If you’d like a taste of The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman, it’s worth listening to this interview from November 2006. He gives a great reading from the first chapters, in which Matt Fuller, lab assistant and sometime grad student at MIT, stumbles on a calibrator that’s taking tiny little jumps into the future. Matt works out that it’s going farther each time, that it won’t kill him, and that he can jump with it. And then his first real jump drops him in the middle of traffic, in a non-functional car, dressed in a wetsuit. I was hooked.
This book is a lot of fun. Plus, for the MIT student or Boston resident, you can enjoy spotting familiar places or working out just what route Matt follows when he drives from New Hampshire into Cambridge. I will admit that about 80 pages in, I was having my doubts. I knew Matt was going to go farther and farther into the future, but wondered how that could lead to anything good. His evidence that eventually he would find a way to go back seemed awfully slender.
As this is a time travel story with multiple stops, we see multiple ways to solve the problem of exposition. Unlike joseph in “The Last Stand of The Elephant Man,” Matt has some idea of what’s happening, and the people he meets aren’t necessarily interested in making him feel at home. Sometimes he’s welcomed, sometimes threatened. Some are glad to explain, some don’t want him around at all. In the period he spends the longest time in, it’s a touchy business trying to find out what’s going on. Matt has to carefully befriend people, and through several conversations, piece together what has happened.
While there, he seems surprisingly willing to settle down despite all sorts of warning signs. The assistant he acquires, a clever young woman named Martha, might have something to do with that. It’s not at all surprising that Martha insists on coming along when he finally does move on. After that, each jump goes farther forward and he spends less time there, accelerating the pace. And yet, despite the increasing distance from the present, he also inches closer to an answer. So yes, it all works out, capped off with a hilarious shaggy dog ending.
A fast, light read.
Tomorrow: Programming the Universe.
Monday: It’s hard to wake up on Mondays.