JOE HALDEMAN. Tricentennial
JOE HALDEMAN. Tricentennial
Joe Haldeman is a public relations department’s dream. Handsome, with a dashing beard, and in his early thirties, he is not only a world traveler, a teacher, a lecturer, a former senior editor of ASTRONOMY magazine, guitar player, and skin diver, but in addition to his science fiction he has written adventure novels, nonfiction books, short stories, articles, poems, and songs. In 1976 he won a Nebula Award for his novel THE FOREVER WAR, which also that year won a Hugo, the award given out by the World Science Fiction Convention annually. This year he is nominated in two categories for the Hugo-both his novel MINDBRIDGE and “Tricentennial,” the short story that follows.
You would think that this would be enough for anyone. Add, however, the fact that Joe Haldeman’s university degree is in astrophysics, with postgraduate work in mathematics, computer science, statistics, and art, and the further fact that he is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who was severely wounded in combat, and you have, as I said, a package that a public relations department even one that deals with authors year in and year out-tends to find almost embarrassingly rich in interesting details.
Nonetheless, all these things are as true and real as Joe Haldeman himself is real. And you will see as you read “Tricentennial,” on the pages that follow, that this is one of his geniuses as a writer-his writing also has a rare element of reality within it.
Scientists pointed out that the Sun could be part of a double star system. For its companion to have gone undetected, of course, it would have to be small and dim, and thousands of astronomical units distant.
They would find it eventually; “it” would turn out to be “them”; they would come in handy.
The office was opulent even by the extravagant standards of twenty-first-century Washington. Senator Connors had a passion for antiques. One wall was lined with leather-bound books; a large brass telescope symbolized his role as Liaison to the Science Guild. An intricately woven Navajo rug from his home state covered most of the parquet floor. A grandfather clock. Paintings, old maps.
The computer terminal was discreetly hidden in the top drawer of his heavy teak desk. On the desk: a blotter, a precisely centered fountain pen set, and a century-old sound-only black Bell telephone. It chimed.
His secretary said that Dr. Leventhal was waiting to see him. “Keep answering me for thirty seconds,” the Senator said. “Then hang it and send him right in.”
He cradled the phone and went to a wall mirror. Straightened his tie and cape; then with a fingernail evened out the bottom line of his lip pomade. Ran a hand through long, thinning white hair and returned to stand by the desk, one hand on the phone.
The heavy door whispered open. A short thin man bowed slightly. “Sire.”
The Senator crossed to him with both hands out. “Oh, blow that, Charlie. Give ten.” The man took both his hands, only for an instant. “When was I ever ‘Sire’ to you, you fool?”
“Since last week,” Leventhal said, “Guild members have been calling you worse names than ‘Sire.'”
The Senator bobbed his head twice. “True, and true. And I sympathize. Will of the people, though.”
“Sure.” Leventhal pronounced it as one word: “Willathapeeble.”
Connors went to the bookcase and opened a chased panel. “Drink?”.
“Yeah, Bo.” Charlie sighed and lowered himself into a deep sofa. “Hit me. Sherry or something.”
The Senator brought the drinks and sat down beside Charlie. “You should of listened to me. Shoulda got the Ad Guild to write your proposal.”
“We have good writers.”
“Begging to differ. Less than two percent of the electorate bothered to vote: most of them for the administration advocate. Now you take the Engineering Guild-”
“You take the engineers. And-”
“They used the Ad Guild.” Connors shrugged. “They got their budget.”
“It’s easy to sell bridges and power plants and shuttles. Hard to sell pure science.”
“The more reason for you to-”
“Yeah, sure. Ask for double and give half to the Ad boys. Maybe next year. That’s not what I came to talk about.”