 Days, on Earth” • (1972)
Infatuation with a genetically inferior Earth woman is merely one of many surprises awaiting a cosseted lunar bigot on his first visit to Earth.
“Armaja Das” • (1976)
A simple tax dodges invites a deadly gypsy curse.
The tax dodge in question being a charity that encourages Romani assimilation into the American mainstream.
“Tricentennial” • (1976)
An extraordinary cosmic coincidence offers Earth’s few remaining space fans a chance at interstellar exploration, provided they can somehow con an ignorant, anti-science public into paying for it. The expedition is all they might have hoped for and more!
This was written to order for Ben Bova’s Analog. The details are provided in the commentary and it makes for interesting reading. I believe Haldeman later incorporated elements from this story in the final volume of his Worlds trilogy, whose continuity is otherwise irreconcilable with this narrative.
I am afraid the rocket science in this just doesn’t work. Even total conversion won’t deliver the performance necessary. The moral here is that rocketry equations are not friendly to ill-informed authors.
There are hints that “Tricentennial” is in the same timeline as “To Howard Hughes: A Modest Proposal.”
Afterword (Infinite Dreams) • essay
What it says on the tin.