Buying Time by Joe Haldeman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Earlier this year I read The Forever War for the first time after having read Starship Troopers. So when there was a Humble Bundle with a bunch of books I didn’t care about, but which had a book by Joe Haldeman, I jumped on the bundle.
Having read these two books, the biggest thing I’ve noticed abut Joe is that he is GREAT at world-building. It doesn’t mean the story suffers, but I almost want to read more to wander around his worlds than I do for the story to continue. What’s the world here? Some scientists invent The Styleman procedure – undergoing this procedure reverses the aging process. As long as you go through it every 10 years, you can remain a perpetual 20-year-old (body-wise). That, by itself, would be a near world. But in order to get the initial financing to setup The Styleman Institute, they wanted to use it to redistribute wealth in the world. The process would cost $1 million dollars and the person who did it would have to give away all their money and posessions to the institute, which would then spread it around various charities. This is also a world where people take pleasure trips out into space and where there are lawless colonies among the asteroids. (And also on Florida)
Of course, for most rich people you can take away their money and they’ll earn it back again because that’s how they became rich in the first place. But the ability to live forever also creates incentives to find ways to cheat. So we meet characters who have various levels of morality about following the letter of the Styleman agreement.
Eventually the story evolves into a thriller in which our protagonists have upset some very important people and are chased around the world and through space while trying to figure out who exactly is after them and why.
The story-telling is really neat, including using a technique I’ve seen a lot in comics (particularly by Alan Moore), but rarely in books: a variety of media are used to tell the story. So in addition to jumping back and forth between our main characters POV chapters and an omniscient third party POV, there are chapters that tell the story via ads, TV commercials, TV interviews, news stories, etc. It makes for a very rich and varied experience while expanding the scope of the world. There’s even one chapter that was a bit rough in audiobook, but probably really awesome in text – where they show what a conversation between an AI and a human would be like since AIs would be able to think as fast as computers can.
Overall, it’s a well-told story that makes you think a lot about the main premise (being able to live forever for a price) and works well as a thriller.