The Accidental Time Machine
by Joe Haldeman
Review by Barry Newton
Ace Hardcover Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441014996
Date: 07 August 2007 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
A straightforward piece of lab equipment disappears when turned on, then reappears moments later. And it happens again. By dint of careful observation and measurement, physics grad student Matt Fuller is able to determine that the machine takes one-way trips into the future—and the trips get dramatically longer each time. Needless to say, Matt begins to send himself on these trips; willingly at first, and desperately later, as he gets into various kinds of trouble on his way.
This is a tale which can be read on a number of levels. . .one of which is seeing the author following the adage to "write what you know." In this case, what he knows well is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, having been an instructor there for a number of years. There is considerable sport in turning MIT into something akin to a monastery at some point in the relatively near future. The twists on curriculum, tenure, and academic privilege are delicious.
Another level to The Accidental Time Machine is the various grim futures Haldeman offers as possibilities, all extrapolated (with varying degrees of credibility) from the present. Religious fundamentalism is only one of them, and the amusing byplay the author throws in only mitigates, but does not eliminate the horror of it. The bored AI companion he meets in a distant future who essentially manages the entire economy of the American west is another. The author obviously agrees with my own conviction that when machines develop human personalities, they will be subject to human failings. . . And the very distant future is grim, indeed.
My least favorite part of the story is the ending, which has a familiar flavor of "OK, we've got a book-length manuscript here, how do we end the damned thing?" But at least there is an ending (not always the case with some. . .) and loose ends are tidily wrapped up. The Author's Note at the end provides further insight and amusement into the scientific basis of the book. Joe Haldeman is a solid and experienced writer, and The Accidental Time Machine is, overall, a well-crafted story. And that's no accident.
From the Author: Joe Haldeman
FYI, though, re: My least favorite part of the story is the ending, which has a familiar flavor of "OK, we've got a book-length manuscript here, how do we end the damned thing?"
Unlike most of my books, I had the ending firmly in mind before I'd finished the first chapter. A characteristic of time-travel paradox stories, perhaps.