All My Sins Remembered - Joe Haldeman

Reviewed for Usenet (or see Google archive).

All My Sins Remembered
Joe Haldeman
Gollancz SF
ISBN: 0575072814 (Amazon link)

I'm gradually working my way through Haldeman's back-catalogue, discovering it to have some decent novels in there that I've never heard of. All My Sins Remembered is a fix up of three novellas previously published in magazines in 1970's, but, unusually for a fix-up, the episodic nature of the stories actually works well against the framing device, which sets out to comment on Haldeman's favourite theme - what making a man a killer does to him.

It is the far future, and Otto McGavin is a young idealist, an Anglo-Buddhist, who seeks employment with "the Confederacion" because he believes in its humanitarian mission - which also extends to aliens. Otto thinks he's being trained for an xenobiology or diplomacy post, and in a rather dated scene, he finds that the real reason he's been receiving so much education under deep hypnosis is that because, well, he's going to be an secret agent instead, a combination assassin and spy, capable of receiving partial personality overlays of people so that he can effectively take their place. 90% of the personality will be the target, 10% will be Otto - until an emergency kicks in. It's a classic SF boys' adventure setup, crisply told, with the inter-episode hypnotic debriefings showing the increasing stresses between Otto the Buddhist and Otto the assassin.

The first episode deals an investigation into serious changes in the life expectancy and culture of a colony of monkey-like aliens. Naturally, the human scientists on-planet are concerned with the welfare of the natives and not with their interesting tendency to work frantically in the mines when asked... nor are they interested in exploiting the curious innate ability of this species to place their newly dead into a state of suspended animation, to be kept around the house and revered.

The second episode has Otto as a half-starved, past his prime duellist on a planet populated by hellishly hostile native wildlife. This has forced a particularly brutal, semi-feudal and particularly misogynistic system to evolve, and now Otto is smack in the middle of a revolution...

The last, and best, episode has the jaded Otto tangling with practically immortal insectoid aliens, cheerfully embracing Christian beliefs under a heretical sect. Naturally, the sect are concerned with the salvation of their new brethren's souls, and not at all intrigued in the possibilities inherent in the aliens ability to manipulate matter - claiming to have moved their planet away or towards their rather variable Sun several times in their history.

Sounds like pulp SF doesn't it? Secret agents, shadowy plots, aliens. Well, yes, but Haldeman does all this so well - the central concept is a bit dated, and pretty much fits the mould of the commercial market at the time, but Haldeman's anti-war themes come through strongly and the crisp writing delivers a well paced plot in each episode. Of particular note are the very alien aliens, fascinatingly drawn (especially the immortal S'Kang beetles) and in no way secondary to the human characters.

Well worth a look.

Posted: Wed - November 12, 2003 at 01:10 AM