Australian SF author K. A. Bedford told Tor.com that his novel Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait—which won this year’s Aurealis Award for best SF novel and is currently a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award—is about one of the least glamorous (and rarely mentioned) aspects of time travel—the time machine repairman.
“I was … thinking about doing a story about a working-class sort of guy, who had a job he hated,” Bedford said in an interview. “But the whole thing didn’t fully come into focus until one day, out of nowhere, I hit on the notion of a time machine repairman who’s stuck in this dreadful job fixing stupid problems in stupid time machines for stupid people, and then one day, in a defective machine, he finds the body of a murdered woman. He used to be a copper (policeman), and his old instincts start to kick in, and he has to find out who she is/was and what happened to her.”
This lead to all manner of problems. “The biggest of which is this: surely you could then use a time machine to track back through time to the point where the woman got killed, and catch her killer, or even prevent her murder entirely (maybe, depending on which theory of time travel you’re going with),” Bedford said. “If I wanted to get a whole book out of this idea, I needed a way to keep the investigators from simply scrolling back through time, etc., and sorting that out took a long time and lots of hard thought.”
Bedford said that he had to do a lot of development work, figuring out what a world where almost everybody has a time machine might be like. “The key problem is what do you get if everyone’s going back in time, making changes to everything?” he said. “Surely the present moment would be constantly in flux, nothing would be stable, and you’d have chaos. Figuring a way out of that presented major difficulties. The other major problem was figuring out how to hide a body inside a time machine. Which meant figuring out what time machines looked like: they had to be physically big enough that you *could* hide a body inside one, but not too big. Once I figured out you could superpose one time machine on top of another one, and put a body inside the hidden one in the superposition, so that as far as the user was concerned it was just a regular machine that ‘acted funny,’ I was very relieved.”
Bedford is currently working on a second adventure starring While-U-Wait‘s protagonist, Aloysius “Spider” Webb. “Currently called The Homebrew Time Machine Club (after the famous Homebrew Computer Club that gave us the first PC), it could also easily be called, ‘Oh, what is it now?'” Bedford said. “Not so much a sequel to the first book as ‘one more damned thing’ for Spider to have to deal with, in which one afternoon at work a time machine from the far future crashes in the car park outside his workshop—and it contains a murdered woman, unrelated to the one in the first book, this one is a rich treasure hunter pillaging archeological sites in the future, and a future version of himself, also dead. Only it looks very much like this future version of Spider is the one who murdered the woman.”