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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman

The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman. New York: Ace Books, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-441-01499-6

I am continually amazed by the creative genius of artists and writers. Time travel is a venerable plot device in science fiction, running back at least as far as The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, first published in 1895. Haldeman's title is even a takeoff on Wells' title, merely inserting the word “accidental” into the title. One might think that all there is to be said on this topic has already been said, many times. But no, here is another time travel story just as fresh and new as any of the others, and more than many.

Since Wells, countless other authors have explored the idea of time travel, with much time spent on the inevitable paradoxes that result. Can one go back in time and change the past? An interesting aspect of both the Wells and Haldeman novels is that the time travelers travel only into the future, not into the past, although Well's traveler does use the time machine to travel back to the point of his original departure.

Haldeman's time traveler, Matt Fuller by name, travels exclusively into the future, his machine not being capable of travel in the other direction. One of his goals as he keeps hopping further and further into the future, is to locate a time period in which the ability to travel backwards in time has been discovered and perfected, such that he can return to his own time and place once again.

Matt indeed discovers his time machine by accident. He is a graduate assistant working for an MIT physics professor. He has built a photon calibrator that is supposed to supply one reference photon per unit of time, but instead, he discovers that whenever he activates it, it moves forward into time. The first time it reappears only a second or so later (in the future). The next time, about 12 seconds. Then a little less than 3 minutes, and then a little over 34 minutes.

So each time the machine is activated, it moves forward into time about 12 times longer than the time before. It also moves slightly sideways in space, so by the time Matt uses it to travel several hundred years into the future, he is moved up into Maine. By this time, society has changed significantly from when he left, having devolved into a kind of primitive Christian post-apocalyptic society, at least in northern New England where he is.

Eventually, Matt is hundreds of thousands of years in the future. His adventures are elucidated in an eminently readable and entertaining fashion. Naturally, he eventually meets a girl, his nearly perfect girl Friday, and together they continue to explore the future. So will they find a way back to where they started? You'll have to read the book to find out. Enthusiastically recommended for all fans of time travel stories. This one rates up there as good as just about any of the myriads of other time travel tales I've read and enjoyed over the years.

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