First of all, forget the dreadful film as no book could be that bad. This is an enjoyable but somewhat daft yarn that has also the usual Crichton elements of scientific hokum, goodies, baddies and a race against time. This time there are no dinosaurs or robots gone mad, but time travelling scientists out of their depth in medieval France. It's a clever combination of innocent abroad, historical romp and techno thriller and has the usual cast of 2D characters we expect from (and forgive) Michael Crichton.
This is not a history lesson and it should not be taken as a realistic portrayal of life and conflict between the dastradly English and the noble French. It is, however, an entertaining no-brainer that is ideal fodder for long flights and holidays or when you're in need of a light-weight, enjoyable thriller that will allow your brain to coast along. Great fun but not great history.
on 22 February 2014
One of the reasons I liked Timeline was the antagonist 'Robert Doninger'. Who doesn't like a clever bad guy? I'm also a fan of historical fiction, and Mr. Crichton mixes sci-fi with history in a compelling way. I'd happily recommend this to my mates.
on 7 February 2001
In spite of some unenthusiastic reviews, this book is brilliant. I read 100 pages the first evening, then spent all the following day glued to the story. Forget about poor characterisation or plot irrelevancies, they're not important. It's the story and action that count. The first section includes a layman's introduction to quantum physics, a subject no-one, not even physicists, understands properly. And I don't buy the theory that you can use quantum physics to travel back in time (and return again). We all know it can't be done, and never will be done.
But setting that aside, the interesting bit starts when we travel back to 14th century France, a year or so after the battle of Poitiers. Just imagine stepping out of your time machine into a world you can hardly begin to understand: the utter silence of a landscape free from the ambient noise of the 20th century, the hugeness of the trees in the primeval forest...
Then learning all the small but essentials details of medieval life and times, you get the feeling of how life really was lived, you had to be alert and strong to survive, violence and pain and sudden death are never very far away, but you can sense just through reading the text how intensely alive you would feel if you could ever go back to such a world. I think that's Mr Crichton's greatest achievement in this book. And I like reading about the reactions of people suddenly transplanted from modern times to the medieval world... it would be even better if a few medieval types could be transported in turn to the future!
I've read a few others by Crichton - Jurassic Park, the Lost World - both excellent. And try Congo - that's another masterpiece. If they ever make a film of Timeline - see it.
on 20 April 2000
Michael Crichton has written some good books, even ones with intriguing scientific basis. However, this is not one of them. His attempt at explaining the "time travel device" is absolutely ridiculous. It tries to explain quantum theory, dragging in the oldest, most overused scientific example he can find, and attempts to pass off the effects as being from "other universes" and "wormholes." Even more laughable is his grasp of the period of 1357. While it is obvious that he has done a bit of research, it is also obvious that he has not done nearly enough. The historical innacurracies (such as men having to have short hair) and the inane theories (that Medieval knights were all 6 1/2 feet tall, even though their armor is only 5'8") come out of nowhere. His characters are frequently one dimensional and blatant stereotypes, and one gets the feeling that he is writing this book only for the sake of the following movie deal. One character seemingly morphs from male clothing to female clothing at will, with no explanation as to where she's getting the new clothes. Or how she manages to climb castle walls in a floor-length dress. This is just one example of the sloppy, cop-out writing Crichton uses. It's as if he's stopped caring about writing compelling, believable fiction and has decided to be a Hollywood screenwriter instead. If you just want a timetravel novel with plenty of swordfights, go ahead. However, take his "historical" and "scientific" research with a barrel of salt. If you're reading this with an interest in history, don't bother.
on 21 April 2003
Michael Crichton is the author behind a whole load of famous films and TV series, including ER, Jurassic Park / The Lost World, Disclosure and many others. This was the second book I read by this author, the first being Airframe. One thing consistent in all Crichton books is the technical input (and given the author’s background in medicine this is not hugely surprising).
Timeline is all about a company called ITC which has invented technology for going back in time. However, guess what, something’s gone wrong and a scientist has ended up coming back to the present time in the Arizona desert, not knowing who he is and talking gibberish. As well as the ensuing investigation to figure out who he is, ITC have to go back in time to right the past.
Admittedly it sounds extremely far fetched, but I found this to be a very entertaining read, and a book which was fairly difficult to put done once I’d started. The technical descriptions in the book are really good and convincing to the point to make you wonder “Mmm, just maybe”. All in all, I’d strongly recommend this one, particularly if you like other Michael Crichton books and the techie stuff he tends to include.
on 2 May 2013
Another thought-provoking novel from Mr Crichton. From the very start you are drawn into the scientific explanations until you are totally immersed in the idea of "Parallel Universes". The characters are well rounded and you form your allegiances early on. The research Mr Crichton carries out for all of his novels is extensive and this alone makes his books totally believable the whole time you are reading them. I would recommend this to anyone who likes a good adventure with plenty of action and page-turning compulsion.
This book is an absolute page turner. It opens with one of the most absorbing first chapters I have ever read. An elderly man is found wandering in the desert, speaking in rhyme. There is something not quite right about him. The hospital to which he is taken discovers that the anomalies do not end with just his speech. Something is very wrong with him.
Highly inventive and compelling, the reader is reeled in hook, line, and sinker, right from the get go. A wholly plot driven book, make no mistake about it, the story revolves around a highly secretive, technological corporation, ITC, headed up by a megalomaniacal, young genius, who is tooling around with quantum physics in a way that has never before been done. Our genius is spearheading a project that is truly cutting edge. Of course, he is not doing this for the betterment of mankind. He is doing it simply because it will ultimately result in mega bucks for him, if all goes according to plan. Alas, the best-laid plans often go awry.
Cut to a group of dedicated historians who are involved in an archaeological dig, located along the Dordogne River in France. Their project, the ultimate restoration of a fourteenth century, feudal town, is very generously funded by ITC. Now why would a technological giant such as ITC be funding such a project?
This is the basic premise of the book. The use of quantum physics is applied in such a way as to access the past. Here, a group of historians find themselves with the chance of a lifetime. They can actually enter fourteenth century, feudal France and experience it themselves. There is quite an adventure in store for them.
Their reason for doing so, however, is not research. They are actually on a mission to rescue their chief historian who had ventured into fourteenth century, feudal France, using ITC's technological application of quantum physics. Due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, however, he found himself mired in the fourteenth century and unable to return to the present, as originally planned.
What happens to these intrepid historians will captivate the reader. Well written and thoroughly researched, those who, like me, love science fiction, as well as historical fiction, will, most likely, enjoy this book. As a devotee of medieval history, I was entranced by the historical detail contained within the novel. I also found the book somewhat reminiscent of the sci-fi television series called "Sliders", in which the concept of quantum physics is utilized in order to slide into parallel universes.
All in all, this well-written novel makes for riveting, escapist entertainment. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found that I simply could not put it down!
on 1 September 2013
As typifies Michael Crichton, 'Timeline' - a work of fiction - begins with an essay, 'Science at the End of the Century', about the real world that has informed the author's fiction. Crichton argues that just as it was wrong for the scientists of the late Victorian era to assume they had discovered all that was significant about the world, it is wrong for the scientists of our era to believe that our understanding of the physical world is complete, or even anywhere near accurate or true. Even the fundamental physical assumptions that govern our lives can be overturned without ceremony. New paradigms still await us.
Yet the most important point in 'Timeline' does not concern science or technology, but history, and it's found in the story itself. Appropriately, the prescient remarks are attributed to 'Robert Doniger', the physicist-character responsible for Michael Crichton's fictitious 'time travel' technology:-
[quote]"The purpose of history is to explain the present - to say why the world around us is the way it is. History tells us what is important in our world, and how it came to be. It tells us why the things we value are the things we should value. And it tells us what is to be ignored, or discarded. That is true power - profound power. The power to define a whole society.
"The future lies in the past - in whoever controls the past." [unquote][p480].
The past doesn't just leave a genetic legacy but a cultural legacy too. Our own individual lives can be seen as travelling along a road that stretches back into the distant past and on into the distant future to whatever is ahead. It is true that the future belongs to the past. How we interpret what has happened affects what we do now and how, and it also affects what will happen in the future.
However, as 'Timeline' demonstrates, history is really a summation of millions of human-scale incidents, with perhaps a tiny number selected for the scrutiny of posterity. This begs an important question: As we walk along the eternal 'road' of history that stretches deep into the past and yonder into the future, do our own small actions have any impact on human events? An answer is offered in this novel.
A group of graduate students trained in the culture of the medieval period, are sent back to 14th. century France in the middle of the Hundred Years' War to retrieve an academic collegues who is stranded there. After various plot turns, they find themselves holed-up in an English-held castle, which is under siege from the French. They have orders from the warlord who has taken them that they are to make Greek Fire (incendiary substances that are resistant to water), having let slip they know the method. The dilemma they briefly discuss among themselves is whether they may be acting unethically and altering the course of history by aiding the invading French against the English using these sophisticated incendiary techniques, of a kind hitherto undiscovered. The English are, after all, meant to lose the castle at the hands of the French and so putting advanced technology in their hands might rather spoil things. One character suggests, plausibly, that as this is just a local battle, then even if the English win, that quirk is hardly likely to affect the overall outcome of the Hundred Years' War. Another points out that whatever aid might be given the English, history says that the French win and that's that. His reasoning is that whatever aid is given, the result can never be an English victory, and so must always be a French victory, if necessary due to other factors, accidental or otherwise.
The idea of history as a canon of inevitability is elucidated quite well early in the novel, in a discussion of so-called 'time paradoxes' and why they cannot happen. Again from Doniger:-
[quote]"Say you go to a baseball game. The Yankees and the Mets - the Yankees are going to win, obviously. You want to change the outcome so that the Mets win. What can you do? You're just one person in a crowd. If you try to go to the dugout, you will be stopped. If you try to go onto the field, you will be hauled away. Most ordinary actions available to you will end in failure and will not alter the outcome of the game.
"Let's say you choose a more extreme action: you'll shoot the Yankee pitcher. But the minute you pull a gun, you are likely to be overpowered by nearby fans. Even if you get off a shoot, you'll almost certainly miss. And even if you succeed in hitting the pitcher, what is the result? Another pitcher will take his place. And the Yankees will win the game.
"Let's say you choose an even more extreme action. You will release a nerve gas and kill everyone in the stadium. Once again, you're unlikely to succeed, for all the reasons you're unlikely to get a shot off. But even if you do manage to kill everybody, you will have not changed the outcome of the game. You may argue that you have pushed history in another direction - and perhaps so - but you haven't enabled the Mets to win the game. In reality, there is nothing you can do to make the Mets win. You remain what you were: a spectator.
"And this same principle applies to the great majority of historical circumstances. A single person can do little to alter events in any meaningful way. Of course, great masses of people can 'change the course of history.' But one person? No."[unquote][p172].
This is very true. History is not an accident or a quirk of local idiosyncracies. It is governed by social forces. That does not exclude the potential for individual decisions and actions to have a significant impact, but the overall picture is of larger forces at work.
I think time travel is a popular theme in fiction because it heroically subverts these broad historical truths. Instead of being one of Doniger's helpless 'spectators', in a time travel novel (or film) we each enter our own fantasy 'Yankee v. Mets' game in which unreal historical rules apply and we really can determine the outcome. We become historically significant and can 'change history'. In this sense, 'Timeline' can be seen as a non-traditional 'time travel' novel in that the classic subversive theme is rejected by Crichton in favour of historical and scientific realism.
But time travel novels, stories and films are also popular because they naturally allow for all kinds of exotic plot twists. Often, the twists are of a literal nature, so that we end with the puzzling, and unresolvable 'grandfather paradox' - i.e. the character engages in some positive act that threatens his own existence. 'Timeline' is a little different in that it adopts a thoroughly 'realist' attitude to the time travel problem. The author cicumvents the traditional grandfather paradox by deciding that there is no paradox - and strictly-speaking, there is no 'time travel' here (the term is used for convenience only). Instead, the characters travel between multiverses, the number of which is infinite. The science behind this intriguing idea is explained clearly and well. This does take the edge a little off the castle dilemma described above, but that doesn't stop the characters behaving as if there is a paradox, or at least an ethical dilemma, when it comes to 'changing the past'. But given the technological basis, why should that matter? Why should the outcome of the entire Hundred Years' War not be altered in one universe if history (and thus the future from that point) is fixed anyway in the 'home universe'? But if history is inevitable, does this not also lend credence to the notion of Fate? Are we slaves to the past entirely?
What's perhaps a little frustrating about this novel is that Crichton does not exploit this new and interesting dilemma more. If we are to accept the technological solution, then what we are presented with is a kind of 'consequence-free' time travel, in which the past really is a theme park or laboratory (as the case may be) and history becomes a truly experimental science embracing actual Popperian falsification. Instead of that potential innovation, it has to be said for all the promise and potential hidden here, the story in 'Timeline' is a bit flat. Even so, it's a very good novel. When I first read Doniger's inexplicable fate at the close of the novel is, I was disappointed as I felt it was unnecessary, but I put it down simply to the author's need to add some kind of cataclysmic ending that would do justice to the novel's promise. However, on reflection, I can see the author's perspective. 'Timeline' ends on the same note that it opened: as a medieval morality tale. There are no real 'goodies' or 'baddies' here. The putative 'villains' of the medieval 'Timeline' are simply acting in a manner appropriate for their period. That's part of what makes all this interesting. Theirs was a time before pacifying modernism took hold. The good-bad axis that we are familiar with in our everyday lives was not unfamiliar to medieval society - they had their laws and Chivalric Code and so on - but these constructions are really modern, retroactive, simplifications of what was in fact a complicated and nuanced social world that mixed raw violence with civility. Having set the scene, there is no room for contemporary moral piety. The characters who left for the medieval world are irrevocably changed by it.
on 7 June 2001
The idea of time travel is particularly intriguing as current scientific developments make this less of a bizarre possibility than in the past. Added to the blood and guts, superstition and different attitudes of the 14th century the result could have been an enthralling mix. However the characters are weakly drawn and, particularly in the last third of the book, keep moving around without generating much excitement.
I think the problem is that the novel skates over the surface of both its ideas and its characters. Long before the end I thought the author was hanging in there to get the required number of words down and if he was convinced about the worth of his creation he did not convey this to me. Shame - this had the potential to be so much more profound and absorbing. As it is I don't think Michael Crichton ever got out of the shallows. If he had been prepared to take more risks, and forget about producing a story attractive to Hollywood, the book could have been so much better.
on 5 December 2003
Having read rather dire reviews of the movie on Rotten Tomatoes, I decided to buy the book, and found it to be a very exciting read. I really couldn't put it down.
I've read Jurassic Park and Congo, and it's uncanny how Crichton sticks to the same formula. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, as they say. But that ability to get you hooked in on the story has never waned.
The lurching back and forth between past and present is nicely done, but becomes a bit annoying two thirds of the way into the book. By that time, you are already immersed in history, and don't care to read about the present, especially when the heroes are in a tight spot.
The bad guys as usual, get their comeuppance, but in extremely satisfying ways. I was actually disappointed once I finished it. Once again, Crichton's done his magic. Recommended!