If you type the name “Joe Haldeman” in any search engine, you’ll find multiple entries that go into great detail about the man with degrees in physics, astronomy and writing. Not only has he won eighteen major writing awards, including the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement, but this science fiction giant holds a Purple Heart after being drafted into Vietnam in the ‘60s. One of his most famous novels, The Forever War (1975), is based on his experiences as a combat engineer in Vietnam, and the novel went on to win the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards that year. The book is currently being taught in college classrooms throughout the U.S. Haldeman is currently working on the novel Earthbound, which completes the trilogy containing Marsbound and Starbound.
In addition to his novels, much of Haldeman’s short fiction has gone on to win more Hugos and Nebulas, as well as other distinguished industry awards. He’s been an adjunct professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and he’s savvy at poker and more than decent at guitar playing. Chances are good you might see him at the next big science fiction convention or catch his lectures at a prestigious writing workshop, like Clarion.
Published in 1985, “More Than the Sum of His Parts” was set in the then-distant future of 2058. “It seemed a reasonable time frame, when we were somewhat more optimistic about space industrialization,” Haldeman says, “although the waldo technology is wishful thinking, or arm-waving—I didn’t have any actual technological rationale for it happening that soon, or ever. The waldos themselves were inspired by the story ‘Waldo,’ by Robert Heinlein. The idea of smaller and smaller waldos building their miniaturized successors came from the notions about self-replicating ‘von Neumann’ machines that were cutting-edge techno-dreaming at the time.”
In the story, Haldeman’s protagonist Cheetham makes a fascinating progression from calm apathy to curious experimentation to detached coldness. There is plenty of foreshadowing of the darkness emerging inside him, including Cheetham’s own early observation that he felt too calm, as well as after he receives new genitals and what that was like, psychologically. We asked Haldeman if he thought the replacement of Cheetham’s body turned him into a different man.
“I suspect that the kernel of Cheetham’s insanity may have been there all along,” Haldeman says, and you know that only a great writer like Haldeman could get away with using the word “kernel” in any way other than its technological definition. “But of course the insanity was actualized when he acquiesced in merging his ‘animal’ nature with machines. That’s the story’s main metaphor.”
The story ends on a chilling note, as Janovski follows up the details of Cheetham’s fate with the use of the word “experiment,” and clearly taking over the metal arm for his own. Yet based on what we know as readers, and our experience in watching Cheetham fall apart, we’re left with thinking that Janovski may get more than he bargained for. When I tried to get Haldeman to come clean with us about what he thinks happens next, he only offered this: “What’s clear in the story is that Cheetham is sure he has Janovski outwitted, but actually Janovski has him ‘contained’ in some cybernetic sense. As far as what happens next, if Janovski is going to take the high road or if he’s going to end up just the way Cheetham did…the story may be ambiguous in that regard—you’ll have to decide for yourself.”
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