The Accidental Time Machine – by Joe Haldeman

During my last evening in Tallahassee I stopped at the local Borders and picked up a few science fiction books from authors I had never considered or read before. Of course, I can never resist a time travel story, so when I saw The Accidental Time Machine, I was committed.

I needed a book for the trip back, so I started reading that night. I was planning on working during the next morning on the plane trip back. Usually I only read during takeoff and landing, when I can’t use the computer. But that never came about.  I read the book all the way through and I was done before I got home.

The story starts around 2050, when a graduate student at MIT, named Matt Fuller, builds a minor electronic device, a calibrator for something. But as luck would have it, there is a fault in one of the electronic components of the device, as we later learn, that is only manifested in the 5th dimension, which, of course, none of us have access to. The machine moves itself, and everything metal is connected to it,  and anything in that metal it’s connected to, in the first four dimensions, when the Reset button is pushed.

But there are enormous restrictions. The distance it moves forward in time and space is linear by a factor. So it jumps about 1 second the first time, which is when Matt notices that the box disappears and then reappears after a second. He does not trust his vision. The second time it’s gone for 12 seconds. He quickly figures out that the time distance increment is linear based on a factor of about 12, and if you do the math, it does not take long before a jump is 170 years, and then the next one 2000 years, and so on.

The second restriction is that the location, the first three dimensions, of the return is not identical to the one of departure either. It moves. During the one second jump, it was not noticeable, but during  the 12 second jump, it left the screws that attached it to the wooden base. Future jumps would eventually throw him into the  middle of traffic on a highway and much worse.

As Matt figures all this out, he tests the device first in the lab with a  turtle to make sure live creatures can survive the jump.  Then he takes his shoebox sized metal device, connects it with a cable and an alligator clip to the metal frame of a car, sits down in the car in his friend’s garage, pushes the button and disappears.

Being from MIT, his professor, whom he briefed with a note before departing, figured out where Matt would eventually land 15 years in the future. He’d spend the 15 years of waiting figuring out the exact location and point in time, and leaving nothing to chance, he has a stadium-type  reception structure built with a welcome committee, bands and other trappings of glory. Not to mention that he had secured the Nobel Prize in physics for himself in Matt’s absence.

I can’t tell you the whole story. You can imagine that Matt’s experiences get increasingly wild as he travels further and further out, and I enjoyed the ride tremendously. Unlike Spider Robinson’s Time Pressure, this does not fizzle for a minute, and you keep looking forward for the next push of the Reset button

Now I need to buy more Haldeman books.

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