"The Accidental Time Machine"
(Reviewed by Kirstin Merrihew JAN 4, 2008)
I became a Joe Haldeman fan when I read Camouflage. I'm not sure I would have selected it for a Nebula Award because it did suffer a few shortcomings, such as an abrupt conclusion. But the premise was innovative and kept me charging through the pages.
The Accidental Time Machine sounded like another great ride, and I was eager to gorge myself on it also. Well, in a nutshell, Camouflage was the better novel, in my opinion, but The Accidental Time Machine is a fun, lightweight piece of sci-fi.
The plot follows a young MIT research assistant, Matt, as he discovers that the "calibrator" he's assembled is wont to disappear...and then pop back into existence. He soon determines a periodicity to the phenomenon as well as how to initiate it. Matt decides to become his own guinea pig, and is soon touching down in time, at ever-longer intervals. Each time, he encounters new reasons to push the time-jumping button again.
My least favorite excursion was to Jesus-cult Boston. But Matt does meet Martha there, and she becomes a sweet addition to Matt's itinerant life. I enjoyed the progression of her relationship with Matt, although I think they could have done without the visual aids when she got curious about sex.
Like Camouflage, The Accidental Time Machine could have been written with more depth. I wished for further exploration of some of Matt's touchdown locales. And the mysterious figures who guide Matt and Martha for a while aren't developed to the degree they might have been.
I'm also discombobulated that the fact checkers seem to have fallen down on the job: Matt supposedly time travels through 39 days and some-odd hours at one juncture. We're told he arrives back on February 2. We're also told he left December 14 of the previous year. You do the math. Unless the calendar in Matt's reality has changed in some unreported manner, Matt should have come back in January. Why wasn't this caught or explained?
One other perhaps inconsequential note: a real Matt Nagle recently passed away. He, like the Matt in The Accidental Time Machine, was 27. And he hailed from the Boston area. He had acquired a measure of fame for bravely permitting neuroscientists to experiment on him by placing a chip in his brain after he was paralyzed from the shoulders down. Upon finishing this work, I wondered whether Haldeman wished to honor him by naming a scientifically adventurous character after this real pioneer....
The Accidental Time Machine is sci-fi cotton candy, if you will. It's a nice way to while away a little time, but it melts quickly in your mind.
- Amazon readers rating: from 28 reviews
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer FEB 22, 2003)
"Of course, the only reliable thing that one can say about one's future is that it will not turn out the way you planned it. People who have no interest in your future pass through your life and change it forever."
Rosa Coleman thought she was marrying a gallant and caring man, but soon found herself in a nightmare of beatings and miscarriages. When she successfully bears their only son, Daniel, the horror relents a little, and she tries to make the best of her post Civil War life style. When she stumbles upon her husband committing an unspeakable act to their son, she finally resolves to leave Edward behind, and embark on a journey that will take her to places that the scholarly southern bell had never imagined, let alone read about.
Most of this book, and indeed, the best part of it, is not a science fiction book. It's not even really a fantasy book...once in awhile, we get an idea that she is going to play a role in the future, or take part in something quite singular, but mostly it's the story of a woman and her son who journey through America in the early 1900's. We see the Pullman strike; we smell the blast furnaces of Pittsburgh. Her travels take her to many places, including Kansas, where she teaches for awhile, and the no longer so wild west. Eventually she'll settle in Sitka, Alaska, where she teaches classes filled with both white and Tlingit children, and meets Gordon, a Shaman who will teach her even more. Her voice as she relates her memoir is in the first person -- often hearkening back to the present time in order to give her readers perspective -- is the slightly sheltered but determined voice of an emerging feminist. She's very open and straight forward, but there is also a sense of wonder in her, a willingness to see beyond the common. The travelogue is really extremely well done. She takes us to places that no longer exist, yet are familiar...seeing Niagara Falls through her eyes is illuminating, and feels like the right perspective for the times. At Niagara, they go through the original Cave of Winds, a place that has long since been eroded away and replaced. She comments "Other than that experience, the falls lived up to their reputation as one of God's great wonders, although the constant importuning of merchants were annoying, and in context seemed almost sacrilegious." I guess times never change that much, do they?
As I say, the tone is perfect...I admire the fact that a man from this era can so perfectly capture the intonations of a woman of the last. Her religion, her idea of propriety and spirit of adventure...and how the three sometimes clash, is just right. Daniel is sometimes a bit of a brat, but we still like him, perhaps because we see him through a mother's eye.
The SF part is very late in the book, but as it was excerpted in Conjunctions 39, I think we can talk about it. The book, up to this point, is a fairly perfect portrait of the time, with many exciting details, you really feel like you're taking this journey, and seeing these amazing sites. They are all so familiar, but as different and alien to us today as the Kingdom of Atlantis would be. You would think that the journey she takes, with her guardian Raven, through other worlds and dimensions would equal it, but it doesn't quite. He says some interesting things about life, such as that all forms of life eventually destroys itself. I also liked a couple of the alien life forms, such as the angels who are like a family of seven sticky worms, whose whole purpose is to absorb, learn, consider. Sometimes I found this part of the journey almost too surreal...it was still believable, up to a point, but I wasn't sure if I was convinced as to why all this fuss was happening, when the same thing could be accomplished in a much more straight forward way. It still makes some interesting points that I'll be mulling over, though.
I would read this book for it's historical aspects...the journey she takes in the past is poignant and real, like looking through old picture books.
- Amazon readers rating: from 16 reviews
(Reviewed by Judi Clark MAR 20, 1999)
Imagine a future when wars are fought with "soldierboys," "flyboys," and "waterboys." That is, remote war machines controlled by mechanics located hundreds of miles away jacked into each other and their machines from cages. Not so good for the enemy since disabling a soldierboy means no one really dies, except during retaliation. But then think of the technology of eight mechanics jacked together knowing everything about each other, feeling and being each other, totally without secrets. The intimacy is almost addicting.
But don't stop there, Haldeman takes us one step further. Imagine a world in which everyone is jacked to everyone else, the consequence would have to be forever peace. There is no possible way one can bring harm to others when they are all others. And then, what if you set out to prove the point of how the universe began and discover that in the process you are about to destroy that same universe...
Forever Peace is non-stop ideas and non-stop action. It's clear why this won the 1998 Hugo Award, John W. Campbell Award and Publisher's Weekly Best Book of the Year.
- Amazon.com reader rating: from 114 reviews
Read the first few pages of Forever Peace
(back to top)
Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- War Year (1972)
- The Forever War (1975) /
- Mindbridge (1976)
- All My Sins Remembered (1977)
- Infinite Dreams: short story collection (1978)
- Worlds (1981)
- Worlds Apart (1983)
- There is No Darkness (1983)
- Dealing in Futures (1985)
- Tool of the Trade (1987)
- Buying Time (1989)
- The Hemingway Hoax (1990)
- Worlds Enough and Time (1992)
- 1968 (1995)
- None So Blind: short story collection (1996)
- Forever Peace (1997)
- Forever Free (December 1999) /
- The Coming (December 2000)
- Guardian (December 2002)
- Camouflage (August 2004) /
- Old Twentieth (August 2005)
- War Stories (October 2005)
- A Separate War and Other Stories (August 2006)
- The Accidental Time Machine (August 2007)
(back to top)
- Joe Haldeman's web site
- Infinity Plus review of The Forever War
- Steve Silver's review of Forever Peace
- SF Site review of Forever Peace
- SF Site review of Forever Free
- SF Site review of The Coming
- SciFi Dimensions review of Guardian
- Review of Camouflage
- SF Reviews on Camouflage
(back to top)
About the Author:
Joe Haldeman was born in Oklahoma in 1943. He grew up in Puerto Rico, New Orleans, Washington, D.C. and Alaska. Joe has been married to his wireJoy since 1965. His book Forever War won the Hugo and Nebula awards. Joe was in graduate school and already married, when he was recruited to Vietnam and saw live combat; although it is not all that he writes about, war is a common theme.
They live in Gainesville, Florida and Cambridge, Massachusetts where he is an adjunct professor teaching writing at MIT.