Geek Lit: Joe Haldeman’s The Accidental Time Machine

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Time travel is a well-established tradition in science fiction.

So, what happens when someone discovers a time machine that doesn’t seem to work, only travels one way through time (forward), and no one seems quite sure why it works at all?

That’s the premise behind author Joe Haldeman’s novel The Accidental Time Machine.  Review and maybe some mild SPOILERS after the cut.

Grad student Matt Fuller has problems.  The year is 2050.  His dissertation isn’t working out.  His girlfriend just broke up with him.  His assistantship to an older professor is being withdrawn.  That job just went to another grad student…who also just so happens to be dating Matt’s ex right now.  Matt’s life has hit a dead end, and he’s got no ideas on what to do.

Then he discovers the reset button on the device he’s been working on for his professor causes the whole machine to skip forward in time.  The amount of time the machine skips forward, along with the distance it moves from its starting point, increases exponentially with each use.

How does this machine even work, when attempts by Matt to duplicate it do nothing?  He has no idea.  The whole thing is…drum roll please…an accident.

Seeing nothing better to do, Matt opts to use the machine to go into the future.  He knows that is theoretically possible, but going back in time isn’t.

At least, he knows traveling backwards isn’t possible from his own time.

What follows is a fun romp as Matt visits various futures, each further and further removed from the time he left.  He encounters religious fanatics, holographic artificial intelligences, societies based on bargaining, genetically-engineered dinosaurs,  talking bears, and, of course, Jesus.  Will Matt ever get back from where he started?  And will he get the girl he met in the future?

I couldn’t get too much into Matt’s character, but the book largely worked for me.  This was my first exposure to Haldeman’s writing, so I may have to try some of his other work.  The book started a wee bit slow for my tastes, and Matt didn’t seem too concerned that after a couple jumps everyone he ever knew was dead, so I’ll be giving this one eight Jesus figures out of ten.

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