Haldeman, Joe. The Hemingway Hoax.

NY: Morrow, 1990.

Haldeman’s first science fiction novel, The Forever War, drew a great deal of attention, won numerous awards, and has become a modern classic. His many subsequent novels, however, haven’t really gotten the attention they deserve beyond the narrow confines of serious fandom.

This one is short, only 150 pages, but it’s an engaging rumination on cause and effect among the skein of existences that make up the multiverse. John Baird is a professor of American Literature at Boston University, a noted Hemingway specialist who also has a uniquely eidetic memory since around the age of three — not only every sight he has experienced but all the sounds, smells, and every other sense in his life are a permanent part of him. He’s on holiday in Key West with his wife when he gets into a conversation with a stranger in a bar regarding the suitcase of manuscripts Hemingway lost in 1922 and was never able to reconstruct — a fabulous literary treasure if it ever turned up. With the recent experiences of the “Hitler diaries” and the fake Howard Hughes papers in mind, the stranger — a con man named Castlemaine — wonders if they couldn’t “assist” in the discovery of the lost writings. Baird, who badly needs money, finds himself being drawn in. His wife, Lena, thinks it’s a great idea. Maybe, just maybe, if they can replicate Hemingway’s typing style and find the right paper and so, it could work. But Baird is more concerned about the ethics of the scam.

There are forces, though, that are determined that the project be dropped immediately because of its effect on the future, and in many other world-lines. You can’t call them aliens, or a “time patrol,” really, but they’re there to see that the proper flow of events doesn’t get messed up, and they’ll certainly kill Prof. Baird if that’s what it takes. And so they do. But it doesn’t seem to stick. Baird isn’t entirely human himself, it seems, and each slightly divergent alternate world is a little less pleasant than the previous one.

Baird was wounded in Vietnam in each of his incarnations, a bit differently each time, and Haldeman takes the opportunity to talk about what combat is really like, relating it to Hemingway’s own experiences of war. In fact, it’s Papa’s machismo and its effect on the development of the modern male personality in America that makes it so important his influence not be tampered with. The other neat bit is the author’s fragments of Hemingway-esque pastiche as produced by Baird. This isn’t a major work by any means, and there are various things left unexplained — especially in the closing scenes, which are rather weak — but it’s definitely worth the reading.

Published in: on 11 September 2013 at 5:26 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I’m going to pick this book up. Thanks for the review.

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