Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Book Review: The Accidental Time Machine

I know, I know: I just reviewed a book--how is this possible? Well, two things:

1) I often read two books at a time (one at home before I go to sleep; the other on the subway); and

2) This latest book was just so good I couldn't put it down!

I started reading The Accidental Time Machine shortly after finishing John Scalzi's The Last Colony, and it has been a non-stop adventure ever since. This book is seriously fun, reminding me of Joe Haldeman's equally enjoyable and brief novel, Camouflage, which I'd read late last year.

The Accidental Time Machine is typical Haldeman wit and effortless prose. I mean, seriously, this man has an economy with plot and structure that simply makes me weep with envy. But enough gushing, let's get to the meat and potatoes of the book itself.

The Accidental Time Machine is a simple tale about a boy and his time machine. The boy in this case is Matt Fuller, failed grad student and mediocre lab assistant to a quantum physicist at MIT (where Haldeman himself teaches writing). One day, while working on a calibrator for a graviton generator, Matt inadvertently pushes the shoe-box sized machine's "reset" button and--poof! The calibrator vanishes. It returns 1 second later, none the worse for wear. Unable to believe his eyes, he pushes the button again. Just as before, the device vanishes, returning this time 12 seconds later. Some scientific extrapolation and simple math later, Matt determines that the machine is vanishing into the future and returning to the present at intervals increasing by the factor of 12. Each time he pushes the reset button, the machine disappears further and further into the future, but never the past (since this is theoretically impossible in today's physics).

After a series of calculated experiments, Matt finally musters the courage to take the trip himself by way of a Faraday Cage. When he arrives in the near future, however, he is mistakenly fingered for murder by the cops. What follows is a series of events by which Matt repeatedly travels to a more distant and stranger future than the previous to escape random mishaps, along the way getting into one scrape after another. His journeys eventually take him to a million years in the future, where reality is far stranger than any movie or book could have ever prepared him for. Can Matt eventually arrive at a time where the science and the means to send him back to the past exists?

The premise is intriguing enough to have you turning the page to read more, and you find yourself sucked into each new dilemma Matt encounters in the future. The inventiveness of each future scenario shows why Haldeman is such a master at the craft. His wit and knack for writing strong, believable scenarios only makes this book even easier to read. This is one super-slick adventure yarn!

At only 260 pages long, this was one of the shortest sci-fi novels I've read in a while. But do not mistake brevity for sparsity--the science in this book is seriously hardcore at times, delving into string theory and quantum mechanics with easy fluidity. Sometimes making you have to stop to re-read certain passages. But even then you'll find yourself quickly speeding along after Matt and his time exploits. The pace of this book simply does not allow one to tarry overlong in any one chapter. Or time period, for that matter.

I highly recommend this to sci-fi readers needing a quick and fun, yet intelligent, read. I also think this book would make a great starter novel for the beginner reader in the genre, or to one usually put-off by most other sci-fi offerings on the market.

Take my word for it: you WILL enjoy this book!

Grade: A

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