Study War No More

By Joe Haldeman

Rating: 3 stars

I love the idea of this anthology. It’s the sort of thing science fiction does well, taking a theme and spinning out ideas of how it could play out; in this case, the theme is alternatives to war. Haldeman himself famously served in the Vietnam war, which led to his subsequent position on the matter, and here he has asked a number of well-known writers to provide their thoughts.

Harlan Ellison opens the collection with the very odd Basilisk about a soldier broken by war, and the hostile reaction he faces from those he had been trying protect when he gets home, and how that changes him further. I’m not entirely sure this matched the brief, but it was a powerful and affecting story in its own right. Ben Bova’s The Dueling Machine is a decent story in which aggression can be channelled through duels which are fought in a form of virtual reality, with no harm done. Until someone figures out how to kill from within the machine. Poul Anderson’s A Man to My Wounding provides a caution to those who argue that the politicians who send people to war without being in any danger themselves should be the ones on the front line. A decent story with an interesting idea that feels a bit dated now.

Commando Raid by Harry Harrison starts out as a traditional war story, with a commando group planning and executing a raid on a village in a remote country that could be an analogue for Vietnam. When the twist comes, it’s a blinder that totally flips the whole story round in a neat manner. Curtains by George Alec Effinger has an interesting idea at its heart, that soldiers and armies act as performing artists and the quality of their performances determine how much the opposition can respond. Interesting, but it was a little too silly for my tastes. Mack Reynolds’ Mercenary took the idea of warfare and moved it from the national stage to the corporate, with corporations settling disputes on the battlefield. This one seemed to go on forever, and didn’t even have a great pay off as far as I was concerned.

Rule Golden by Damon Knight is a story I’ve read before and one of the more interesting ideas, as first contact leads to a desperate race around the world before the authorities catch up. This one is nice but felt a little dated – it’s hard to imagine how the protagonist and his alien companion would fare trying to travel around the world without alerting the authorities today. I’m not sure I got The State of Ultimate Peace about (I think) a war leader who finds himself converted to a pacifist. This one didn’t seem hugely coherent to me although since the protagonist wasn’t in a great state of mind, that may have been intentional. Isaac Asimov’s contribution was odd and didn’t, I felt, entirely fit with the rest of the anthology. It was an essay rather than a story and it was about why he felt that computerisation of taxes and telling the government more about us was ultimately beneficial. I fear that the Good Doctor may be somewhat appalled to see the ways that the wealthy manage to evade (or is it avoid?) their taxes, even in this highly computerised age. And lastly, we come to Haldeman’s own contribution, a story about a wealthy industrialist who bends his mind to ridding the world of nuclear weapons and then spends most of his fortune, and a very long time, achieving it.

So a good collection for the most part. Definitely more hits than misses and a very interesting theme to build an anthology around. It would be interesting to see a new collection with modern writers come at the same sort of thing, to see what new ideas have been spawned in 40 or so years since this one was put together.

Book details

ISBN: 9780708880548
Publisher: Orbit / Futura
Year of publication: 1977

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