Mindbridge Critical Essays

Joe Haldeman


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

As indicated in the book’s dedication, Joe Haldeman borrowed elements of the structure of Mindbridge from that of two previous books: John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. (1930-1936) and John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968). Those novels use a mosaic pattern to give a long and complex description of present and future societies, respectively, while telling a number of intertwined stories.

Mindbridge is considerably briefer than either of these predecessors, and there is essentially only one story thread. The book is divided into fifty-three sections. The main thread of the story is carried by fifteen numbered chapters. Woven around these are excerpts from Jacque’s autobiography, other supposed texts of the time, simulated documents, comments by an omniscient narrator, and two sections titled “crystal ball,” dealing with matters that could not be known at the time of the story.

These various materials provide background on the characters, particularly Jacque, and offer technical and sociological speculations without the need for characters to go into long explanations. Although some critics maintain that this narrative approach, particularly the documents, adds verisimilitude, others condemn it and apply James Blish’s derogatory term “novel of apparatus.” The mosaic approach has been accepted as a useful way of telling a science-fiction story. Brunner and Haldeman continued to use it, and it has been taken up by such successful writers as David Brin, in Earth (1990); Norman Spinrad, in Russian Spring (1991); and Vernor Vinge, in A Fire upon the Deep (1992).

Mindbridge was Haldeman’s second science-fiction novel. His first, The Forever War (1974), was a major critical and popular success, winning both Hugo and Nebula awards and establishing a reputation for Haldeman that would be hard to maintain. Haldeman received a then-unprecedented six-figure advance for Mindbridge. Partly as a result of these factors, the most common reaction to Mindbridge was one of disappointment. The mosaic technique was considered gimmicky, and some critics maintained that the book lacked substance.

Haldeman’s next book, a three-story fixup titled All My Sins Remembered (1977), generally received worse reviews. Following that, however, Haldeman returned to popular and critical favor with novels such as the Worlds trilogy (Worlds, 1981; Worlds Apart, 1983; and Worlds Enough and Time, 1992) and 1968 (1994). Both the trilogy and the novel use multithreaded narrative techniques similar to those in Mindbridge.