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Joe Haldeman
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Joe Haldeman   Joe Haldeman is best known for his hard science fiction novels, including The Forever War and Camouflage. He has served twice as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America and teaches creative writing courses on occasion at MIT. His books and stories have won 5 Hugo Awards, 5 Nebula Awards, a World Fantasy award, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and a Locus Award, plus several Hugo and Nebula nominations.

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This episode originally aired on 01/07/2009 with the following authors:
Note: The following interview has been transcribed from The Author Hour radio show. Please excuse any typos, spelling and gramatical errors.

Interview with Joe Haldeman

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Matthew Peterson: My next guest is Joe Haldeman, best known for his hard science fiction novels. He has served twice as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America and teaches creative writing courses on occasion at MIT. His books and stories have won 5 Hugo Awards, 5 Nebula Awards, a World Fantasy award, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and a Locus Award, plus a bunch of Hugo and Nebula nominations. Welcome to the show, Joe.

Joe Haldeman: Well, glad to be here Matthew.

Matthew Peterson: I need to preface this interview. I actually met you first in 2006 at the Nebula Awards banquet where you got your Nebula award for your novel, Camouflage. Interesting story, I donít know if you remember this, but I was there. I didnít really know who you were, but we were chatting and this man walks up and he has this old book in his hands, and he says, ďWill you sign this book?Ē I think it might have been one of your oldest novels, The Forever War.

Joe Haldeman: Yeah.

Matthew Peterson: You signed it and he thanked you and smiled and he says, ďNow I can sell it for a lot of money.Ē [laughs]

Joe Haldeman: [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: He walked away and you turned to me and you said, ďIf all he wanted was my signature [so he could sell the book for more money], maybe I should get a cut of that.Ē

Joe Haldeman: Yeah. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Cut of the proceeds. [laughs]

Joe Haldeman: There was a copy at a science fiction convention that was for sale for $700.

Matthew Peterson: Oh.

Joe Haldeman: And the dealer asked me to sign it and then he changed the price to $1,000 and sold it just in a few minutes.

Matthew Peterson: Oh!

Joe Haldeman: So I told him, really, I should have gotten $30: a ten percent cut of how much value I added.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. So that was funny, Ďcause that was my introduction to Joe Haldeman. [laughs]

Joe Haldeman: Yeah.

Matthew Peterson: I wanted to start out asking you a question. Now I understand that back in 1967 you were drafted into the U.S. Army and you served in Vietnam.

Joe Haldeman: Right.

Matthew Peterson: How did those experiences affect your writing?

Joe Haldeman: Well, I would be a totally different writer--even if I was a writer--if that hadnít happened because I was not planning to be a writer. I was going to be a scientist as astronaut.

Matthew Peterson: Oh.

Joe Haldeman: That was the title back then. And if I had not been drafted, I would have gone on to my PhD and tried to enter that program. But in fact, as has happened with many young men, experience of going through a war gave me something to write my first novel about. And I did write that. That was called Warrior; itís not science fiction. And then of course it gave me the background for The Forever War.

Matthew Peterson: The Forever War. Yeah, I think The Forever War, that series, thatís probably your most popular [set of] books.

Joe Haldeman: Oh, yeah.

Matthew Peterson: For those listeners that havenít read those ones. Can you tell us just a little about The Forever War.

Joe Haldeman: The Forever War is about a war in the future with some mysterious aliens called the Taurens. And the main character, William Mandela, is drafted into a very small elite group of soldiers. And they go out to other stars to do battle with this mysterious enemy. In the course of the war, because they have to travel as fast as the speed of light or almost as fast as the speed of light, they undergo time dilation, and so while weeks pass while theyíre fighting, months and even years pass back on Earth. So when they come back, they come back to a world thatís quite different from the one that they were supposedly defending.

Matthew Peterson: Mmm.

Joe Haldeman: People nowadays, especially younger people, may not be aware of it, but thatís a very direct metaphor about how we felt when we went off to Vietnam.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Joe Haldeman: Because a year later, you come back and the world is, the United States, is quite different.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. I can imagine a hundred years go by and you donít even have the same government anymore that you were fighting for.

Joe Haldeman: Thatís right. And all the language starts to diverge. People who deal with the old soldiers have to learn old English because English has become difficult to understand.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Now I understand in October 2008 Ridley Scott announced that he was going to direct a film based on The Forever War for Fox?

Joe Haldeman: Yeah. Yeah, thatís right.

Matthew Peterson: Now Ridley Scott, he did Blade Runner and Alien, which I love both of those movies, so I can only imagine what heíll do with The Forever War.

Joe Haldeman: Oh yeah, we have high hopes for it, of course.

Matthew Peterson: Are you going to have any input, like on the script?

Joe Haldeman: Well, I didnít ask for any. I know itís traditional not to have the book author involved.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. They might ask you to do a cameo or something. [laughs] That would be fun.

Joe Haldeman: [laughs] Iíd be one of the soldiers in a crowd scene. Whoís that old white haired guy doing there?

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Yeah, who gets killed really fast.

Joe Haldeman: Yeah. [laughs] Well, he was too old to hack it.

Matthew Peterson: Yep. This war really was forever for him.

Joe Haldeman: Yeah. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Your newest novel, Starbound, is the sequel to Marsbound. Tell us a little bit about Marsbound so that people who are going to be reading Starbound will be able to know what theyíre getting into.

Joe Haldeman: Well, Marsbound starts out with a sort of domestic premise. Theyíve got a growing settlement on Mars and theyíve decided rather than just have individual scientists and engineers come over, they would import people--a family at a time--and see whether they could get something like a normal life situation going. And so my heroine, Carmen Duloff, is part of a family that goes up, and she realizes even before she gets to Mars that sheís signed away five years of her youth. Thereís probably going to be nobody on Mars but a bunch of dorks or scientists.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Joe Haldeman: And she wonít find a man and sheíll be an old lady by the time she gets back at like 25, by the time she gets back.

Matthew Peterson: Oh.

Joe Haldeman: But as it happens, things turn out to be not domestic at all, but involve meeting an alien species thatís also visiting Mars, and things get pretty wild and hairy after a while.

Matthew Peterson: So Marsbound, of course, theyíre going to Mars. Starbound, I get a clue from the title...

Joe Haldeman: Yeah, thatís right. They have instant kind of technology from their contact with the Martians, but theyíre threatened by a group of people, who the Martians call the Others. So they donít know anything about them really, except theyíre extremely dangerous. And they attempted to destroy the earth and missed just by seconds. And so the humans figure the only thing they can do is try to go out there and talk to them. They donít dare invade them or try to defend the Earth because the science that these others have is too extremely advanced. So they go out as sort of a peacekeeping mission and fully expecting to die.

But the story is fairly interesting because it takes them 8 years objective time to get there, and so you have these seven people and two Martians in a space about the size of a couple of two-bedroom apartments and a little farm. And they try to get along, but itís sort of like Jane Austen in a pressure cooker.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Joe Haldeman: A couple of the characters not being human. And so I had fun writing that, but I had it planned not just as a sequel but as the middle book of a trilogy.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, okay.

Joe Haldeman: And the third book, which Iím working on now is called Earthbound.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, okay.

Joe Haldeman: And they come back from the Interstellar adventure and . . .

Matthew Peterson: It comes full circle.

Joe Haldeman: They have a new kind of adventure waiting on earth.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. That sounds interesting. You write a lot of military science fiction, but back in 2007 you wrote The Accidental Time Machine. Thatís a little different, you know. I was a little interested in that one.

Joe Haldeman: Well, that was sort of a fun book. Itís only the second comic novel that Iíve written. And it doesnít have anything to do with the military.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Joe Haldeman: Itís a kind of incompetent MIT graduate student who accidentally discovers a useless time machine. All it does it go forward in time. And then you catch up with it.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Joe Haldeman: And so, you know, what practical use can this be? But of course, itís of tremendous scientific interest, even if itís not useful. Still it does say something about the nature of time. And so our guy, who doesnít even have his PhD yet, is hoping to become a famous scientist and get the Nobel prize and everything. Does not work out that way.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. So thatís interesting, so you have a little bit of comedy there. But a lot of your novels do have that military science fiction feel to it.

Joe Haldeman: Yeah. About a quarter of my books have been military.

Matthew Peterson: Itís about time for a commercial break, but Iíd like to thank you for being on the show today, Joe.

Joe Haldeman: Oh, sure.

Matthew Peterson: I was just talking with Joe Haldeman, multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning author of science fiction.

Well, thatís it for today. Make sure you visit to listen to the bonus questions that didnít make it onto the live show. Next week Iíve got an episode devoted to high fantasy with L. E. Modesitt Jr., Carol Berg, Dennis L. McKiernan, and Diana Pharaoh Francis. See you next week.

  Read or Listen to the extra questions that didn't make it onto the live show.  

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