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Old Twentieth Mass Market Paperback – Unabridged, July 25, 2006


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Immortality can get boring after a while, especially when most of Earth's population and many of its treasures have been destroyed in a war between the haves and the have-nots. Jake Brewer, a virtual reality engineer, decides to liven things up by agreeing to run a virtuality machine on a starship looking for Earth-type planets. The passengers use the machine to roam through the recreated past, experiencing repeated virtual deaths because they have no expectations of real ones, until suddenly the oldest among them start dying seemingly of natural causes and the machine tells Jake, "We have to talk." This makes for an odd sort of locked-room whodunit. Is the newly sentient machine causing these deaths, or did the immortality treatment simply fail? Hugo- and Nebula-winner Haldeman (The Forever War) makes these questions tremendously compelling with his usual brilliant knack for detail and characterization. He draws the reader in even through a surprisingly boring expository first chapter, and the increasingly fascinating bulk of the tale makes the abrupt ending all the more shocking and unsatisfying. Haldeman's numerous fans will eagerly snap this one up, but few will reread it.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In a world in which mortality has been defeated, people seek thrills and meaning with great dedication. Virtual-reality technician and cook Jacob Brewer joins the crew of Aspera on a thousand-year trip to Beta Hydrii and a new world to settle. The past accompanies them in a computer that lets them visit earlier times, when people's lives were shaped by the promise of death. The most popular destination is the last century of mortality, the twentieth. Trouble first shows in inconsistencies in the data from certain periods, and when someone dies in virtuality, there is understandable concern, especially because word from Earth is that something strange is going on there, too. Then an avatar of the machine, which has achieved sentience and is deeply curious about humanity, contacts Jacob. Reality and virtuality aren't as well-defined as we may assume they ought to be in Haldeman's nicely circular story concerned with the consequences of immortality and the potential of a truly convincing virtuality. Regina Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 285 pages
  • Publisher: Ace (July 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0441013430
  • ISBN-13: 978-0441013432
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,167,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joe Haldeman has served twice as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America and is currently an adjunct professor teaching writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Customer Reviews

Slow start then . . . just as it's getting readable and semi interesting.
pilotsimms
Joe Haldeman's latest novel is not "Alternative History", but if you're a fan of the genre, you will find "Old Twentieth" an interesting read.
Telemachus
Oh, and something else I don't like about Haldeman's books - he always has to have sex in them - I do like his writing otherwise.
Kev

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Horton on April 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Joe Haldeman is a wonder. He continues to produce a novel a year, each compact and intelligent and engaging and involving. At times he fumbles the ending (as with Guardian), but even in such a case the ride is very entertaining. And at other times, he finds a surprising yet internally logical ending that wholly satisfies -- so it was with The Coming, and now again with Old Twentieth. Haldeman also, as with some other veteran authors, has a certain facility with the toolbox of SF: with the classic ideas and again with the latest hot ideas; and he combines them effortlessly and effectively.

In Old Twentieth the ideas Haldeman juggles are immortality, Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, and a variant on the generation starship. He is also, as the title tells us, concerned with the 20th Century, the bloodiest century (though the 21st will turn out to be bloodier, says this novel), and the last century in which death was inevitable.

Central to this novel are scenes of war. We open at Gallipoli, one of the worst battles of World War I. But somehow the narrator escapes certain death, and we quickly gather that he is really using Virtual Reality to experience a simulation of an historical situation. He is Jacob Brewer, whose family was rich enough to purchase an immortality treatment before an horrific war between the lucky immortals and the poorer people who couldn't afford the treatment. He and his mother were among a very few survivors, but a couple of centuries later, the world has recovered, and a stable population of a billion or so lives quite pleasant lives. And they have decided to mount an expedition to Beta Hydrii.

Jake is the VR expert on the fleet of starships.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Telemachus on July 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Joe Haldeman's latest novel is not "Alternative History", but if you're a fan of the genre, you will find "Old Twentieth" an interesting read. As usual, Haldeman sets himself a difficult talk by distilling an epic story into a single volume. Expansive in scope, but not in length, it exemplifies Haldeman's compact and efficient writing style. Haldeman takes us on a journey that explores the downsides of immortality as his characters deal with guilt and search for redemption. Humans who have cheated death and are haunted by a tragic past, seek resolution in virtual reality scenarios recreating 20th Century events where death was common.

One of the most interesting of theses scenarios takes us from the far future back to the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic. Haldeman gives the reader a sobering glimpse of the horrors of the 1918 pandemic which are only vaguely alluded to in current news stories discussing the possibility of a new pandemic looming on our horizon. Oddly, there are relatively FEW examples in literature that attempt to portray an event that killed over 500,000 Americans in a single year. Katherine Anne Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider is one of the only examples. This alone makes Haldeman's exposition an interesting read.

Immortality, multiple scenarios of tragic history both past and future, space travel, self-conscious computers.... Only Haldeman would try to combine these wide ranging topics into a single story. As usual, it makes for an enjoyable read. Does the novel have rough edges? Of course it does. It's actually one of the interesting aspects of reading a Haldeman novel. Although there is a distinctive flavor to Haldeman's writing, he is not formulaic. He tinkers and experiments with new ideas and writing styles.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Peter D. Tillman VINE VOICE on August 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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The backstory here is that, following the discovery of medical "immortality", a civil war resulted in the deaths of all 7 billion people who hadn't yet received the (very expensive) treatment, via a precisely-targeted [note 1] war-virus. After the death of 97% of humanity, civilization more-or-less collapses, of an acute shortage of repairmen -- and all the other non-rich folk who kept the machinery running.

The story itself takes place aboard humanity's first starship, launched almost a century after the War. The protagonist operates the ship's "time machine", an elaborate virtuality for exploring history. The machine turns out to have unexpected emergent qualities, which won't surprise the experienced reader.

I'm ambivalent about this one. It's beautifully-written, and far superior to Camouflage, his last. There's some really cool stuff here, especially the emergent AI's strange personality. The ending will forcefully remind you of a classic no-no for beginning writers -- though, in fairness, it is a logical outcome, given the setup. But unsatisfying, dammit. Second-rank Haldeman -- which means it's still pretty darned good: "B+"

Regular Haldeman readers will note his repeated use of historical recreations, Vietnam flashbacks, immortality, graphic violence, and steamy sex. The first four are prominent in _Old Twentieth_, which has some sexy bits as well.

Google for a (very good) full review, by Paul di Filippo, who gives it a "B" : "...this book feels like a slim placeholder between larger works for one of SF's best writers."

_____________________

[1] --which isn't terribly credible, but is fine for a background plot-device.

Happy reading!

Pete Tillman

Review copyright ©2005 by Peter D. Tillman
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