October 22, 2007

Book Review: The Accidental Time Machine

Writer Joe Haldeman sucked me in many years ago with his spectacular The Forever War, a supposed allegory of the Vietnam War (in which Haldeman participated) where humans have conquered FTL (faster-than-light) travel, but not its relativistic effects (hence, the book's title). Haldeman comes across as a lefty in the books I have read; in Forever War, it is the massive "military-industrial complex" that begins an "unnecessary" war with an unknown alien race -- "unnecessary" because there was no proof that the aliens were responsible for several missing Earth vessels that disappeared while using a black hole-induced "jump.". So, y'know, we needed a war to jump-start the economy -- in this case, the worldwide economy. And the war lasts centuries.

In his sort-of prequel, Forever Peace, the chasm between First World nations and those of the Third World reaches critical mass as the latter wage a terrorist war against the developed societies. Why? The industrialized countries have created "nanoforges" which can create almost anything imaginable given the proper natural resources. The Third World has either no or very limited access to these devices, however, so they resort to terrorism. In some cases nuclear terrorism. Atlanta is nuked, but Haldeman inserts the doubt that the have-nots actually did it. The haves "probably" did it as a "set-up" -- to give them an "excuse" to go after the Third World full tilt. But most appallingly, Haldeman appears to endorse the sure way to world peace: Massive, planetwide brainwashing! You know when you find yourself agreeing with a radical religious loon in the novel that Haldeman's "solution" ain't somehow right. And, in my opinion, it also demonstrates how the Left operates today -- believe or be ostracized completely.

But despite Haldeman's belief structure, he weaves a helluva story. The Accidental Time Machine doesn't disappoint there, either. The yarn revolves around Matthew Fuller, who, while working on a physics project, discovers that he's unwittingly created a time machine. He doesn't know why, doesn't know how; he only knows that its functions appears to increase by a factor of twelve every time it's activated: it moves geographically by that factor, and forward in time by that factor. What makes Haldeman's writing enjoyable is that, like another favorite author of mine, Larry Niven, he creates a "simple" story and makes the scientific mumbo-jumbo very easy to grasp.

At any rate, Fuller ultimately discovers how to transport things with the time machine, and eventually takes the plunge -- he uses it on himself. Jumping several weeks into the future, his appearance causes a major traffic accident and gets him, as a result, into trouble with the law. Someone posts his million dollar(!) bail, though -- someone unknown to him. Matt deduces that, based on the man's description, it can only have been himself from the future! But -- his machine doesn't work that way! It only sends to the future, not the past! Einstein showed that time travel to the past can't work, anyhow!

Taking advantage of the timely bail, Matt uses his freedom to make use of the time machine again. This jump pushes him some 177 years forward, into a society that is decidedly backward compared to his own (which is the mid-21st century, by the way). Here's where Haldeman's lefty view comes into play: The northeast(!) coast of the United States has been taken over by a radical Christian organization that had actually fought a one-year war with most of the rest of the country. Most of the book centers on this time, and as such it's probably the weakest facet of the novel. (Maybe it's because I read too many armageddon books this summer and am weary of reading about little-to-no technology societies who use strict religion to get by.) But it's here Matt meets the woman he'll literally spend close to forever with -- a supressed innocent young woman who's been "drinking the Kool Aid," so to speak. But once Matt finally gets a chance to use the time machine again -- and jump almost over 2,000 years forward -- he inadvertantly takes the woman (Marth) with him.

From here, the book really takes off as interests begin to compete for use of the time machine, and how its ultimate resolution will play out. Haldeman keeps the story at a human level, and let's just say that his view of time is probably a among a minority in the science fiction realm. He essentially makes use of, for lack of a better term, a "closed loop" time geometry which for me was perfectly exemplified by the supremely awesome DC graphic novel Superman: Red Son.

My recommendation for The Accidental Time Machine: 4 out of 5 stars.

Posted by Hube at October 22, 2007 04:50 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

the tv show Journeyman on Monday nights is an excellent time travel show.......check it out! And this from a guy not really into scifi!

Posted by: cardinals fan at October 23, 2007 02:24 PM