The Accidental Time Machine
© 2007 Joe Haldeman
When underachieving-and-mildly-discontent MIT graduate student tested a new calibrator for his professor’s lab work, he didn’t expect it to vanish for twelve seconds. More precisely, he didn’t expect it to jump in time twelve seconds. But it did, and like a true scientist he pressed it again — this time, taking notes. While Boston hunkers in under a snowstorm, Matt takes the calibrator to his home and begins running tests, noting that the length of the temporal jumps seems to increase exponentially with every push of the button. After his turtle returned from a jump alive and relatively unrattled, Matt decided to make a jump himself — and he does, a few weeks in to the future where he is under arrest for theft and murder. Oops.
While the novel’s front cover seems to advertise that this little adventure would be the whole of the plot, a mysterious stranger bails Matt out and he presses the button again — and stumbles into a bizarre, tense, whimsical, and utterly unpredictable plot that involves a paradoxical religious dictatorship in the United States, dinosaurs, talking bears, and at least two Jesus Christs, one of which probably lives on a space station.
…yeah. I first heard of Joe Haldeman through his The Forever War, a story of the futility of war and the alienation of soldiers from society, so I wasn’t expecting something this funny to read. I generally expect science fiction to be Serious Business, but Haldeman’s work is filled with comedy — both from the absurd situation and his dialogue. Haldeman’s worldbuilding — in creating various future-earth scenarios — fascinated me, and so I wolfed this book down in a single sitting. It’s not quite hard science: Haldeman tried to keep it grounded in serious theories, but admitted to looking for an esoteric source for his temporal anomaly that would not be overturned by real scientific revelations anytime soon, and which most readers wouldn’t know enough about to take serious issue with his approach. It involves string theory, branes, and multiple dimensions, so that’s a safe bet.
Accidental Time Machine is an entertaining, very readable novel that had the same effect on me as a thriller or a Christopher Moore book. Its ending managed to be satisfying without resolving everything too neatly — leaving room for speculation as to the ultimate endgame. I will definitely be reading more Haldeman.