Mindbridge. Joe Haldeman.
Mindbridge by Joe Haldeman
Orbit, 1977 (186 pages)
This novel uses a sort of ‘bits and pieces’ narrative approach; extracts from an autobiography of the main character, scientific reports, regular novel chapters (named as such), communiqués and so on. It it extremely effective in creating a fast-moving narrative that gives a very full picture of what is going on and lets us see the characters from the inside and the outside.
The story is one of alien contact, both with intelligences and an enigmatic little sea cucumber-like critter that acts as a bridge between minds — hence the title. There are fights, technical difficulties, life-threatening problems on multiple fronts, and the puzzle of just what it is they have found and whether the intelligent aliens are friendly or not.
It all goes on quickly, page-turningly, headlong towards the end. Haldeman’s pseudoscience (matter transmission, in this case) is nicely convincing and limited, and those limitations are important in the story. It seems to me that magic and superscience are at their most effective in fiction when they are at their most marginally useful in the world of the story. Few stories are as unsatisfying as those ended by a simple summoning up of vast powers. Whoever can wave their hands the most successfully wins! In Mindbridge matter transmission lets us explore other planets, but in a very constrained way. Not all places are possible, staying there is a problem, and so on. It takes away the possibility that the impossible technology will be a magic bullet, and makes it all that much more interesting.
The ending: It works, everything that needs to be wrapped up gets wrapped up, but it feels a little perfunctory after what went before. It is a minor weakness. I would recommend the book to anyone who wants a quick, exciting and fun read, given substance by some interesting speculation and solid characterisation.