I first read All My Sins Remembered, a slim science fiction novel I found tucked into one of our family bookshelves, when I was thirteen. It’s main character, Otto McGavin, is a spy who undergoes mind and body conditioning in order to infiltrate different strange worlds/societies. In an exchange reminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate or Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier’s reprogramming (as seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War), Otto’s handler utters key words in order to send him into a suitably suggestive state. But underneath his spying and assassinating and memory alterations, Otto can’t shake his Buddhist upbringing and the knowledge that he’s straying far from the Noble Eightfold Path.
At less than two hundred pages, All My Sins Remembered is just longer than a novella, but the story has stuck with me from that formative age and remains a staple on my own bookshelf (in several editions ever since the time I accidentally split the spine of that first copy and scrambled to replace it with readable versions). It’s one of the stories that continues to echo within my mind as I read and witness new evolutions of science fiction in text and film.
It has informed some of my own stories, including a short story collection I wrote as part of a fellowship while attending Wesleyan College, and served as a starting point for my exploration of Haldeman’s other writings.
After All My Sins Remembered I eagerly dove into Marsbound and Camouflage. Then, despite my (ridiculously strong) aversion to all things time travel, I thoroughly enjoyed Haldeman’s surprising treatment of the concept in his novel, The Accidental Time Machine. In it, Matt Fuller crafts a time machine (on accident, as the title indicates) and has to decide with each “jump” forward if the future is going to be better than the present. Also, there’s a turtle.
Time and displacement also feature in the Forever War novels (The Forever War, Forever Peace, and Forever Free), a loosely-connected series of narratives that helped me craft my own near-future science fiction reality. Forever Peace, especially, is a story I thought of often when writing my still-in-draft manuscript, The Gray Market.
Haldeman has a way of weaving intriguing premises with relatably flawed protagonists who stumble and make mistakes as they navigate their circumstances with varying degrees of success. Are all of the socio-political scenarios in his stories still relevant? No. But the same is true of most science fiction greats. There are missteps, like the treatment of sexuality in the Forever series, but the core takeaways I discovered as a teen hold true long past the moment the stars burn out.