Work Done For Hire by Joe Haldeman
|Book Name:||Work Done For Hire|
|Formatt:||Hardback / Ebook|
|Release Date:||January 2014|
For those who are unfamiliar with Joe Haldeman, let me start by telling you that the man is one of the most critically acclaimed authors in the genre of Science-Fiction. His novels such as The Forever War, The Accidental Time Machine, and the Marsbound trilogy are often cited as some of Science-Fiction’s most important and influential. As well as collection an impressive number of awards for these titles – including Hugo, Nebula & John W. Campbell Awards – he has an unprecedented level of respect amongst his contemporaries too, with authors like Stephen King saying things such as: “If there was a Fort Knox for the science fiction writers who really matter, we’d have to lock Haldeman up there.” He is a SFWA Grand Master and was introduced to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2012. Of course, all of this means that when he releases a novel great things are expected and, hopefully, you won’t blame me for expecting something a little bit special from Work Done For Hire, his latest stand-alone novel. .
Haldeman’s protagonist, Jack Daley, served as a sniper in the military, but was forced into an honourable discharge after an explosion sent shards of shrapnel deep into his leg. Haldeman, a Vietnam veteran himself, uses his own experiences of coming out a combat environment, the military lifestyle and trying to integrate back into society to craft a truly believable POV. Using his favoured first person voice, Haldeman takes you into the broken mind of a man who has seen terrible things that have changed him, for the worse, as a person.
Jack talks to us knowing he has done bad things, but also knowing that he did not have any choice but to do them. He is angry at himself and at his Government, but realises that his choices are simply to bitch about it or try to move on. A critic, far more intelligent than I, once referred to the kind of voice Haldeman lends his characters as full of ‘grim stoicism’ and I think that nails it precisely. Surprisingly, this doesn’t make Jack unlikeable or make him a chore to share a mind with as a reader, in fact it makes for an intriguing character study and one of the aspects of the novel I thoroughly enjoyed.
Having written a few novels before going into the military, when Jack returns to ‘real life’ and begins trying to integrate himself back into society, writing another novel seems a logical step. Jack gets himself an agent and after a few years of not being able to sell a great deal of Jack’s own writings she comes to him with an interesting proposal. A big-time Hollywood agent has stumbled across one of Jack’s early novels and decided he is just the person to write a trashy pulp horror novel that should be full of blood, gore and general sickness. The idea is that should this book be any good Jack will receive $500,000 to walk away from it and surrender the movie rights. Having been injured in the military, Jack has been living off their pittance – I believe it is for about nine years – and so happily accepts the offer, which promises to make him rich should the novel be deemed good enough to actually make a movie.
From this point on the novel begins to alternate chapters; one chapter focuses on Jack and the next chapter is a chapter from his manuscript. The story that Jack is writing is one about a being that is stalking the American countryside at night, dragging people into its van and murdering them. This being is known as Hunter and although he is huge, at 400lbs, he has a human appearance and displays no real traits of being an alien being. That said, he is far from your ‘typical’ serial killer in that he doesn’t simply kill for pleasure, after torturing his victims (usually starting with their genitals) he cuts them up and stores them in his freezer to eat at a later date. Hunter’s mind is shown to us in the third person, but we are allowed into his mind through free-indirect speech. It is, in fact, Hunter that tells us that he is an alien and a big part of the book, arguably as important as Jack’s story, is trying to work out whether Hunter is a mentally ill human who believes he is an alien or an alien who has some kind of agenda.
Anyway, once the two characters have been produced and Jack’s life seems to be going well there is a knock on the door whilst he is writing. When Jack gets up to answer it he hears a car screech away and realises that something must have been left at the door. Indeed, when he opens it up, there is a briefcase on the doorstep. Opening up the briefcase Jack finds a sniper rifle, complete with a silencer and bullets, and the first instalment of a guaranteed $100,000 that he will be given should he kill a “bad man”.
Now, let me remind you that the $500,000 is only attainable by Jack if his script is made into a movie (and, if you know anything about authors or the movie industry, you know how few scripts actually get made into feature films). So, as an ex-military sniper this is a way for Jack to make some easy money for something he done time and time again in the military.
Much of the conflict from this point becomes Jack’s inner-struggle over whether to kill this “bad-man” or not. The decision is made both easier and more difficult when the people after Jack reveal that they have abilities to watch him that don’t seem natural and, when Jack continues to stall, that they are willing to kill his girlfriend if he doesn’t take the job. I have to say that the pacing was brilliant and by the time the will he / won’t he question is answered you have been thrown to certainty in both directions – never knowing which one Jack intends to take.
The problems with the book seem to occur once Jack has made his decision. The Hunter storyline ends abruptly at this point, returning only at the end to tie thing up, and it has far less overlap to Jack’s story than I would have liked. I guess there is an argument that it was a red-herring, but I honestly felt cheated. Similarly, once Hunter has been taken out of the equation and we are left with Jack there doesn’t seem to be many directions for Haldeman to take us and, indeed, the ending was the one I saw coming right from the word go (as, I would expect, will many other readers).
So, although there is a lot to love about this novel: the pacing, the evoked emotions, the case study of a retired war veteran, the guessing over whether Hunter is human or alien, the question of whether Jack will or will not kill the “bad man”, none of it ever leads to that climatic ending that knocks you off your feet and the sad result of it all is that the book loses all its hard-built momentum and feels completely forgettable. I’m sad to say this of one of Science-Fiction’s greats, but if you’re looking for a book to take on holiday or on a coach trip: something you can dip in and out of and leave on the chair at the airport: this is the book you’re looking for. If you are looking for a book that you will still be talking about, thinking about and considering re-reading 40 years after its publication, I suggest you pick up Mr Haldeman’s earlier work, The Forever War.