Science-fiction writer Haldeman (Worlds Enough and Time, 1992, etc.) unsuccessfully grinds a big political ax on too small a stone, in a novel about the traumas of the Vietnam War--also the subject of his first non-sf novel, The War, in 1972. Spider begins his Vietnam tour as a clerk in Graves Registration, but is soon sent to the jungles. He carries a rifle that doesn't work, has no real friends, and little control over his life. Not surprisingly, he expects to die in Vietnam, while, back home, girlfriend Beverly struggles against an increasingly repressive society. Her letters to Spider try to mask both the political tenor of the country and her rejection of their former life together. Meanwhile, Spider begins to doubt his own sanity. The only survivor when his squad is wiped out, this young soldier is physically unharmed, but his mind is broken. He's sent stateside, to a psychiatric unit at Walter Reed Hospital, where he's not so much cured as experimented upon. Once released, Spider returns home to Bethesda, Maryland, and enrolls in college. But all his attempts at living a normal life fail, since he's suffering from post-traumatic shock syndrome. Spider tries, but he's unable to reconnect with Beverly, who by now is moving around the country and protesting the war. Throughout, Spider and Beverly take a psychological beating, although they do find some small redemptions (Spider in his music and newfound friends, Beverly in being briefly reunited with her mother). No such luck, however, for the reader, since the story has long since disintegrated--beginning about a third of the way in--under the weight of polemics (the military is bad, the government is bad, people are bad, etc.) and undeveloped characters. You'd like to feel for Spider, but every time you begin to, Haldeman wades in with a heavy-handed aside, destroying the novel's rhythm and integrity. With surprisingly scant tension given the subject matter, Haldeman, himself awarded a Purple Heart in Vietnam, offers too much political treatise and too little below the surface of his characters' lives.