If one thing can be said about author Michael Crichton, it's that he certainly does his research. Although the detailed technical explanations are frequently missing from the movie adaptations of Crichton's popular books, like Jurassic Park and Congo, each of his books has pages and pages of scientific information. In his 1999 novel, Timeline, that attention to science is repeated, with the addition of history. Normally 14th century European history and quantum physics don't mix, but here, they do.
As Timeline opens, two travelers come across a seemingly deranged man in the desert of Arizona. They take him to a hospital, where the man promptly dies, but not before a local police officer sticks his nose into the matter; and finds out that the man is a physicist for the ITC company in New Mexico. After the disturbing results of the man's MRI, some strange objects in his possession, and his quick death, the officer pokes around some more, eventually taking the story to an area near the Dordogne River in France.
There we join up with a group of historians from Yale working on an archaeological dig at the site of Castelgard. We also meet the main characters: Kate, the rock-climbing architect; medieval science student, Chris; and Middle Ages enthusiast, Marek. Enthusiast, as in he has learned archery, jousting, and sword fighting - oh, and a few of the period languages as well. Coincidentally, ITC is the company which funds the dig, and when a visiting executive knows more about the site than the directing professor, suspicions are aroused and the professor returns with the executive to New Mexico. While he is gone, the students continue with the dig, until they find a strange message in a set of documents, and a phone call comes in requesting their presence in New Mexico. Kate, Chris, Marek, and the dig technician head to the ITC labs and find out their professor is stuck at Castelgard... in the year 1357. All they need to do is travel through the quantum foam that composes the universe and retrieve him. Easy, right? Suuuuure. France and England are in the middle of the Hundred Year's War, there are murdering bandits everywhere, there is a bit of a language barrier, and oh yeah, their method of transportation just happens to break. If you're wondering how time travel is possible, don't worry, it isn't. Confused? Crichton takes the time to explain quantum theory and the process the scientists use. It turns out there are a few flaws to the system, but the program has been pushed forward by the eccentric and rich company president (Jurassic Park, anyone?). In between science lessons, we get history lessons of France in the late Middle Ages, including the use of trebuchets and the torture device of Milady's Bath. The facts that Crichton throws out don't slow down the book, however, it only helps pull you further into the plot.
I admit that I have not liked all of the Crichton books I have read, thinking that many sections of his books became dull with the facts, but as an archaeology student I was automatically drawn to Timeline. I read it practically non-stop. I'm impressed with his research, and of course, his story telling skills are what many of us dream of. Even if you are not a history student, many of you will enjoy the recreation of the times we so frequently set our own stories in. I only have one question for Mr. Crichton.
When's the movie coming out?
Rating: 4 Fairies
Author: Michael Crichton
Official Website: http://www.crichton-official.com