Fortean Times, Summer 2005 (issue 200)

Breaking the Time Barrier
The Race to Build the First Time Machine
Jenny Randles
Paraview Pocket Books, 2005
Pb, 288pp, refs, index, ISBN 0 7434 9259 5

FT stalwart Jenny Randles has produced a readable if scattergun account of 110 years' worth of attempts to create some kind of time travel, with the added promise that a real breakthrough is imminent.

The account begins in 1895, the year when HG Wells published his novel 'The Time Machine', and Nikola Tesla claimed to have broken down local time and space using rotating magnetic fields. The story progresses chronologically, with more or less respectable physicists such as Albert Einstein, Roger Penrose, Frank Tipler and David Deutsch rubbing shoulders with more, let's say, fringe characters such as Pelligrino Ernetti and his Chronovisor; Tony Bassett with his 'bio-energiser' crackling away in a Chalk Farm lock-up; and Dr Vadim Chernobrov, with technology apparently borrowed from secret US research associated with the infamous Philadelphia Experiment.

This jumbling of mainstream and fringe research makes for a fascinating but ultimately unpersuasive read. The mix of material is immediately apparent in the references, which range from the Astrophysical Journal, via New Scientist and Fortean Times, to nutty right-wing website WorldNetDaily.com. It's all admirably open-minded, but would perhaps better suit a more social or psychologically-inclined text on the dream of time travel, rather than something claiming to present hard scientific evidence.

The case is also muddied by chapters on recent physics research which, while fascinating, is at best tangential to the subject of time travel. If the Walsworth-Lukin experiment on 'freezing' light within a Bose-Einstein condensate, described in the book's preface, has any real relevance to time travel, it's not convincingly explained here.