The Accidental Time Machine
Time travel novels usually have an unsuspecting person as their hapless cosmonaut. And often, as evidenced in the movie “Back to the Future,” the time machines can be rather unconventional.
Drawing on that film’s distinctive mode of travel, Joe Haldeman sends a 1956 Thunderbird into the unknown in The Accidental Time Machine.
Matt Fuller, a former grad student working for an MIT lab, is tinkering with a quantum calibrator when it suddenly disappears. It reappears almost immediately, and Matt becomes curious and conducts some private experiments. He discovers that it seems to be traveling forward in time, in exponentially greater increments.
Eager to test his theory, he enlists a friend’s T-bird as his mode of travel, and makes the jump.
But time travel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: Matt discovers not only that he can’t see anything out of the car’s windows, but the vehicle keeps landing him in sticky situations … such as in the middle of heavy freeway traffic, or into jail for theft. Matt continues to jump, and moves farther and farther into the future, hoping to find a place to finally stop running.
But the future may be more bizarre and more dangerous than he ever imagined.
I’ve always admired Haldeman’s ability to write short yet compelling novels. Although I like diving into a good, long book, length sometimes can mean lagging scenes. Haldeman’s sparse yet action-packed novels rarely have a slow moment.
He doesn’t waste too much time on the characters, but with action and plot situations taking center stage, that’s not a problem. Haldeman just needs some basic people to plug into an extraordinary situation, and the story moves along just fine.
Although not as long as most novels out there, The Accidental Time Machine packs a large story into that small space; it’s a fast and amusing book, and a great way to kill a late summer afternoon.
Also by this author: Camouflage, The Coming, Earthbound, Guardian, Starbound
This review appeared in the Davis Enterprise on August 16, 2007.