The Accidental Time Machine

Posted: June 14, 2012 in Reading
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Back to my normal genre stuff, this time I picked up a book that’s been on my shelf for a while. I got The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman a while back on a book run but haven’t had the right mood for a paradoxical headache that usually comes with jumping around the space time continuum. I think this may be the shortest book I’ve read all year, clocking in at a whopping 257. Ironically, it took me longer than the 800-page monster that came before it for a couple reasons. Firstly, I’ve been spending my lunch break on my writing again and the rest will come after the Back of the Book.

Grad-school dropout Matt Fuller is toiling as a lowly research assistant at MIT when, while measuring quantum relationships between gravity and light, his calibrator disappears – and reappears, one second later. In fact, every time Matt hits the reset button, the machine goes missing twelve times longer.

After tinkering with the calibrator, Matt is convinced that what he has in his possession is a time machine. And by simply attaching a metal box to it, he learns to send things through time – including a pet-store turtle, which comes back no worse for wear.

With a dead-end job and a girlfriend who has left him for another man, Matt has nothing to lose by taking a time-machine trip himself. So he borrows an old car, stocks it with food and water, and ends up in the near future – under arrest for the murder of the car’s original owner, who dropped dead after seeing Matt disappear before his eyes. The only to beat the rap is to keep time traveling until he finds a place in time safe enough to stop for good. But such a place may not exist…

That Back of the Book spiel was a mouthful, but really only does a good job of telling us about Act One of the book. This is all set up, not the meat and potatoes of the book. In the beginning, Matt is a down and out nerd. Yeah… not exactly something exciting for nerds to read about. But once things start happening and time travel goes on, Matt reveals himself as a very likeable physicist. There were a number of times where Matt could have acted like a real tool and taken advantage of Martha’s kindness, a woman he meets in the future version of Massachusetts.

Where he meets Martha in Act Two is a bit of a problem for me though. None of it is hinted at in the Back of the Book so it’s kinda spoilery. Matt lands on the New Hampshire border, it is the space-time continuum not just time, and finds out that the east coast is super duper religious. We’re talking crazy go nuts theocratic culture here. I’m going to be honest, that’s where the book bogged down for me. The world building was really awesome, I could sense all sorts of gears turning and moving behind the scenes with it. Problem is, what was left on the top to actually read about, is one of the those things that turns me off like woah.

Frankly, if it had talked about the theocracy that Martha came from on the back of the book, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered picking it up. Super oppressive religions are not something I like to read about at all whether its faux-Christian, faux-Buddhism, faux-Wiccain or just made up out of nothing.

Fortunately, Martha is cool and sticks around when they leave the theocracy. Holy hell that made me feel better when they left and it got way more interesting again. The time travel doesn’t get too paradoxical and head scratching. It had a lot of potential to do that, but I think there may have been a conscious effort by the author to keep it out of a hard sci fi realm and keep it more in a social science thing which is surprising considering Matt is a physicist. Like I said, I’m ok with that, nine times out of eleven I’m going to choose world building over tech.

So I ended up satisfied with this book. They get away from the stuff I don’t really like and we get glimpses of these futuristic worlds. While I was reading I was all good with that, and in a way, I still am. But it’s the classic “I want to see more of this aspect I’m not seeing.” But that’s one of those things I’m seeing now that I’m sitting down with my critical hat on. When I was reading it with my fan hat on, I was just thinking “Dude! Bears!”

The bear thing actually makes sense in context.

So over all, a quick fun read espicially if that theocracy thing doesn’t bother you like it usually does with me. I was left wanting more, but on the scale of horrible to awesome, it’s not hanging out on the horrible side.

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