The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman


As always not sure how I came across this one, but I am sure that it just popped up on my Amazon feed somewhere. That place certainly gets me to spend more money that I need to, o well. The idea of time travel has always intrigued me, so naturally I was fascinated by the story and what it was about.

Joe Haldeman is one of the premier sifi writers of our time. He is the winner of multiple awards for many of his novels. Haldeman’s most IMG_2223famous work is Forever War, which is one of my favorite sifi novels. If you have not read that one you need to really check it out. He is a Vietnam Vet and has used many of his experiences from the war in his novels, which you can really see in Forever War. He has also won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards for his other works, which is very impressive. Haldeman is one of my favorite sifi writers because of his very interesting and though provoking stories. For some reason I thought that he was retired or at least not working on anything new. I was way wrong, this book was released in 2007, which is technically not new, but he did release a new novel called Work Done For Hire, which sounds interesting, in 2014.

This story follows a MIT grad assistant who somehow accidentally happens to create a time machine, named Matt. The book eventually explains how it works, which was lost on me, but the point is that Matt, has in his possession an actual working time machine. There are a few catches though. The machine only goes forward when he pushes the “reset” button. It also jumps forward in time by a certain multiple, so you cannot pick when you want to go. Lastly it moves locations a bit every jump. So instead of being in the exact same place but in the future, the machine also moves its location, small at first, but as the time increases so does the distance. Eventually they jump forward so many times that they end up in outer space. What follows is a bizarre adventure where Matt and his companion, Martha, that he picks up along the way journey into the far future. Both of them travel thousands then millions of years into the future and encounter strange societies including an artificial intelligence that calls herself La, who has a very interesting alterative motive.

This is the first book that I have read in a while that really kept me interested and turning page after page, really wanted to see what happened next. I did not want to put this one down, which like I said has not happened in a while. The writing style is very simple yet complete. Haldeman does not waste a ton of effort on excess detail, which I like, which also makes the story flow faster. To me I felt there was plenty of detail in the story, but I could see where some would think it could fall short in this category. As I have said before there is always a fine line in the amount of detail a writer puts into their story. In this case I felt it was perfect as the story could move faster along with the action and plot, no excess in this novel. There were no stagnant moments during this book, or times when the action really stops, which always bother me when reading novels.

I mentioned the AI in the above paragraph, which I found fascinating in the story along with the different societies that Matt encounters along the way. Some I felt were a little silly and very far-fetched, but still made for an interesting read. I did like the way the author introduced the AI and the society it lives in as well as its motivation and involvement with Matt. I also think, at least to me, one of the most interesting points of the story was what the AI wanted to do. I think this concept is very interesting and really makes you think about what an AI would really want and what motivates it. There are also a plethora of other ideas in the story that make it a great sifi read.

The ending I am on the fence about. It is a twist ending, one that I did not see coming, but I think worked well as to how the story played out given all the rules with the time machine Haldeman introduced. However, I am not sure that I liked it as a reader. Honestly, it reminded me of the movie Predestination with Ethan Hawke, which is based on the novel All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein. That movie is pretty good and the ending of it reminded me of what Haldeman did in this novel. Maybe I am being too picky but I felt that the characters deserved something better at the end rather than what they got. Time travel, at least in this novel, seems to be a very inexact science, which could also be the reason that we have never met any time travelers of our own.

Speaking of characters, I did enjoy Matt and Martha in the book and as I said I liked them so much that I was disappointed with the ending they got, as opposed to the one I felt they deserved. But such is life I suppose. There is also a bit of sexual frustration which I think is always funny and really makes you understand and see the depth of any character. It is something we can all relate to, so using that aspect it was easy to understand Matt and Martha on many different levels. Also, it was funny seeing them interact at times, everyone likes a little drama I suppose. At the ending there are some strange characters that influence the ending, and now that I think about it maybe do so on purpose. That sounds confusing, but if you read this hopefully you will understand.

Despite likening this novel I do have a few complaints, albeit small ones. As with any time travel novel or movie there is always some confusion and convolution, and this one is no exception. Toward the end when things start to get explained about what is going I felt more confused than anything, but not to the point where it was impossible to follow. The basic ideas I understood but the specifics were lost on me. Also the “science,” I put that in quotes because I am not sure that it is real or just made up for the novel, was very hard to follow, at least in my opinion. Haldeman also talks about that in his author’s note at the end as well. Still I think these are very minute problems that are easily overlooked with the bigger picture.

I really liked this book and would recommend you check it out. It is a very quick read and one that you will not want to put down when you pick it up. There is plenty of action, great characters, and most important some really cool time travel, with quite a few other great sifi concepts all thrown in. You will not be disappointed with this one.


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