Monday, May 11, 2009

Book Review: The Accidental Time Machine

It wasn't that long ago that I hadn't heard of Joe Haldeman. Then someone handed me a copy of "Forever War" and told me to read it. Shortly thereafter I realized that two other books that I'd picked up because they'd managed to catch my eye on more than one occasion were also by the same guy.

One of those two books was "The Accidental Time Machine". It was a remarkably easy book to read. Unlike a couple of other books that I've been working on lately, I actually wanted to pick this book up and get back to reading it. I got through the bulk of it in one evening.

Our lead character is a grad student and lab tech at MIT. He hits the reset button on a piece of equipment he'd made to calibrate some other bit of machinery and it vanishes. A second later it reappears. He hits the button again and it reappears 14 seconds later. It's really not supposed to do that. He takes the equipment home, runs some tests, and finds out that it jumps forward in time and moves in space a bit. Each jump is twelve times the previous jump.

When he finally decides to try it on himself he borrows the car of a drug dealer friend. Forty days later he reappears on a highway, gets smacked, and is arrested. The drug dealer is dead, his car thought stolen, and his professor thinks he stole a valuable piece of equipment. Then some mystery person posts his million dollar bail and sends him a note saying "get in the car and vanish".

He appears briefly on a highway a couple of years down the road but hits the button before he gets involved in another accident. He reappears 30 years later in the middle of an arena full of cheering people waiting for him. The notes he'd sent his professor after his first jump allowed him to predict when and where the time traveler would show up next.

Life is good here, but soon the culture shock becomes too much and he jumps ahead a few hundred more years. Nobody was waiting for him here. Looking at the state of the roads it looks like society must have collapsed. For the most part he's not wrong. 70 years before Jesus returned, there was a war, and now Jesus rules most of New England with his constellation of killer satellites. There are few books that aren't The Bible (now with a third testament), literacy is nearly extinct, technology is nearly non-existent except for Jesus. Jesus is, of course, an artificial intelligence projecting a hologram and backing it up with force fields and the satellites.

He jumps another couple thousand years, but with his new lab assistant, and finds himself in Arizona. New England is still under the grip of the Jesus AI but that's about all anyone knows of that area. Soon our heroes meet up with the AI that runs Los Angeles. LA isn't a tyrant AI like Jesus was. LA is large enough that Arizona is considered east LA.

The next jump takes the LA AI, the lab assistant, and our hero to an Earth where dinosaurs were introduced, mankind is limited to Australia, and intelligent bears live where LA used to be.

Next, the people are all gone, the moon has been terraformed, but there's no people there. Australia has a big note indicating that people have moved to a nearby star system.

With the next jump they find some time travelers that let the LA AI go on but send the humans back in time to the very late 1800s where they settle down and start a life together.

Like I said before, I enjoyed reading this book. But there were some threads that were not wrapped up to my satisfaction. Some things were stolen, some bails were paid, and some jobs were secured without explanation. But, if you liked the classic "Time Machine" book you'll probably like this, too.


BrianAlt said...

Have you read the Riverworld saga? I found that a bit disjointed also, but mostly interesting.

Ibid said...

I haven't read any Philip José Farmer. It's a name I've started watching for, though.

BrianAlt said...

I think you'll enjoy it. And probably find it disturbing at the same time.