The Accidental Time Machine

Joe Haldeman
The Accidental Time Machine Cover

Accidental Time Machine

Carl V.

Tripping around the internet I have seen a variety of reviews for Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Joe Haldeman’s latest offering, The Accidental Time Machine. They range from effusive praise to damning criticism and everything in between. What many of them do, without fail, is admit that Joe Haldeman is a singular author with stellar works of science fiction to his credit. I myself have limited experience with the works of Joe Haldeman, and unless this book wins an award this year, I have not read any of his award-winning fiction. What I can unequivocally say is that both of the Joe Haldeman books I have read, Old Twentieth and The Accidental Time Machine, have been a delight.

There is a certain type of book that reminds me of the kind of science fiction novel that got me hooked on the genre in the first place. Whenever I happen upon that type of book, be it older science fiction or something recently written, I cannot help but enjoy the experience. The Accidental Time Machine fits that mold. While some may criticize this type of work as “sci fi lite” or “more of the same ol’ schtick”, I truly believe that it takes a great deal of skill to write the type of science fiction that has broad appeal, a page-turning plot, an appealing central character, and enough science and vision to keep the story grounded in a science fiction universe. The Accidental Time Machine delivers just that kind of engaging story.

The Accidental Time Machine tells the story of young Matthew Fuller, a semi-motivated MIT lab assistant whose recent creation, a caliber built for nothing resembling time travel, begins disappearing and reappearing for no apparent reason. A series of experiments leads Matt to discover that the machine stays gone for predictably longer periods of time. It is not long before Matt decides to include himself in the experiments. Not surprisigly this leads to the kind of difficulties that impel Matthew to continue pushing the reset button on the make-shift time machine, sending himself to ever greater distances into the future. As the future becomes ever stranger, and more dangerous, Matthew cannot help but believe that an incident in his past indicates that he himself found a way back in time. That way back is Matthew’s only hope of delivery from a future that is nothing like the world he is from.

With The Accidental Time Machine Joe Haldeman has crafted a futuristic adventure story that is hard to put down. With each jump into the future the story becomes more interesting and more suspenseful for both Matthew Fuller and the reader. While scientific theory is certainly a part of the equation, Haldeman never diverts from the thrust of the story long enough to alientate the reader with scientific mumbo-jumbo. Instead he weaves that into the story in such a way that it does not detract from the adventure in even the slightest way. Matthew Fuller is a very likeable, accessible everyman and as such is a very comfortable hero for the reader to journey with. Along the way he meets interesting characters and finds himself in interesting situations that compel the reader to keep turning pages.

For me the very best science fiction adventure stories include a little romance and Joe Haldeman delivers that in a way reminiscent of the relationship in Jack Finney’s classic tale Time and Again. In fact there were more than a few similarities in these two stories that led me to feel a kinship between these tales. Do not misinterpret me to mean that one is a copy of the other. Joe Haldeman’s tale certainly stands on its own, but I felt a sense of comfortable nostalgia reading this story that no doubt stems from my previous enjoyment of Finney’s must-read classic.

Joe Haldeman’s more recent tales may not be comparable to his earlier award-winning classics. I am no judge of that. If however these past two novels are lesser creations from a science fiction master, then it certainly makes me want to read his older stories as both Old Twentieth and The Accidental Time Machine are thoroughly enjoyable, well written tales. The Accidental Time Machine engages the reader with a journey that is both suspenseful and fantastical and along the way brings two very likeable characters together in a way that is most fulfilling for an old romantic like myself. Read it!