A couple of years ago, I pounded the Goodreads pavement pretty hard searching for pretty much any time-travel book I could find to add to my ever-growing to-read list (a list which has, to my horror, since surpassed 1,500 books–for every book I periodically cull, ten more pop up in its place). The Accidental Time Machine was one of the books I found. I’d heard of Joe Haldeman because his Forever War series is a classic of the miliatary sci-fi genre, although I have yet to read it. I wish I had started with that series instead, because this book was kind of a dud. Anyway, it certainly hasn’t left me with much faith in Haldeman as a serious author.
The Accidental Time Machine is exactly like what you’d expect it to be based on the title. Ex-graduate student Matt Fuller accidentally creates a time machine while working as a research assistant for an MIT physics professor. Newly dumped, and even more newly fired, Matt decides to pop off into the future instead of sticking around in the present (his time machine only goes one way). Hijinks ensue.
The plot of the book held my attention. Parts of it, particularly the parts at the beginning when Matt is doing his experiments on his time machine and figuring out how it all works, were really interesting to read about. But as soon as Matt starts interacting with other characters, and then jumping further and further into the future, I was less and less impressed with him, and with the book. It’s definitely an intentional, modern homage to The Time Machine, with all the metaphorical social commentary that entails, but the updates Haldeman made to the basic story, and the futures he invented just didn’t hit me very hard or seem all that novel. Plus, Matt is kind of a sexist asshole. I mean, he’s okay. But he has so little personality to begin with that when he makes so many comments about objectifying women, and then the whole thing later with him SPOILER marrying the naive little religious waif who is open about sex and turning her into a science sex waif instead END SPOILER, it ended up coming off really creepy. It felt like wish-fulfillment writing. Male wish-fulfillment writing.
Matt’s also a loser in general. He only gets his shit together because something he did accidentally blew up physics as he knows it. And even then, he spends the rest of his life SPOILER one hundred years in the past being purposefully mediocre so as to not set off any alarms or be in the public eye, so his future self doesn’t take notice END SPOILER.
That was probably my main complaint, actually, is that all the characters in this are extremely shallow and cliched. They’re basically a vehicle for the conceit of the story. I guess there’s nothing really wrong with that approach, but the plot wasn’t interesting enough to make up for the character lack. The whole book ended up feeling like it thought it was smarter and more profound and innovative than it actually was.
I’m not mad I read it, though. It was enjoyable for a quick audiobook read. The narrator Kevin R. Free wasn’t that great, but he wasn’t as abysmal as some of the reviews had led me to believe going in. At this point my review feels kind of futile, because I seem to be wishing Haldeman had written almost a completely different book than he did.
I’m still going to check out The Forever War eventually. I just hope Haldeman is better with military sci-fi than he is with time travel.