Overview

How can you come back home after spending time in the most horrific place on Earth?

Fought for nebulous reasons with devastating results on both sides, the Vietnam War was the conflict that changed America’s relationship with war forever. 1968 is Hugo and Nebula Award–winning author and Vietnam veteran Joe Haldeman’s account of this turbulent time in American history, as ...
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1968

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Overview

How can you come back home after spending time in the most horrific place on Earth?

Fought for nebulous reasons with devastating results on both sides, the Vietnam War was the conflict that changed America’s relationship with war forever. 1968 is Hugo and Nebula Award–winning author and Vietnam veteran Joe Haldeman’s account of this turbulent time in American history, as seen through the eyes of the people it most affected: the soldiers and their loved ones.
 
John “Spider” Spiedel is a college dropout who is drafted into the war as a combat engineer. Scared, he tries to keep his head down and stay safe, a plan that works until the Tet Offensive, when he is wounded and sent stateside. Back home, his girlfriend, Beverly, has fallen in with the hippie movement in an attempt to rebel against the repressive values of American society.
 
1968 is not just a story of two young people attempting to find themselves in a tumultuous world—it’s the account of a country trying to find itself as well.

This ebook features an illustrated biography of Joe Haldeman including rare images from the author’s personal collection. 
 

From the critially acclaimed author of War Year and The Forever War comes a searing and compassionate drama that goes from the grind of combat in Southeast Asia to the angry protests in the streets of downhome America to tell the story of a Vietnam veteran driven to the edge of insanity by the horrors he has seen.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Finally, among recent mass-market paperback reprints, SF readers should keep an eye out for Joe Haldeman's 1968, which didn't get the attention it deserved in hardback. The novel isn't SF, but SF readers will recognize some of their favorite writers in the dreams that haunt Haldeman's Vietnam vet protagonist. And 1968 was such a strange year that, in retrospect, it seems like science-fiction.
—Gary Wolfe
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Evoking painful nostalgia, Haldeman's (The Forever Wars) tragic and depressing novel chronicles a year in the life of Darcy ``Spider'' Speidel, a combatant in and victim of Vietnam. A teenage college dropout, Spider is drafted and sent to Nam as a combat engineer. Spider is just a scared, uncertain kid reluctantly playing the game of war for keeps; after he's wounded during the onset of the Tet offensive, he's evacuated back to the States, where his real war begins. His onetime sweetheart, embroiled in the hippy counterculture, has taken up with a new, draft-deferred boyfriend. Confused and helpless, the traumatized Spider lacks the support of even his doctors and his family. Haldeman uses bold language, powerful images and a graphic style to tell his emotional tale, in which concentrated, diary-like entries intensify the drama and despair. He also takes every opportunity to engage in social criticism, ranging from the conduct of the war to draft inequities, from the sexual revolution to the failings of military medical care. He even tries unconvincingly to resurrect the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Affecting and compelling on several levels, Spider's story may nevertheless strike readers as a Forrest Gump without any hope or inspiration. (June)
Dennis Winters
Haldeman has been one of science fiction's brightest stars for two decades but is less renowned for his Vietnam War novels. The third, "1968", deals with a year in the life of Snake, a combat engineer in the Central Highlands just before the Tet offensive. Wounded on a patrol, he is medevac'd to the U.S. and diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He spends the rest of the year, both in the hospital and afterward, trying to come to terms with his family, the country, the war, and especially the memory of his last patrol. Haldeman's spare, flat prose is perfectly suited to a story containing so many tensions and so much emotion, and his ironic asides on weapons, customs, and psychiatric procedures provide not just background, but acrid commentary. A powerful novel, "1968" is worthy of careful reading, for although veterans will be instantly attuned to Haldeman's voice, what he has to say will also repay those who bring to it only a casual knowledge of the war.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781497692442
  • Publisher: Open Road Media
  • Publication date: 12/2/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 345
  • Sales rank: 261,256
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Joe Haldeman began his writing career while he was still in the army. Drafted in 1967, he fought in the Central Highlands of Vietnam as a combat engineer with the Fourth Division. He was awarded several medals, including a Purple Heart.
 
Haldeman sold his first story in 1969 and has since written over two dozen novels and five collections of short stories and poetry. He has won the Nebula and Hugo Awards for his novels, novellas, poems, and short stories, as well as the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the Locus Award, the Rhysling Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. His works include The Forever War, Forever Peace, Camouflage, 1968, the Worlds saga, and the Marsbound series.
 
Haldeman recently retired after many years as an associate professor in the Department of Writing and Humanistic Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He and his wife, Gay, live in Florida, where he also paints, plays the guitar, rides his bicycle, and studies the skies with his telescope. 
 

Joe Haldeman began his writing career while he was still in the army. Drafted in 1967, he fought in the Central Highlands of Vietnam as a combat engineer with the Fourth Division. He was awarded several medals, including a Purple Heart.

Haldeman sold his first story in 1969 and has since written over two dozen novels and five collections of short stories and poetry. He has won the Nebula and Hugo Awards for his novels, novellas, poems, and short stories, as well as the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the Locus Award, the Rhysling Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. His works include The Forever War, Forever Peace, Camouflage, 1968, the Worlds saga, and the Marsbound series.

Haldeman recently retired after many years as an associate professor in the Department of Writing and Humanistic Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He and his wife, Gay, live in Florida, where he also paints, plays the guitar, rides his bicycle, and studies the skies with his telescope. 
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Read an Excerpt

1968


By Joe Haldeman

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1995 Joe Haldeman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-9244-2



CHAPTER 1

FIRST WEEK


A world of dirt

Spider was on a planet far away, a world better than this one. There was a beautiful princess involved, and a reluctant hero, and dragons and swords, but it was science fiction, not fantasy. A big book called Glory Road, by Robert Heinlein.

"You still readin' that flyin' saucer crap?" Batman dropped two heavy boxes of C rations, raising a cloud of red dust.

Spider didn't look up. "Bite my crank."

"Whip it out." Batman's face was a big black moon. He wiped it carefully with a green bandanna. "Let me see your sixteen."

Spider started to frame a smartass reply, but let it go. "I'll do it." He unfolded his six-foot-two skinny frame, stretched and yawned, stuffed the fat book into a side pocket. Spider was white, nominally; like all the other white boys and men at the fire base, he was actually red, his unwashed skin deeply stained with ground-in laterite dirt.

Spider retrieved his M16, which he had never fired, from where it was propped up against a low bunker. The flash suppressor on the end of the barrel had three prongs that served as an adequate wire-cutter for the baling wire that bound the boxes C rations came in: you slip the prongs around the taut wire and give the rifle a quick twist; the wire gives way with a satisfying snap.

What Spider didn't know was that if you do this often enough, with enough force, you will begin to unscrew the barrel. Then you can squeeze off a round and have the receiver explode in your face. This would happen to a lot of soldiers before the army changed the design of the flash suppressor. But it's not what happened to Spider.

Batman shouted "Chow!" while Spider snapped open the boxes.

"Happy fucking New Year," Spider said. "Get laid?"

"Sure I got laid. Didn't get off the fuckin' base." The boxes were deliberately upside-down. Batman kneeled and opened them. Inside each were twelve meals in light brown cartons. If you exposed them label side up, nobody would take Scrambled Eggs (which the army called Ham & Eggs, Chopped) or Ham & Lima Beans (which the soldiers called Ham and Motherfuckers). This way, choosing your meal was potluck, often the most exciting event of the day. "Didn't even get any beer. Had to pull fuckin' guard while the clerks an' jerks partied."

Spider felt ambiguous about that term. He had been a certain kind of clerk for his first two weeks in Vietnam. He hated the job, and lost it by shouting at a sergeant, and attempting to land a punch. In his new position, Combat Engineer (Pioneer), he got to work with more congenial men, but other than that it was dirt everywhere, unrelenting heat, hard labor, bad food, and the possibility of people shooting at you. He didn't yet realize how dangerous it could become. Not many did. It was twenty-nine days before Tet, 1968.


Religious holidays

CHRISTIANITY The week before, the fire base had been temporarily transformed with red and green bunting and a plastic Christmas tree. Doughnut Dollies, Red Cross workers, came out in a helicopter with a carefully wrapped and perfectly random gift for each soldier. Spider got a 250-piece jigsaw puzzle of a snow scene in Vermont.

A Methodist chaplain in clean starched fatigues offered some prayers and a sermon that put Spider to sleep. He woke up when the Doughnut Dollies turned on a tape recorder, loud and tinny, and led the boys in a ragged half-hour of Christmas carols. The man whose code name was Moses knew all the words and sang with a clear, strong voice. Nobody else was very good, and the excruciation was cut short when the 8-incher behind the Dollies started a sudden fire mission, the shells about as loud as Hiroshima, blasting every twenty seconds or so.

Spider was deeply depressed by the travesty; Christmas had always been the big family get- together, a warm and loving time. He would have cried if he could have had some privacy. Some men and boys did, the tears making temporary mud streaks on their permanently dirty faces.

(Spider had opened his presents from home early. A book of poetry, Palgrave's Golden Treasury, from Beverly; a cross on a chain and a tin box of moldy Rice Krispies cookies from his mother, and from his father, a Swiss Army knife that had everything, including a magnifying glass and a toothpick.)


JUDAISM Moses had grown up Reform, and hadn't been noticeably devout since he started high school. But like a lot of men, he suddenly became Orthodox when he arrived in Vietnam. Every Jewish holiday, the army sent out a helicopter to take him to the nearest synagogue, 150 miles away. He would come back with a bag of Hebrew National salamis and Mogen David wine from the kosher PX, and share them with his less fortunate gentile brethren.


BUDDHISM The Vietnamese lunar holiday of Tet was sort of a combination of Christmas and New Year, and throughout the war it was customary to declare a cease-fire for that day. 1968 was no exception.


Whys and wherefores

"Flat ... busted that mother." Spider rocked the little P-38 can opener around the soft-metal lip of the green can, Peaches, Cling. Aggressively.

"Stupid asshole thing to do." The other guy, Tonto, was half writing a letter, half listening to Spider. He'd heard the story before, secondhand, slightly different.

Spider drank off part of the juice and crumbled a piece of pound cake into the peaches. "Oh, man. You shoulda been there. Take just so much shit off a lifer."

Tonto set down his pencil and looked at Spider. "I could take a lot."

"You don't know, man. Drive you outa your fuckin' gourd."

"I was a clerk stateside. Wasn't so bad."

"Shit, stateside." Spider slurped at his peaches-and-pound-cake mixture. "It's another world over here. Screw up one form, they put a pack on your back. Wise-ass lifers. They're safe."

Spider had attempted to strike his company's First Sergeant and, rather than go through the formality of a court-martial, they had taken away his typewriter, given him a rucksack and a rifle that didn't work, and put him on a helicopter. All this was subsequent to the First Sergeant having given him two black eyes, a split lip, and several loosened teeth. Spider was impressed by the asymmetry of the exchange (see "Entropy"). All he had done was misspell a name in a signature block.


Entropy

Entropy was a buzzword in 1968, a perfectly good thermodynamic term captured and put in thrall by those who traffic in metaphor. When something changes the entropy of a system, that change is, innocently enough, the heat absorbed in the process, divided by the system's temperature. The entropy of a system measures the availability of energy in it; energy to do work. The more entropy, the less useful energy available.

What makes this concept dramatic and literary and symbolic of futility, perversity, anomie, is that any change in a real system results in an increase of entropy. When the dust settles, you have less to work with than when you started.

So the entropy of a system is said to be an indicator of the degree of disorder in that system. In any change worked upon a closed system, entropy, thus disorder, must either (trivially) remain constant or increase.

One familiar secular statement of this basic thermodynamic principle is Murphy's Law: If anything can go wrong, it will. That was one of the things Spider had written on the camouflage cover of his helmet.


Names (1)

Spider was named Darcy after a rich uncle who unfortunately left all his money to other people.

He got the name Spider partly because of the abnormal length of his arms and legs. He'd had the name since the seventh grade, and was very good at drawing spiders. He drew a large black one on the top of the camouflage net of his helmet.

The army let him use Spider as his code name (see "Names [2]")


Human relations

"I can get along with most anybody," Spider said. He tossed the can away and sat down in the inch-thick dust. He lit up a Lucky Strike. "I mean that sergeant had to go some."

"I know what you mean." Tonto was writing again, trying to describe his surroundings to his wife:

Were in a clearing about the size of a football field. There's a old stone farmhouse in the middle, all bombed out. We got six 155s and a 8-incher and four or five tanks and three compnies of infantry. No way in Hell Charlys gonna mess with us.

"Spelled the fuckin' sergeant's name wrong at the bottom of a letter. I woulda typed it over. But he started hollerin' and callin' me names. I don't have to take that kind of shit."

"Damn straight." Theres a rubber plantation all around us. I guess were at one end of it. You can see the jungle off to the west. We got patrols out all day and ambushes all night. We got 3 layers of barbed wire and 50s all around the permeter. This place has been here for a year and never got hit. So you dont have to worry.

"Better out here anyhow. Nobody fucks with you."

"Nobody but Charlie."

"Ah, shit. What do you know about it?" The other man had only been in Vietnam for one month.

"Just what I hear. Same as you."


Dust

Laterite is a ferruginous mineral, brick-red in color, that makes up much of the soil of the Central Highlands of Vietnam. If the brush is cleared from an area during the dry season, this laterite manifests itself as a fine red dust, like gritty talcum powder, that gets on and into everything.

In semi-permanent installations, the dust is often several inches deep, piling up in drifts like hot dry snow. It's constantly airborne; making breathing difficult, dyeing the skin, fouling machinery, giving food an interesting texture.


First blood

That night a squad of enemy sappers cut their way through the barbed wire and set a satchel charge under the 8-inch howitzer. Returning through the hole in the barbed wire, one tripped over a string that set off a magnesium flare. All six of them were slaughtered by a .50-caliber machine gun, operated by the guard whose drowsiness had let them through the perimeter in the first place. Their return fire was valiant but only succeeded in amputating a cook's ear-lobe. The satchel charge went off but it was too small, and only knocked a wheel off the howitzer. The NVA squad that had been waiting for the sappers' return fired five hasty mortar rounds toward the American camp. All five rounds fell short (see "Entropy").


Attitudes

"God, you see them dead gooks?" The man who said this, grinning, had earned his nickname "Killer" by singlehandedly zapping an unarmed North Vietnamese soldier who'd come crashing through the woods, shouting deliriously, a few months before. The first round, a head wound, had probably been sufficient, but Killer had walked over to him, switched the M16's selector to FULL AUTO, and put seventeen more rounds in a line across the man's back, point-blank, almost cutting him in two. He'd never killed anyone before or since.

"Yeah." Spider had seen them from a distance. "Big shit. I seen worse."

(Spider wasn't lying. When he'd tried to slug the sergeant, he had been employed as a clerk at "Graves Registration" in Kontum. Besides typing and filing, he had tagged the bodies of American soldiers, inventoried their personal possessions, and sent them along to Cam Ranh Bay inside a plastic bag inside an aluminum casket. He hadn't liked the job and after two weeks it had driven him a little crazy.)

"Monday." The medic Doc, walking by, gave Spider and Killer each their weekly malaria pill, an orange disc just smaller than a cookie. This was in addition to their daily chloroquine.

"God." Killer made a face and, gagging, washed the thing down with half a canteen of water. Spider belonged to the other school of thought: he broke it into four more-or-less equal pieces with his Swiss Army knife, and took each piece separately. Killer watched him with the righteous contempt of a man who has seen a physical challenge and faced it directly.

"Yer gun clean?" Killer asked. His was immaculate, always.

"All I ever do is clean my fuckin' gun." He knew it was probably pretty dusty, but he hadn't checked it this morning. "What's it to you?"

"Gonna saddle up. Search an' destroy."

"'Saddle up,'" Spider mocked him. "Will you get off that shit?" Every morning of the week Spider had been at the fire base, somebody said they were going to be moving out.

"No shit. Captain's been in the command tent all morning."

"Playin' cards."

"Uh uh, Miller says it's for real this time." Miller was their platoon sergeant, a graybeard of forty who had actually fought in Korea.

"Well." Spider got up and brushed the dust from the seat of his pants, a futile instinctive gesture. "Maybe I'll go get my shit straight."

"Maybe you better." Spider really hated the guy when he was on that hard-core kick. When he wasn't playing John Wayne he was all right. He read books, even science fiction sometimes.

Spider went to the fuel dump and sloshed a couple of inches of gasoline into his helmet. He carried it back to his hooch and picked up his M16 and sat down cross-legged on a sandbag.


The Black Death (1)

Soldiers in Vietnam were told that the enemy, primitive superstitious devils, called our M16 "the Black Death." It did appear menacing: sleek, dull black, efficient-looking, modernistic. A great deal of thought had gone into the visual aspect of its design. But it had its drawbacks.

For some reason, the magazine only held twenty rounds. The weapon's cyclic rate of fire was such that if you held the trigger down for three fourths of a second, you'd be suddenly out of ammunition. Also, the spring-feed would jam if you tried to fill the magazine completely; most people carried only eighteen rounds per magazine.

It was mechanically as cantankerous as a cheap watch. If there was any dirt or rust inside the receiver, it just wouldn't work. And it was too light to make a good club.

It fired tiny bullets whose effect on the human body was inconsistent.

If you cocked it too fast you'd lose a fingernail.

The rear peep-sight kept filling up with crud.

The sling was useless.

When you tried to sneak through the jungle, the hollow stock made loud clacks and scrapes against the brush. The sling swivels (unless you'd taped them or taken them off) made jolly little squeaking, snickering sounds.

It was very disconcerting to American soldiers when, after a battle, they would collect enemy ordnance and find that the primitive superstitious devils had been returning fire enthusiastically with weapons that were dirty, rusty, and held together with wire and friction tape. Whereas GIs often had to scrunch down behind a tree in the middle of a battle, and take their beautiful weapon apart and try to figure out why it had stopped working.

A graffito often found scratched on the stocks of M16s was MADE BY MATTELL, IT'S SWELL.


Hygiene

Scratched on the stock of Spider's M16 was the disconcerting legend THIS MACHINE DOESN'T WORK. The supply sergeant who had issued him the weapon said not to worry about it.

Spider cleaned his hands with a little bit of the gas, then worked over the external metal parts of the gun with a piece of toilet paper moistened with gas.

"Good morning, Mr. Spider." Wilkes, buck sergeant, Spider's squad leader.

"Pull up a chair." Spider worked the little toggle free and the gun swung open. He dropped the slide, bolt, and trigger assembly into the helmet to soak.

"Know you're not supposed to use gasoline." Wilkes sat down across from him. "Fire hazard."

"That a fact." Spider threaded a patch of cotton the size of his thumbnail through the eye of a cleaning rod. He soaked the patch with gas and ran it through the barrel.

"Yep. If you try to shoot the gun when it's full of gasoline vapor, it'll blow up in your face."

Spider showed him what was written on his stock.

"Guess you're safe." Wilkes broke open his rife. "Can I bum some?"

"Go ahead." Spider ran the cleaning rod through again, this time with a few drops of LSU light grease. He took the soaking parts out of the gasoline and lined them up on a strip of clean toilet paper on his knee, then offered the helmet to Wilkes. "Save me some for my ammo."

He didn't want to go through the hassle of taking apart the bolt and trigger assembly. They looked clean enough, so he just wiped them off and gave them a thin coat of LSU. "True we're goin' out today?"

"Shit, I hope not. I had early guard last night. Didn't get two hours' sleep." The fire base had gone on "100% alert" after the abortive sabotage: everybody up and standing guard in bunkers around the perimeter, until dawn. If you were already up, you had to stay up.

Spider started to put the thing back together, which always took as long as all the rest of the cleaning operation. It was like assembling one of those carved-wood Chinese puzzles.

He got it back together, carefully propped it against his rucksack, out of the dust, and then stepped away from the gas to light up a cigarette.

"It won't be so bad, though, if we do go out. Right?"

"Depends." Wilkes was ostentatiously taking apart his bolt assembly "All we ever do is walk, practically. Walk all day, dig a hole at night. Fill up the hole in the morning and start walkin' again." He made a face, concentrating so as not to lose the little spring when it popped out. "Some guys like it better. You know that. No dust, no officers to speak of."

"No dinks."

"Not in over a month. And the last one wasn't even a fire-fight, just a little argument. One casualty."

"Yeah, I heard—"

"Poor ol' Smiley. Got it right here." He indicated a point midway between his own sternum and navel. "Haven't heard anything since we put him on the medevac, guess he's dead." He got the spring out, without its flying into the dust. "Ah. Son of a bitch owed me almost a hundred bucks."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from 1968 by Joe Haldeman. Copyright © 1995 Joe Haldeman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

First week,
A world of dirt,
Religious holidays,
Whys and wherefores,
Entropy,
Names (1),
Human relations,
Dust,
First blood,
Attitudes,
The Black Death (1),
Hygiene,
The enemies,
Love letter,
Excrement,
Life is but a dream,
Second week,
Moving out,
Search and destroy,
Happy trails,
Mines and boobytraps,
Walking point,
Names (2),
A walk in the park (1),
The Black Death (2),
Foreign influences,
Love letter,
Love letter,
Beverly's sex life (1),
First contact,
Spider's sex life (1),
Moving on,
Beverly's sex life (2),
Incoming,
Choppers,
Chill,
Road race,
Lunacy,
Third week,
Beverly's sex life (3),
Love letter,
Edged weapons,
Luck of the draw,
All you need is love,
A walk in the park (2),
Schizophrenia (1),
Wired,
Truces,
Spider's sex life (2),
Showdown,
Love letter,
The army and the whores,
Different kinds of craziness,
Fourth week,
Chat,
Tet 1968,
Strategy,
Love letter,
Miscalculations,
A new day dawns,
The first version,
A calculus of death,
Rude awakening,
Perchance to dream,
Dulce et decorum est,
Rescue,
February,
First impressions,
The second version,
Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex,
Dangling conversation,
The third version,
Schizo (1),
Minds meeting,
Girl talk,
Schizo (2),
The cuckoo's nest,
March,
The fourth version,
Sexual release,
Homosexuality,
Suggestions,
The fifth version,
No news is good news,
Stuff and nonsense,
Exit,
Brush with death,
The sixth version,
Schizo (3),
Better living through electricity,
DEROS,
April,
All Fools' Day,
Sweet mystery of life,
Martin Luther King and James Earl Ray,
The fire this time,
Fires,
Boy hero,
Life is but a dream,
Baggage,
Homecoming (1),
Eine kleine Nachtmusik,
The sexual revolution,
Soldier's home,
Let it all hang out,
May,
Mayday,
Decisions,
PTSD,
Magazine issues,
Hashbury,
Homecoming (2),
Life is but a dream,
The great white hope,
Moving in, moving out,
A good man is easy to lose,
One day on the job,
Summer,
Spider's sex life (3),
A world of hurt,
Healing,
Fall,
Homecoming (3),
The universe is queerer than we can imagine,
Travel broadens,
Settling in,
Expensive beer,
Winter,
The end of something,
John in the box,
Life is but a dream,
A Biography of Joe Haldeman,
Acknowledgments and Dedication,

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