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Disappointing Time Travel Novel from Haldeman

  • Feb 21, 2011
Rating:
-1

The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman.

Coincidentally, I was recently thinking about a Poul Anderson short story, "Flight to Forever", which has some resemblance to this novel.

The basic premise is similar with some twists. Matt, a grad student at MIT, accidental invents the eponymous time machine. Its only a one way device, and the "jumps" are logarithmically longer and longer, and so his journey quickly becomes a one way trip to the future, looking for a way to reverse the process and return to his own time.

Along the way, he discovers strange cultures, picks up a passenger, and finally manages to return to the past, but not in the way or manner that he expects.

So on the basics, its pretty similar to the story mentioned above. The concept as Haldeman executes it, though is a little more polished in the physics. Anderson's story was really a device for sending his protagonist through time. Haldeman takes some things into consideration that Anderson doesn't--for example the idea that the time machine's "landing location" might change through time thanks to the motion of celestial bodies.

Like Anderson's story, we wind up with some strange future societies that Matt and his inadvertent fellow passenger whom he picks up encounter. A religious theocracy, a society which seems to be Ebay writ large, and a post-Singularity beings are among the challenges that Matt faces as he jumps through time.

The novel is short, and aside from the religious theocracy and Matt's present (in the mid 21st century), we never really spend a lot of time getting to the nuts and bolts of the worlds. Haldeman could have spent endless pages on each of these stops, and in some cases, I would have liked to learn a little more about Matt's stops. Also, the ending is, frankly, a deus ex machina in an almost literal sense. There are also aspects to the narrative (the idea that there are multiple timelines, or multiple versions of Matt being sent back) that are mentioned in a few sentences and never really explored fully. Also, the explanation of just how the accidental time machine really worked is very much glossed over.

So I have to say that I was disappointed in the novel overall, which unfortunately (after Forever Peace) means that I've now read two novels by Haldeman that I don't like in comparison to one (Forever War). I suppose that he is going to now drop off on the list of authors that I will read, sad to say. The Accidental Time Machine is not a *bad* novel, but its, to use culinary terminology, definitely a little undercooked and the flavors didn't meld well. It was a disappointment.

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February 22, 2011
Well, I think you're being a little too hard on it. Admittedly, there isn't much here. It's a very short novel. But, it's very readable, the main character is sympathetic, and it has a nice ending, a pleasant ending. With all the back-breaking tomes everyone writes these days that require you to take notes while you read them, I think there's room for some lighter stuff.
 
February 21, 2011
We read this around the same time, I think--mine was the first comment to that blog entry of yours, John.
 
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review by . March 25, 2009
The Accidental Time Machine is a pleasant, although shallow story about an accidental time traveler. It follows the misadventures of Matt Fuller, a somewhat unsuccessful physics student at MIT. One day while working with a piece of equipment he built he discovers, to his surprise, that it works as a time machine! He tries to duplicate it but it won't work, but does figure out how to use it to travel through time himself. As he travels further forward in time we see major changes in the earth and …
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Hugo-winner Haldeman's skillful writing makes this unusually thoughtful and picaresque tale shine. Matt Fuller, a likable underachiever stuck as a lab assistant at a near-future MIT, is startled when the calibrator he built begins disappearing and reappearing, jumping forward in time for progressively longer intervals. Curiosity and some unfortunate accidents send Matt through a series of vividly described, wryly imagined futures where he gradually becomes more adaptable and resourceful as experiences hone his character. The young woman he rescues from a techno-religious dictatorship gives him a chance at a mature relationship, while teaming up with an AI that intends to press on to the end of time forces him to decide what he wants from life. Rather than being a riff on H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, this novel is closer in tone to Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, another charming yarn about a young man who's forced out of a boring rut. Producing prose that feels this effortless must be hard work, but Haldeman (Camouflage) never breaks a sweat. (Aug.)
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ISBN-10: 0441014992
ISBN-13: 978-0441014996
Author: Joe Haldeman
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Ace Hardcover (August 7, 2007)
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