Tuesday 7 October 2014

The Accidental Time Machine - Joe Haldeman

Title: The Accidental Time Machine
Author: Joe Haldeman
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2007
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

“The Accidental Time Machine” is a Science Fiction novel written by Joe Haldeman, an author who is better known for another Science Fiction novel, “The Forever War”. In regards to this novel, well it follows a young graduate student at MIT, Matt Fuller, who as the title implies, accidentally creates a time machine. However, every time it is used it will jump forward in time with the time interval increasing each time. When he finally decides to physically use it himself he reappears almost a month later to find that he has been accused of murder. Forced to use his machine to escape, he embarks on an adventure moving further and further into the future hoping that at some point humanity will have invented a machine which would enable him to return to his own time.

So my first observation is that Haldeman obviously has some knowledge of physics as the science elements did have some semblance of realism. Authors can almost treat the technology and science in these books as magic but Haldeman does at try and at least make it feel vaguely plausible. I also loved how Matt actually experimented and analysed things before he physically used the machine himself. So often we see people in time travel stories just pressing a button in a gung ho fashion without thinking anything through but this time we got to see a character trying to actually assess the risks and possibilities which was nice to see.

The writing is also to a decent standard and I enjoyed the layers of humour that Haldeman has included in the story. In addition, it was interesting to see the many different types of society and how humanity appears to have altered in various ways to suit them. However, in a way this is also one of the issues with the novel. It actually jumps too often and explores to many places; I was just beginning to understand one society and the story would then jump to another. It was rather disconcerting and did at times make the book feel like it was almost an outline for some time travelling TV series where each jump in time would be a new episode.

However, the biggest weakness in the novel is the characterisation; Matt in particular as the protagonist is flat and uninteresting. He has no charisma, interesting attributes or personality at all which of course meant it was hard to feel any real connection. The supporting characters weren’t any better, there was no depth or development and they were just used as plot devices to move the story forwards.

Overall, this was an interesting and at times quite funny novel. The different societies visited during the journey into the future are varied and intriguing although it would have been nice to have spent a bit more time at each. The characters are a severe weakness however and it was a bit of a battle at times to enjoy the fun of the plot itself when the characters themselves were so flat and lifeless. Going forward I will probably give Haldeman’s “The Forever War” a read but if the characters are as lacking in that book then I will probably move on to other authors.


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