1968by Joe Haldeman
In 1968, a nation fought two wars: one abroad...and one with itself. On one front, Spider walked point and tried to survive an insanity he neither accepted nor understood. On another, his "girl," Beverly, drifted into a strange counterculture that offered her dangerous freedoms at the price of her innocence. In 1968, a great black leader was murdered on a balcony in Memphis...a political convention in Chicago was stained with young blood...and Spider and Beverly searched for their separate peace in two worlds on fire. It was the year that changed us all. In 1968, everything went crazy.
Author Biography: Joe Haldeman first won the Hugo Award for his novel The Forever War. His work includes the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel The Hemingway Hoax and the acclaimed Worlds Trilogy. He has won a total of three Nebula Awards and four Hugo Awards. A Vietnam veteran who was wounded, Joe Hadleman teaches writing at M.I.T. and lives part-time in Florida with his wife, Gay.
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.47(w) x 9.53(h) x 1.16(d)
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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 race 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 he boxes.
"Happy fucking NewYear,'' 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 be fore Tet, 1968.
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.
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 ")
"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 companies 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 perimeter. 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."
Copyright ) 1995 by Joe W. Haldeman
Meet the Author
Joe Haldeman first won the Hugo Award for his novel The Forever War. His work includes the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel The Hemingway Hoax and the acclaimed Worlds Trilogy. He has won a total of three Nebula Awards and four Hugo Awards. A Vietnam veteran who was wounded, Joe Hadleman teaches writing at M.I.T. and lives part-time in Florida with his wife, Gay.
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