Cover image of "Mindbridge," a novel by Joe Haldeman about how First Contact goes awry

Brace yourself. This one’s tough to get your head around. On the most basic level, Mindbridge is a story of how First Contact goes awry, but summing it up that way does the book a disservice. Students of literature would call it an epistolary novel. It’s a pastiche of news items, journal entries, excerpts from academic papers, and other miscellany as well as narrative passages and dialogue. And what emerges from all this is a love story, a space travel tale, and an exploration of the human psyche as well as an account of a mind-boggling encounter with extraterrestrial intelligence. It’s tough to do all that in 200 pages, but Joe Haldeman pulls it off.

A fanciful portrayal of the future

Mindbridge was written half a century ago, so its initial setting in the mid-21st century must then have seemed far in the future. Of course, that’s no longer the case. And, like so much science fiction, the developments portrayed in technology and government seem to us today to be as fanciful as they appeared in 1976. The most significant of these is the process that makes instantaneous interstellar travel possible. It’s called the Levant-Meyer Translation. Despite the scientific-sounding name, it is, of course, magic. But it makes the rest of the story work.

Mindbridge by Joe Haldeman (1976) 207 pages ★★★★☆

The human race is spreading to the stars

Jacque Lafavre—yes, he’s Swiss, but he spells that first name without the S—is a Tamer for the Agency for Extraterrestrial Development, or AED. After months of grueling, fiercely competitive training, Jacque has made the grade as a pioneer in “taming” new worlds. (Today, we call the process terraforming. In the mid-21st century, it’s called geoformy.) Traveling by means of the Levant-Meyer Translation, teams of five Tamers venture to planets orbiting stars within the range of ten to 100 light-years from Earth. As a newly-minted Tamer, Jacque’s first excursion is a practice run of sorts. It’s to a rocky, Earth-like planet circling the nearby star Groombridge 1618. No one expects much of the planet. But a surprise awaits him and his teammates there, and it will prove fateful not just for them but for all the human race.

No, Jacque’s team does not encounter extraterrestrial intelligence on the planet they christen Groombridge. That comes later. What they find is an indigenous animal species that heightens human extrasensory perception—with sometimes fatal consequences. And Jacque’s already elevated ESP ability, together with the freakish Groombridge animal, will play a pivotal role when First Contact later becomes a reality. And goes awry.

About the author

Image of Joe Haldeman, author of this novel about how First Contact goes awry

Joe Haldeman was born in Oklahoma City in 1943. He earned a BS in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Maryland in 1967. Immediately after graduation, he was drafted into the US Army. He served as a combat engineer in the Vietnam War. Haldeman was wounded in combat and was awarded a Purple Heart. His experience in Vietnam has inspired much of his fiction. He won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for The Forever War (1974) and did so again for the novella that became his short novel, The Hemingway Hoax (1991). Haldeman has written dozens of other science fiction novels. He won the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2010.

For more reading

I’ve also reviewed Haldeman’s classic, The Forever War – Forever War Trilogy #1 (This classic science fiction war novel won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards).

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