Friday, 8 January 2010

"The Accidental Time Machine" by Joe Haldeman

Joe Haldeman has an intelligent and natural style that's hard to resist.  Although his grasp of future science is good (sometimes even eerie), he never forgets about the characters who are our means of experiencing his ideas. Their lives alternate between drudgery and terror, between absurdity and triumph.  They are distinctly human characters, and the main character of "The Accidental Time Machine" is no exception.

Matt Fuller is a doctoral student whose life has stalled out and now sits on the edge of complete failure.  He discovers that a small component built for one of his advisor's experiments has the ability to travel forward in time.  He siezes the opportunity to find greatness in the most harebrained way, and his stuck life lurches into high gear.  His is a fool's journey straight from the Tarot, and is well underway when we meet him.  His failed dissertation is the cross on which he is the hanged man, and his discovery of the time machine just as life as he knows it ends is a great example of  Death as transformation.

Time travel is well-trod terrain for Science Fiction authors of all stripes, and Haldeman is more than equal to the challenge.  Like the main characters in Robert Heinlein's "Door into Summer" and "Farnham's Freehold", Matt Fuller enters into a relationship that sits outside the boundaries of normal time, but never comes across as quite as creepy as the protagonist of either of those books.  Like the main character in Nicholson Baker's "Fermata", Matt's honesty defuses and redeems the awkward and embarrasing situations he encounters with his companion Martha.  They develop a partnership, a "conspiracy of two", a marriage, and this is only one of the pleasures of the book.

This is a quick read, exciting, funny, and full of character.  Very highly recommended.

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