cover image Old Twentieth

Old Twentieth

Joe Haldeman, . . Ace, $24.95 (257pp) ISBN 978-0-441-01285-5

Immortality can get boring after a while, especially when most of Earth's population and many of its treasures have been destroyed in a war between the haves and the have-nots. Jake Brewer, a virtual reality engineer, decides to liven things up by agreeing to run a virtuality machine on a starship looking for Earth-type planets. The passengers use the machine to roam through the recreated past, experiencing repeated virtual deaths because they have no expectations of real ones, until suddenly the oldest among them start dying seemingly of natural causes and the machine tells Jake, "We have to talk." This makes for an odd sort of locked-room whodunit. Is the newly sentient machine causing these deaths, or did the immortality treatment simply fail? Hugo- and Nebula-winner Haldeman (The Forever War ) makes these questions tremendously compelling with his usual brilliant knack for detail and characterization. He draws the reader in even through a surprisingly boring expository first chapter, and the increasingly fascinating bulk of the tale makes the abrupt ending all the more shocking and unsatisfying. Haldeman's numerous fans will eagerly snap this one up, but few will reread it. Agent, Ralph Vicinanza. (Aug.)