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Literature / The Accidental Time Machine

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The Accidental Time Machine is a 2008 Science Fiction book by Joe Haldeman about a man who accidentally creates a time machine and has some quirky adventures with it.

The main problem is that the time machine can only go into the future, and each time he uses it, the stretch of time he jumps is twelve times greater than the previous jump. He figures that sometime in the future, someone will create a time machine that can take him back home, so he continues traveling forward and exploring the various worlds in which he arrives.

This book has examples of:

  • Achievements in Ignorance: Creating a time machine by pure accident certainly qualifies.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The Christian dystopia is ruled by an evil AI.
  • Author Tract: The book contains rants about the evils of Christianity.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: Carried out by the Jesus AI with Kill Sats.
  • Civil War: What led to the formation of the theocracy.
  • Church Militant: Used to form a dystopia.
  • Clarke's Third Law: The Jesus AI has powers that his contemporaries consider miraculous, but that Matt recognizes as old (and mostly forgotten) technology — see Bolt of Divine Retribution above, for example.
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  • Divided States of America: By the 23rd century, the United States is divided down the middle, with the theocracy Matt lands in controlling of the Eastern Seaboard states, excluding Maine and Vermont. This apparently persists into the fifth millennium, if the killer satellites are any indication. The remainder of the United States seems to have developed more normally.
  • Dystopia: The theocracy in the 23rd century.
  • Eternal English: People in the fifth millennium speak oddly-accented but recognizable English, which is attributed to the invention of recording and movies making language more stable. Even more extreme is the character from 25,000 years in the future who speaks with a recognizable Australian twang, although said character is an AI and could conceivably have downloaded an ancient language database.
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  • Force-Field Door: Pressor fields. Apparently, they exist even in Matt's own time.
  • The Fundamentalist: Everyone in the dystopia.
  • Genius Loci: La introduces herself as Los Angeles. She then clarifies that she is the AI running the Los Angeles county.
  • God Guise: An AI pretends to be Jesus and may even believe it.
  • God Is Evil: This is the sentiment expressed by Matt, and certainly seems to be the case in the Christian dystopia if their AI in God Guise counts.
  • Latex Space Suit: Matt and Martha wear these at one point.
  • No Biological Sex: Humans in the future will become like this.
  • Only One Me Allowed Right Now: The far-future people who help Matt and Martha time-travel backwards tell them that this trope is in effect, which would explain why they end up long before either of them was born.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Future civilizations speaking disparagingly of the theocracy.
  • The Plague: A separate time traveler brought influenza into a future with no defenses against the disease.
  • Porn Stash: Matt carts around a future laptop filled with porn. Eventually, Martha looks at it and mistakes it for sex education videos.
  • Science Cannot Comprehend Phlebotinum: The time machine cannot be explained by 21st-century science. It takes a super-advanced AI from 2,000 years in the future to understand its basics, and an even more advanced being to actually re-build one. Said being compares Matt's creation of the machine to "The family dog accidentally starting the car. Not to be impolite".
  • Schizo Tech: Most people in the 23rd century theocracy have very low-tech lives, but not all technology has been forgotten.
    What was the deal here? There was electricity and artificial intelligence for robots. There was an industrial base adequate for mass-producing Bibles and history books with color pictures. But most of the world was living in the nineteenth century, if that.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shown Their Work: The author has a degree in astronomy, which makes his description of a graduate student's life very realistic.
  • Stable Time Loop: Matt eventually travels back long before he left, and his great-great-grandson becomes Matt's annoying boss, without whose presence he never would have created the time machine.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: The dystopia's role for women. Matt doesn't like it.
  • Techno Babble: The explanation of how the time machine works is, by the author's admission, pure make-believe with words like "graviton" and "brane" thrown in for flavor. Justified to a point: the true explanation requires science beyond Matt's comprehension, and the expositor — a super-intelligent future AI — is giving him a dumbed-down version.
  • Terraform: The moon has been made inhabitable in the year 300,000ish.
  • To the Future, and Beyond: The whole point of the book.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The book starts in 2057, but most technological advancement is inconspicuous enough for the book to look like it's set very close to present day.
  • Whatever Happened to the Mouse?: Exactly where the million dollars came from (and the note that merely says Get in the car and go) that bailed Matt out of jail in 2058 is never explained, as he and Martha end up dropped in 1898 and never create another time machine. The time-travelers who drop them in 1898 say that they (the time-travelers) have already taken care of it but give no details as to how.
  • What Year Is This?: When Matt arrives in the 23rd century he's confused about how everything looks like the 19th century. He asks a local farmer about the year, and is told it's the year 71. It's at this point that he learns about the "Second Coming".
  • Written by the Winners: The theocracy's version of history is a bit different from the modern understanding.