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All My Sins Remembered
Joe Haldeman
Gollancz paperback £9.99

review by Debbie Moon

Young, idealistic Otto McGavin, a devout Buddhist, signs up to work for the interstellar Confederacion because he believes in its mission to protect the rights of humans and non-humans all across the galaxy. There's just one problem. The diplomacy training he thinks he's received is just a cover for deep hypnosis that will enable him to assume the personality of anyone the Confederacion chooses - as a spy, an enforcer, and a killer.
   At first, his missions at least uphold the rights of the downtrodden. But, as terrible injuries and killing after killing take their psychological toll on what remains of the real Otto, and he increasingly discovers the Confederacion bending its own rules for profit or power, the pressure of his double life becomes unbearable...
   Haldeman's classic novel is an imaginative and gripping read: Otto's missions enable the author to cram a surprising number of worlds, races, and moral dilemmas into this relatively brief volume. Some of the humans are a little one-dimensional, but the aliens are convincingly, well, alien. The issue it raises - can you turn a peaceful man into a killer without destroying him? - is an eternal and a fascinating one. However, despite his fast-paced prose and intriguing settings (or perhaps because of them) Haldeman never seems to fully get to grips with his central premise.
   All My Sins Remembered was published back in the days when SF was considered primarily an action genre, full of strange weapons and ingenious battles; and the demands of an action-led story get in the way of a psychological exploration of Otto's situation. At the mercy of any superior with the hypnotic trigger words, unable to resist orders, he spends too much time as the indestructible hero and not enough in control of his own destiny. And after a mission or two, the cycle of deception - discovery - capture - escape begins to become a little predictable.
   That's not to say this is a bad book: as a rollicking read, and indeed as a primer on the subject of mental manipulation, it's very enjoyable. It's just that, in this age of spin and information overload, we might be looking for a deeper exploration of this important question. However, Haldeman's novel is a good place to start.
All My Sins Remembered

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