I'm trying to find a science fiction novel about a small group of children accidentally time-traveling to the future and learning about everyday life in an utopistic future society. This is long, so read the bolded parts only if you're in a hurry.
- I have read this novel in Hungarian some time probably around 1999, but definitely between 1990 and 2012.
- I believe this was a cheap paperback that had been bought by my parents or grandparents and stored in a box in our attic for years when I found it. I don't recall any cover image or illustrations.
- I believe it's a novel targeting young readers, because the protagonists are children, and the plot seems to be simple and the tone educational. I think the length was only a few hundred pages.
- I weakly guess it was published around 1980, and was originally written in Hungarian or at least in the eastern bloc. However, this is a weak guess that I probably imagined only years after I've read this book, from the similarities with Fehér Klára's novel A földrengések szigete, which has a similar tone and prosperous utopia described.
I clearly recall the framing story, even though this I think it only took up the minority of the length of the book.
- The framing story, where the time travelers originate from, takes place in a contemporary setting familiar to readers.
- The main characters are a small group of children, who become time travelers. Sadly I don't recall how many of them there were, so it could be anything from two to six children, presumably aged between six and sixteen years old. I don't recall the names of any character.
- An engineer has invented and built the time machine in his basement (or attic or garage). At the story, a child, probably the son or daughter of this engineer, shows the machine off to their young friends, without any adult being around. Siblings may have been involved, but presumably at least some of the children aren't family, because then they would find out about the machine from the engineer parent, not from the child.
- When the child starts to describe the invention, they don't know that the machine lets people travel in time. They describe it as a machine that can view the past and perhaps future of an inanimate object placed in the machine. The example used, whether only in the child's narration or demonstrated, is that when you place a brick into the machine and turn a dial, the machine shows them the house the brick came from, or perhaps the future house where the brick would be used, I'm not quite sure which. However, the children manage to activate the machine, and found that they have traveled to what they soon realize is a future society.
- The engineer parent also wasn't aware that the machine was capable of transporting people to the future before this. He may have thought that the machine was safe enough that children can play with it, or more likely he has forbidden the children to operate it, but didn't lock it up much, because he naively thought that his children were well-behaved enough not to touch it, or that they wouldn't cause much harm in any case.
- I guess at least one child was old enough that the parents allowed the group of children to play without adult supervision for at least an hour. I presume that all the children who were there were taken to the future together, so there was nobody to immediately alarm the adults about what happened.
- The children eventually returned near the end of the book. I don't recall how long this excursion to the future took, it could have been just a few hours, but more likely it was a few days or even a week or two. If it took days, I don't know if they returned to the present the same day, Narnia style, or if the missed as many days as they spent in the future.
- At the end of the book, in the present time, the children told about their adventures to the engineer parent and perhaps some other adults. The adults seem incredulous at first, because the engineer believed that the machine wasn't capable of such time travel. Eventually at least one adult started to believe that the children were telling the truth, because they described many details that they wouldn't have been able to invent. I don't think this part took more than a few pages at the end of the book.
- I don't know if the children were stuck in the future unable to return, or if they enjoyed the time spent there so much that they chose not to return for a while.
- I also don't recall what sci-fi element was used to return them from the future. It could have been the children deliberately activating the time machine, scientists in the future helping them return somehow, the engineer parent activating something on the machine to return them, or an accident like the machine running out of fuel and returning them automatically, or anything else.
I also distinctly recall some elements of the utopia and the little plot in the future, but I'm probably missing more of the background.
- I believe the future was shown from the point of view of a third person omniscient narrator, but mostly following the time traveling characters, and describing the future society more or less in the order that the characters learn about, with only occasional omniscient bits.
- The future society seems to be a typical near future utopia, just a few decades or centuries in the future, where poverty is nearly nonexistent because future technology makes production of necessary goods very cheap. I don't recall whether there were any political overtones explaining how this came about with the help of the socialist dream.
- The people of the future society were friendly to the protagonists. They soon found a historian or similar who could speak the language of the children. The people of that future society try to help them get to know how people live there, and give them as much access to the wonderful new inventions as they responsibly can with small children involved. In this respect the book is similar to Stanisław Lem's Powrót z gwiazd (Return from the Stars) or Arthur C. Clarke's 3001: The Final Odyssey.
- The plot was probably not very involved, with more time spent on learning about everyday life in the future society than on adventures and complications. I don't recall any sort of dangerous life-threatening adventures. It seemed like if the children would not have been in any danger if they had to remain in the future for all their life.
- The future technology involves some sort of constructor technology like that in Star Trek, which would create objects from a blueprint very quickly. I'm not sure how powerful this was, eg. whether it could create food from thin air, or only passive objects like chairs from the same few materials like a contemporary 3D printer, only faster. Controlling the constructor device was so simple that even future children knew how to use it. I think the operating interface was such that the human draws an image of the object to be created, using some sort of pointer device like a laser pointer or light gun.
- In the future, everyone had some sort of brain implant device that let them watch television channels, seeing the images in their mind without any sort of external display. The protagonists get this device too, and try to learn to use it. They would tune in to a particular channel by concentrating on it, which was learned skill, but an easy one that even children could master with some practice. I think the book mentioned a large round number of channels there were, probably a total of 100 television channels, which would have been a very large number when the book was written, before the advent of home satellite television receivers. I think the first 10 or so channels were easier to tune in than the rest, as if you only needed to press one button rather than three on the mental remote control to access them. I don't know if the images were two-dimensional or three-dimensional.
- One television channel was described in particular as showing a precise clock at all times. The viewer would see an image of a globe, possibly with continents included, slowly rotating as the Earth rotates, with fine lines of different colors indicating the hours and minutes. This means there was effectively just an hour hand rotating once every 24 hours, with no separate minute hand, and this seemed at the time impractical to me. I don't recall if the channel also told the date.
- It was a plot point that the future society used a different language from the present children. Every human on Earth was described to speak the same one language called “orter”, and the book explained that this name was a contraction of “orbis terrarum”, which means the globe of Earth in Latin. The time travelers didn't speak this language, but they recognized a few words because the language was related to the present time languages they spoke. However, evidently this was in a near future where the present time languages weren't completely forgotten, so there was at least one historian or academic who spoke the children's native language at a high level, and it was this person who interacted with the children the most. I'm not sure how many other people could talk to them.
I only recall one part of the story that resembles anything of an adventure within the future.
- One of the children, probably a young boy, stubbornly decides that he doesn't need any help, and he can try to live and explore in the future world on his own. He leaves the other children and the friendly people who were trying to teach him, and tries to experience the world alone. The utopistic society was so safe (at least in the city) for a lone child that the adults eventually decided that they would allow the child to do this for a while. The child would move to an unoccupied house alone, at least for a few hours. The adults of the future society, however, continued to watch him from the distance by technological means.
- Time travelers arriving to the future society was at least a rarity, and possibly the first time this has happened. The future people got very curious, and news about their arrival has soon got around to everyone, perhaps on television. So eventually a lot of the future people, including children, were watching the lone child. The adults asked that the child shall be left alone, at least for a few hours, so the curious watchers were advised to keep a distance.
- The stubborn child soon finds that he doesn't know how to use the constructors, even though operating them seemed easy when the future people used them. I believe that he grew hungry but didn't know how to ask the machines to give him food, even though this was a task that any contemporary child of his age would have been able to perform alone. (It's possible that I recall this detail incorrectly, and he wanted clothing or some other object instead.)
- At this point, the adults still knew that the child wasn't in any immediate danger, and that they could intervene quickly if anything bad happened. They were hoping that he'd learn his lesson and come around to decide to return to the future adults on their own.
- But eventually a child of the future society, who was watching this lone child on television and saw that he was stuck trying to operate the machine, ignores the recommendation that he should keep away. The future child sends a short message to the lone present child about how he has to give the right program to the machine. I seem to recall that the means for the message was a real-time holographic projection with sound, but I'm not sure in this.
- The message is in the language of the future child, so the lone child doesn't understand most of what the future child says. He does, however, understand the word “program”, which sounds the same in the future language and the boy's language. From that he realizes that he needs to supply some sort of program desribing the item he wants to the constructor. Alas, this doesn't help constrain the language this book was written in, because that word is used in Hungarian, Russian, English, German, and French alike, and it's a word these languages got from ancient Greek through Latin.
- I don't recall what happens after this. I don't know if the lone child manages to operate the machine alone or he gives up and decides to head back for help.
I read the book of a decade or two ago, so it's quite likely that I remember some of the information above wrong. I hope it's still enough to identify the book though.