Noted science fiction author Joe Haldeman was born 1943 in Oklahoma City and spent most of his childhood in Anchorage, Alaska and Bethesda, Maryland, although his family also lived in Puerto Rico and New Orleans. As a boy, he dreamed of becoming a spaceman (the word “astronaut” wasn’t used back then) and his dreams were fueled by the bakelite-bodied telescope his father bought him when he was twelve. Young Joe spent many a night staring up at the Moon and imagining himself traveling in a spaceship to its cold, luminous surface.
Joe held onto his dream of going into space even after he married his wife Gay in 1965 (she is just as much a space junkie as he), but it was not to be. After he graduated from theUniversity of Maryland with a BS in astronomy in ’67, he tried to get a job with the Naval Observatory; his job would have been taking photos of stars at a telescope based in Argentina.
While he was waiting to hear back from the Navy, he was drafted into the army in 1967 and sent to Vietnam.
He served in the army from 1968 through 1969 and fought in the Central Highlands as a combat engineer with the 4th Division (1/22nd Airmobile Battalion). His first combat experience came when he jumped out of a helicopter into six-foot-high elephant grass in a landing zone that was under heavy machine gun fire.
“Twenty-eight years after Vietnam, the smell of roadkill still brings back the smell of days-old bodies rotting in the jungle heat,” Joe says in his autobiography.
His tour of duty ended when a land mine blew up in front of him, severely injuring his legs and filling him with shrapnel. He once told me that for several years after his wounds healed, bits of iron shrapnel would work their way to the surface of his skin, and he was occasionally picking the bits out of himself, much to Gay’s dismay.
Joe had begun writing well before he was sent to Vietnam, and once he had recovered, he wanted to get back to his typewriter.
“Gay had finished her master’s degree in Spanish while I was in the army, and we made a deal: she would find a teaching job and support me for two years,” Joe says in his autobiography. “If the writing wasn’t paying off by then, I’d get a job and the writing would go back to being a serious hobby.”
The writing paid off: his first short novel War Year came out in 1972, and his acclaimed novel The Forever War was published in 1975 and promptly won the Hugo, Nebula, and Ditmar Awards as Best Science Fiction Novel. Since then, he’s written dozens of novels and many short stories, some under the Pocket Books “house name” Robert Graham. His work has been translated into 19 languages, and his stories have been adapted for the stage, TV, and film. Gay has been a key player in Joe’s career; in addition to supporting them while he worked to sell his writing, she has been his business manager.
Joe believes that he would have become a writer regardless of whether or not he had gone to Vietnam, but his experiences there strongly influenced the stories he’s written since. War Year was written almost entirely as post-combat catharsis.
During the war, Gay kept up their household in Washington, D.C.; the couple decided to move soon after Joe returned home because a woman on their street was murdered during a street mugging. Given their love of space and their trips to Cape Canaveral, Florida seemed a likely prospect. After a brief move to Brooksville, followed by journeys to Mexico and then to Iowa (where Joe attended Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa) they settled in Gainesville, Florida.
Today, the Haldemans split their time between Gainesville and Cambridge, Massachusets, where Joe teaches writing every fall at MIT (he has been a part-time professor there since 1983). In the course of his career, he has taught writing workshops at SUNY Buffalo, Princeton, the University of North Dakota, Kent State, and the University of North Florida. He is frequently an instructor at the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Workshops in Seattle and East Lansing, MI.
Joe is an avid bicyclist; you’d never know to look at him that he was nearly crippled in the war. He looks a bit like actor Dabney Coleman, and he is a very good guitarist and has a pleasant singing voice.
He is also an accomplished poet; many of his poetry fans for a long time didn’t realize he wrote science fiction, and vice-versa.
Joe and Gay are great people; if you have the chance to talk to them at conventions, I encourage you to do so. Joe is a very good writing instructor, and I’ve heard many MIT grads talk fondly of his courses.
As you can tell from the above biographical bits, Joe’s been through a lot in his life, but one story he told our Clarion class in 1995 has stuck in my head.
Sometime in the late 80s in Gainesville, Joe was bicycling back from the neighborhood grocery store. A car pulled up beside him, slowing down. Just as Joe turned his head to see who they were, he heard apop and felt a sharp pain in his hip, and the car screeched away down the street.
Joe had been shot in the butt. He guesses that it was a teenager with a new pistol, dying to try it out. He slowly pedaled back to the house and got Gay to take him to the emergency room.
The doctor took X-rays. When he put the films up on the light boxes, they saw a white constellation of metal from all the old shrapnel. It took the doctor a moment to locate the new bullet: it was lodged well under his gluteus maximus, and would require a lot of cutting to get out.
The doctor looked at all the metal on the X-rays, then back at Joe.
“What’s one more stripe to a tiger?” the doctor wondered aloud, then put a bandage on Joe, gave him antibiotics, and sent him on his way.
War Year (1972)
The Forever War (1975)
Attar’s Revenge (1975) (as Robert Graham)
War of Nerves (1975) (as Robert Graham)
All My Sins Remembered (1977)
Planet of Judgement (1977)
World Without End (1979)
Worlds Apart (1983)
Tool of the Trade (1987)
Buying Time (1989)
The Long Habit of Living (1989)
The Hemingway Hoax (1990)
Worlds Enough and Time (1992)
Forever Peace (1997)
Forever Free (1999)
The Coming (2000)
Infinite Dreams (1978)
There Is No Darkness (1983) with Jack C. Haldeman II
Dealing in Futures (1985)
Vietnam and Other Alien Worlds (1993)
None So Blind (1996)
Saul’s Death and Other Poems (1997)