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Guardian

by Joe Haldeman

(Ace, 231 pages, hardcover, $23; December 2002; ISBN: 0-441-00977-8.)

This interestingly-offbeat sort-of-SF cover scannovel starts off as a late 19th century memoir, 'as written by' the protag-lady circa 1952. Rosa Coleman moves to Kansas to escape an abusive husband, then moves on to Alaska when the brute find out she's in Dodge City -- a town Haldeman picked, no doubt, with malice aforethought [note 1]. The 'memoir' is well-researched and pretty good, but has no special sfnal frisson until Rosa is led on a galactic fantasy-tour by an Alien Guardian disguised as a Tlingit Raven shaman... [note 2]

It wouldn't be fair to reveal how Raven got involved, so let's just say that many-worlds is the law in this universe, with interesting consequences. Haldeman's writing is as good as ever (a relief after Forever Peace), and the galactic-tourist scenes with Raven and Rosa are as thrilling and strange as the encounters with the weird continuity-guardian in The Hemingway Hoax [note 3] -- high praise indeed.

The spirit-guardian out-of-body trip leader was a pretty common conceit in 19th century proto-sf, and Haldeman specifically identifies a Flammarion novel [note 4] as a parallel work to his. A somewhat similar book, that ordinary readers may have actually read, is Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus. Personally, I would have preferred more galaxy-touring and less history in Guardian, but I wasn't disappointed with the book at hand. And, at 231 pages, no great time-committment is required. Recommended.

I glanced through the online reviews for Guardian. About a third wanted more history and less SF. Another third wanted more SF, and the rest were happy with Haldeman's chosen mix. Um, Publisher's Review panned it as "odd and unsatisfying". So YMMV.


Footnotes

Note 1) -- town of a thousand bad cliches. Yup, she got the hell out of Dodge... Haldeman used to live nearby, in Oklahoma (and grew up in Alaska). [back to review]

Note 2) Raven has roughly the same position in Northwest Coast mythology as Coyote does in the American Southwest, or Loki in Nordic myths. [back to review]

Note 3). They also make more sense than those HH scenes. [back to review]

Note 4) You won't be surprised to hear that John Clute has a copy of the Flammarion in his personal library. Ah, it's Lumen, newly-translated by one B Stableford. [back to review]


Links

  • Author's site: http://home.earthlink.net/%7Ehaldeman/
    "My latest book is Guardian, a hard-sf [!!] novel set in 1894, 1952, 2004, and points beyond. It answers the age-old question 'What should you do if a raven keeps appearing on your doorstep and giving you advice?'"
  • "Haldeman must be commended for his meticulous recreation of period America."
    --Paul di Filippo, who also wished for more SF. This is by far the best review online, but **CAUTION -- SPOILERS**
    http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue296/books.html


Review by Peter D Tillman; More of Peter D Tillman's reviews can be found at: SF Site and Amazon.com. Google "Peter D. Tillman" +review for many more!

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