The Accidental Time Machine
|Media type||Print (soft cover)|
|Pages||275 pp (mass market edition)|
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.
After a confrontation where they narrowly avoid being killed by La, they meet the people who have been sending them subliminal messages. These beings send Matt and Martha 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 - Omniscient machine
- Em & Arle - "Barterocracy" citizens (see below)
- Time Travelling Jesus/Jesse - Time traveler aiding Matt, Martha and La
Matt's time machine
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
- 2058 Boston, Massachusetts. Matt discovers the time machine.
- February 2, 2059: 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, 2060: 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.
|“||The futures he visits are more commentaries on present day societies, rather than Haldeman’s trying to predict what the future will actually be like. But the science sounds good, and using other worlds to comment on one’s present is a viable, informative, and entertaining literary device with roots that go back to Jonathan Swift, and probably further. And like the best of such literary forerunners, Haldeman doesn’t sacrifice story or character to make his points. The Accidental Time Machine is first and foremost a terrific sf adventure story. Everything else is just icing on an already delicious cake.||”|
— Charles de Lint, "Books to Look For". Fantasy and Science Fiction. Dec 2007, Vol.113 (6), p27-30.
|“||Whatever degree Haldeman intends us to take any of this seriously rather pales beside the fact that, SFnally speaking, he's squandering some great opportunities here. We're never in any one of these funhouse futures for long enough to get a real handle on things, to understand why and how the world developed this way. I would have been most intrigued to glean a better understanding of events that led directly from Matt's past to the formation of the 23rd century theocracy. I also think the novel could have been much stronger had Haldeman chosen to leave [Matt] there to make his way as best he could, spreading the forbidden heresy of quantum physics or something. Instead, we get a frenetic final series of chapters, in which millions of years are traversed at the pace of a music video cut together for the ADHD crowd, before [Matt] finally discovers the Secret he's been after all along. It leaves, one might say, something to be desired. So yes, it all starts out as a nice little book about a hapless student who finds himself an unwitting time traveler. And then it just gets silly. And as Col. Chapman might go on to suggest, Haldeman's readers might be much better off with something nice and military.||”|
— Thomas M. Wagner, "The Accidental Time Machine". SFReview.net. 2007. 14 Oct 2010.
|“||Haldeman's look at these societies of the centuries to come is intriguing, and even plausible, although I'm honestly sorry he didn't spend longer in some of them. As soon as we got comfortable, he was off again to the next one. I'd have enjoyed seeing Matt stay longer in the future theocracy (where Jesus literally rules) and the future barterocracy (for lack of a better word) as they both held a lot of promise. The deus ex machina which comes into play near the end didn't light my fires either; [...] I don't know what exactly I was expecting; after all, we knew the trip was one-way and if Matt was ever to return to the past (something that was quite broadly suggested to have happened) he had to encounter something capable of reversing the process. I guess it all seemed to end rather abruptly where that point was concerned. This book could have been longer by several hundred pages and I would have been happy.||”|
— Michael M. Jones, "The Accidental Time Machine". SF Site. 2007. 14. Oct 2010.
- "Amazon.com: The Accidental Time Machine: Joe Haldeman: Books". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2009-01-25.
- "2007 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-08-05.
- "2008 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-08-05.