Joe Haldeman’s 1985 Dealing In Futures is his second collection of shorter works.
Whereas Infinite Dreams (published in 1978) was restricted to Haldeman’s work between 1972 and 1977, Dealing In Futures covers his work from 1975 to 1985 (although really the focus is on 1979 to 1985).
What I liked most in this collection: the introafterwords [see below for explanation]. I was amused by the commentary on his Thieves World story, which confirms certain rumours about how that project was managed. A compare-and-contrast between the managerial methods used for Thieves World and for Wild Cards might reveal why the first has effectively vanished while the second survives to this day.
While the prose in this collection is more polished than the prose of Infinite Dreams, my enjoyment was much diminished by the appearance of so many of Haldeman’s quirks (weird sex stuff [unavoidable in a work of this period], ableism), quirks1 that drive me up the wall. Objectively, this might be a better collection, but I nevertheless prefer Infinite Dreams.
While there is a British edition available here (Amazon UK), Dealing in Futures otherwise appears to be out of print.
Now for the stories.
Introduction (Dealing in Futures) • essay
Haldeman discusses how readers reacted to his introductions in Infinite Dreams. This collection uses a different approach: afterwords that transition into introductions for the following stories (introafterwords).
Seasons • [Confederación] • (1985) • novella
Eager to research aliens without contaminating the alien culture with advanced human technology, human scientists go primitive for the duration of the field trip. The consequences are catastrophic and fatal.
Towards the end, one of the rapidly dwindling number of scientists admits that their approach had avoidable flaws; there was no reason the entire project could not have been managed remotely without exposing humans to risk. Oh, well. The next group will know better.
More violent than I enjoy, and also longer than “wow, this was a really bad idea” would require.
A !Tangled Web • [Confederación] • (1981) • novelette
Rival traders negotiate with the memorably alien !Tang for land rights, with the consequences for missteps ranging from amusing oratory to disappointing professional setbacks to painful dismemberment.
If you’ve ever heard in conversation a convoluted sequence of calamities ending with the phrase “All die. O the embarrassment,” it originates here, as the standard self-deprecating apology from the aliens.
! denotes a glottal click. Alien name formed on the model of the !Kung people of Namibia, Botswana and Angola2.
Manifest Destiny • (1983) • short story
An infallible prophecy about his death provides a soldier of fortune with what he believes is flawless plot immunity, provided he avoids the circumstances of his foretold death. This works out about as well for him as such stories do.
Blood Sisters • (1979) • novelette
A private investigator who should know better gets entangled in potentially deadly scheme centering on an illegal clone of a wealthy heiress.
Clones in this setting are treated as commodities, not people. I don’t understand the legal reasoning, not that it matters if you control six judges on the US Supreme Court. Also, it’s best not to dwell on the fact that the clone with whom the protagonist hooks up is only a few years old (thought looking older).
Blood Brothers • [Thieves’ World] • (1979) • novelette
Complete monster One Thumb revels in magical invulnerability, having completely failed, as such characters do, to spot a terrible flaw in his defenses.
Haldeman killed off One Thumb for what he thought were strategic reasons. Not only did the bold gambit fail in its goal (a coveted placement in the anthology), but One Thumb was summarily resurrected by another author.
You Can Never Go Back • [Forever War] • (1975) • novella
Tiring of the endless Forever War, Mandella and Marygay retire, only to find the alien, overpopulated, desperately poor, violent America of 2019 more horrible than fighting aliens until the stars burn out.
This is the only work in this collection published as early as 1975. The other works were published in or after 1979.
Ten years ago, the driver for the dire state of 2019 America would have been Peak Oil. Thirty years ago, nuclear war. Today, it would be Climate Change. This novella was written in the early 1970s, so catastrophe was caused by uncontrolled population growth. The important thing is that everything is terrible.
“More Than the Sum of His Parts” • (1985) • short story
Badly burned in an industrial accident, the protagonist is the lucky recipient of advanced cyborg parts. His enthusiastic glee at being upgraded falls on unsympathetic ears, mainly because said glee takes the form of brutal homicides.
This is an example of the “prosthesis make one less human” genre, to which C. L. Moore’s 1944 “No Woman Born” is a reply.
“Seven and the Stars” • (1981) • short story
His FTL broken but repairable, an alien stoops to partnership with a human science fiction author.
Well, converting an alien’s background into stories beats getting post-cards from Schenectady.
“Lindsay and the Red City Blues” • (1980) • short story
A tour of Marrakesh proves both affordable and very ill-advised.
CBC Radio’s anthology-style Nightfallwas inordinately fond of adapting stories about vacations gone horribly wrong (as was CBC Radio’s Vanishing Point). This would have been a good fit, but it was perhaps too genre for CBC.
“No Future in It” • (1979) • short story
A reporter interviews a purported time traveler, whose future can never be.
There was probably a federal regulation requiring every SF collection of this period to have at least one story whose moral is “Senator Proxmire sucks!” This is Dealing in Future’s such story.
“The Pilot” • (1979) • short story
A cyborg spaceship pilot grudgingly submits to an interview, being careful never to voice her inner monolog, which is rife with hate and mania.
This is the second cybernetics make you crazy story. It’s a detail that turns up in R. Talsorian’s tabletop roleplaying game: I wonder if the designers were influenced by stories like this or if that was just an attempt at play balance.
The Big Bang Theory Explained • (1985) • poem
A bid for immortality does not play out as planned.
The Gift • (1985) • poem
A fulmination against artificial happiness.
This is the third cybernetics are badstory. It’s stories like this that have made it impossible for me to acquire a nuclear-powered exoskeleton suitable for opening jars and crushing skulls like soft fruit.
Saul’s Death • (1983) • poem
Poetic memoir of a mercenary.
1: There is also the matter of the frequency with which habitable worlds orbit inappropriate stars like Spice. Don’t look at me like that. It matters!