The Accidental Time Machine

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The Accidental Time Machine
The Accidental Time Machine - bookcover.jpg
Softcover edition
Author Joe Haldeman
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Publisher ACE BOOKS
Publication date
Media type Print (soft cover)
Pages 275 (mass market edition)
ISBN 978-0441014996

The Accidental Time Machine is a science-fiction novel by Joe Haldeman that was published in 2007.[1] The novel was a finalist for the Nebula Award in 2007,[2] and the Locus Award in 2008.[3]

Plot summary[edit]

Matthew Fuller, a research assistant at MIT, accidentally invents a time machine while attempting to construct a calibrator to measure the relationships between gravity and light. Unfortunately, it will only travel forward, to the future, in ever-increasing intervals of 12x. On the fifth jump, which sends him forward a few months, he gets arrested for the alleged murder of a drug dealer who actually had a heart attack when he witnessed Matt disappear in his time machine. He is shortly bailed out by someone who can only be from the future, and is left a note urging him to depart in the time machine quickly. He continues forward in time 15 years and upon re-materializing finds that Professor Marsh, his tutor, has taken credit for the time travel invention and subsequently won the Nobel Prize.

Finding no place in this new time, Matt jumps once again into the future and finds himself in a 23rd-century theocracy. Upon arriving, Matt meets a woman named Martha who is assigned to be his servant in the future MIT - the initials now stand for "Massachusetts Institute of Theosophy" and any physics taught there must fit within a neo-Medieval cosmology. This society is dominated by religious fervor. Matt is discovered as being uncircumcised (something that is mandatory in this new and strictly Christian-dominated society - and ironically, Matt, who is an assimilated Jew, did not undergo it). He must flee into the future once again, now accompanied by the loyal Martha.

Matt and Martha arrive several thousand years in the future, just outside California, in a society where all of humanity is wealthy and satisfied to a point of complete apathy. It is here that they encounter an artificial intelligence that controls Los Angeles, called La. La is curious about her own mortality, and having learned about Matt’s time machine from historical records, wishes to join him on a journey to the end of time (heat death of the universe) to discover if she can die.

At this point, Matt and Martha begin to receive subliminal messages from future versions of Matt, and Martha naively mistakes them to be from Jesus. He/they warn Matt and Martha of La’s willingness to sacrifice their lives in pursuit of her goal, and advises them to stall for time to allow the future Matts to catch up. Matt and Martha, accompanied by La in a spacecraft, begin to travel further and further into the future, discovering radically altered futures and entirely new species of intelligent life, including androgynous evolutions of humanity and a race of intelligent bears. Time travelers are not always welcome - some future societies having been devastated by diseases brought from the past by such travelers for which future humans had no immunity, and therefore regard them as a dangerous threat.

After a confrontation where they narrowly avoid being killed by La, they meet the people who have been sending them subliminal messages. These beings tell Matt and Martha that the future becomes ever more alien and unpleasant, and offer to send two back in time, while allowing La to continue jumping forward in time. The beings can specify either the exact time or the exact location to which Matt and Martha will be sent, but not both (this limitation is similar to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). Concerned about the couple possibly materializing in the middle of the ocean or inside of a mountain, they opt to be specific about location and send them to MIT.

When they arrive, they find that it is the late 19th century, and the main MIT campus in Cambridge has not yet been built. Having no other option, they live in this society, where Matt studies and teaches physics, aided significantly by his advanced knowledge both of physics and historical events. However, he takes care not to change history - for example, he does not anticipate Einstein in "discovering" Relativity Theory, as he could have easily done; rather, he takes care to appear a talented but not outstanding professor. Matt and Martha have several children, and the end of the book reveals that Professor Marsh (Matt's MIT professor in the mid-21st century) is actually Matt's descendant.


  • Matt Fuller - protagonist, MIT lab assistant / graduate student
  • Professor Jonathon Marsh - MIT professor, also Matt Fuller's boss
  • Kara - Matt Fuller's girlfriend, later ex-girlfriend
  • Strom - Matt Fuller's replacement, Kara's new boyfriend/husband
  • Denny Peposi - Matt's former drug dealer
  • Herman (the time traveling turtle) - the first "Chrononaut"
  • Father Hogarty - MIT professor in theocracy
  • Martha - MIT graduate assistant, Matt's time travel companion
  • Mose & Ruth - Theocracy citizens
  • La - a machine
  • Em & Arle - "Barterocracy" citizens (see below)
  • Time Travelling Jesus/Jesse - Time traveler aiding Matt, Martha and La

Matt's time machine[edit]

The accidental time machine is a metal box with an oak base that was originally created to be a calibrator, but something malfunctioned in another dimension and caused it to time travel when the reset button was hit. It travels roughly in exponents of 11.8 only in a forward direction. It is not capable of being duplicated, and appears to be unique.

Timeline and list of societies[edit]

  • 2057 Boston, Massachusetts. Matt discovers the time machine.
  • February 2, 2058: Matt's first time jump - 39 days. Appears in the middle of the street, still in Boston. He is then arrested for murder and grand theft auto. He is bailed out of jail by a mysterious figure.
  • May 15, 2059: 465 days later. Appears in the middle of a highway, quickly time travels again to avoid being crushed by a truck.
  • 2074: 15 years later. Matt appears in the middle of a stadium called the "Matthew Fuller Sports Centre". The society is fairly futuristic (with trends like facial scarring), but they do not fully understand the time machine. However, scientific theories are being rewritten because of Matt's time machine.
  • 2252: 177 years later. Matt finds himself by the New Hampshire border in a theocratic society. There had been an event billed as the Second Coming of Jesus, followed by a nuclear civil war between those who believed its veracity and those who doubted it, and with the former group taking power in the eastern part of the US. History has essentially been erased and restarted. The locals refer to the year as 71.
  • 4346: 2094 years later. Matt and Martha arrive in what appears to be a Utopia. The society is based on bartering, is focused on material wealth and there is no poverty or illness. It is highly futuristic/technological and is controlled by an entity called La.
  • 24,000 years later. Martha, La, and Matt land in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Indonesia, and eventually encounter bioengineered dinosaurs. They continue south to Australia where they are greeted by a hologram, which doesn't allow them to enter the society because they are afraid of disease transmitted by travelers from the past. They travel to America and meet strange bear-like people.
  • 320,000 years. Travel to the moon because there is no life left on Earth. There is only a strange mechanical creature there when they arrive.
  • 3.5 million years later. The couple meet up with six time travelers who send Martha and Matt back to 1898, and La continues forward.
  • 1898. Martha and Matt are back in Boston, from which point they would live out the rest of their lives with no further time traveling.

Critical reception[edit]

The Accidental Time Machine was nominated for a Nebula Award in 2007, and a Locus Award in 2008.


  1. ^ " The Accidental Time Machine: Joe Haldeman: Books". Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  2. ^ "2007 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  3. ^ "2008 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 

External links[edit]