Home > Books > Work Done For Hire by Joe Haldeman

Work Done For Hire by Joe Haldeman

work done for hire

Work Done For Hire by Joe Haldeman is a very interesting book from a man better known for his science fiction. For the most part, this is a contemporary or near future thriller which adopts a somewhat metafictional structure. Since the nature of the plot is clearly intended to build up to an unexpected outcome, I will be careful to avoid anything too explicit in this review. I’ve probably read too many thrillers and SF novels to be taken by surprise. One of the flaws of the book is that, once you are given confirmation your suspicion is correct, there’s no effort made to retrace steps to explain how it was all done. I’m not saying setting this up in the real world would be impossible, but it would have felt more reassuring if Haldeman had offered a few words. Perhaps the US military really does surgically implant tracking devices into its key assets and another group could hack the device and follow him around. Or there’s some other near-future technology in play here. Whatever it is, the author should come clean. As to the actual ending, it’s less than rational and rather perfunctory. As one of the US military might say, this has grown into something of a clusterfuck and wrapping up all the loose ends and consequences in a single paragraph is the worst kind of lazy writing. This seems to be an author who thought of a plot which nicely got our protagonist into a mess and then couldn’t work out how to resolve it. So he threw down a few paragraphs at the end and hoped no-one would notice the arbitrary way in which everything came screeching to a halt.

 

So what can I safely say about this? Well, meet Jack Daley who was a sniper in the latest conflict. He picked up a wound in his leg and was invalided out. This leads to the usual PTSD problems and he’s heading for the usual scrap heap when he meets the right young lady. He writes a book about his experiences which is not unsuccessful, but no publisher seems very interested in his next book. Then his agent comes back with an offer from a film producer. They have a script outline and are looking for someone to novelise it. Actually, the studio doesn’t want a full novel. Novelette length is sufficient. If the studio likes it, they will build it into a shooting script with a big bonus if it’s made into a film. Note this is pie-in-the-sky future financial security. He’s only sure of the small advance. Throughout the book, we therefore get to read the chapters in this novelette as they are written. Indeed, it’s not impossible to see the emerging science fiction horror story as offering at least two points of interest. The hook for the story is a man down on his luck who’s paid to act as bait for a serial killer. It’s left ambiguous as to whether this Hunter is human or an alien. All we can say about this creature is that he eats those he kills. The second feature is the writing process influences the direction the fiction takes. As our writer as protagonist feels threatened, so his novelette becomes more gory. Obviously a sniper has a different view of the process of killing. His subconscious may therefore be taking the novelette in a direction the studio might consider unfilmable.

Joe Haldeman

Joe Haldeman

 

Everything is moderately conventional for the first third of the book. Our protagonist begins to demonstrate he’s not the greatest writer of horror which may be sfnal and we get to meet the woman in his life. He then receives a rifle with instructions to set it up for a hit and then stand ready for instructions. If he fails to obey, the voice on the telephone makes the usual threat that “they” will kill his girlfriend. So begins an exploration of how far each side of the potential bargain is prepared to go. Although Daley is not a banker, he’s used as a literary device to explore the phenomenon of moral hazard. He’s been a paid killer for the government. Now he’s asked to continue in his trade for private hire. This plot development might be more interesting if he was told who he was supposed to kill, but because the precise details of what he’s expected to do are never made explicit, the extent of the dilemma is not allowed to develop. Put simply, what we see of his writing suggests he’s never going to make it as a novelist, and he has no other real skills with which to earn a living. Resuming his life as a well-paid killer would pay all the bills and enable him to live a comfortable life. Unfortunately, the details remain largely theoretical and this aspect of the plot loses its impact.

 

This leaves me thinking Work Done For Hire is undercooked. Far more could have been done to bring the near-future technology into focus. The inclusion of an entire novelette inside the novel slows down the action and leaves less room for the thriller to build and be resolved coherently. The metafictional opportunity to use the fiction as an internal mirror is never seriously exploited. Although the characterisation of Jack and Kit is good, particularly when they go on the run, the book itself never really decides what it wants to do with two such interesting characters. The actual plot mechanism used in the final quarter of the book is very clichéd and makes little sense given what has gone before. So even though there are good features, I can’t really recommend you read this which, for a novel by Haldeman, is disappointing.

 

For reviews of other books by Joe Haldeman, see:
The Accidental Time Machine
Earthbound.

 

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

 

  1. May 5, 2014 at 12:29 am

    “The metafictional opportunity to use the fiction as an internal mirror is never seriously exploited” — if you want metafiction SERIOUSLY exploited to GREAT effect check out the SF of Barry N. Malzberg — Beyond Apollo (1972), Revelations (1972), In The Enclosure (1973), etc.

    • May 5, 2014 at 12:34 am

      But, you’ve probably read most of his SF anyway😉 I don’t remember if we’ve talked about Malzberg or not.

      • May 5, 2014 at 12:46 am

        Actually, I can only remember reading one of Malzberg’s output. For no terribly good reason I can remember, he was never included on my hit list of authors to read.

      • May 5, 2014 at 12:47 am

        Ah, well, read Beyond Apollo! Be warned, the most unusual SF of that period, and highly metafictional, freudian etc.

      • May 5, 2014 at 1:01 am

        Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll make vague efforts to track down a copy. Only vague efforts because the steady-state mountain of books to read keeps me busy without adding forty-year-old books into the mix. The most interesting metafictional books of recent time are The Sound of One Hand Killing by Teresa Solana and First Novel: A Mystery by Nicholas Royle, with the trilogy To Hell & Back by Matthew Hughes mildly entertaining.

      • May 5, 2014 at 1:03 am

        I remember a lot of people loved the metaficional elements of Redshirts…. But, Malzberg has pulled all those punches long before😉 And, he’s another seldom read author. I think the absence of one or two of his novels from the Gollancz masterwork list might be their biggest, and most egregious, omission (besides some earlier SF collections by women authors who seldom published novels — i.e. Miriam Allen deFord and Judith Merril).

      • May 5, 2014 at 1:17 am

        OK I have penned a quick message to my bookseller to track down a copy of Beyond Apollo.🙂 As to metafiction, I can’t say I’m a big fan of Scalzi based on the two books I’ve read so far.

      • May 5, 2014 at 1:19 am

        I dislike Scalzi as well — but that has more to do with my dislike of space opera than him per se.

        I wrote a really serious/long review of Beyond Apollo a while back.

        It’s a challenging novel, that’s for sure.

      • May 5, 2014 at 1:24 am

        I think “dislike” is a little strong for Scalzi. He just seems to be reinventing the wheel without any redeeming features. Boring would be a more appropriate word.

      • May 5, 2014 at 1:08 am

        To quote Clute over at the SF encyclopedia: “Malzberg’s writing is unparalleled in its intensity and in its apocalyptic sensibility. His detractors consider him bleakly monotonous and despairing, but he is a master of black Humour, and is one of the few writers to have used sf’s vocabulary of ideas extensively as apparatus in psychological landscapes, dramatizing relationships between the human mind and its social environment in an sf theatre of the absurd.”

        Here’s the full, every very very positive entry.

        http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/malzberg_barry_n

  1. May 5, 2014 at 12:24 am
  2. May 5, 2014 at 12:25 am
  3. May 5, 2014 at 12:33 am

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