“Timeline” by Michael Crichton
Review ©️ 2003 by P. Douglas Reeder
Summary: A party of academics is sent back to the Hundred Years War to retrieve their missing professor. Adventures ensue.
A tech startup that has invested billions in time travel (well, not “actual time travel”, just something functionally identical) has mislaid a professor of archeology in 14th century France. Their planned team to retrieve this possible captive consists of one explorer, one ex-military man, and four graduate students. The introduction announces that two party members die, one disappears, and one suffers “serious injuries”. The two deaths occur early on, so the only real uncertainty for the last three fifths of the book is which one stays behind.
The tone is reminiscent of 1930’s science fiction – the narrative pauses to explain and justify things, rather than painting an informed portrait of a time and place, like a well written historical or science fiction novel does. The opening is cluttered with a dozen throwaway characters, hindering the reader’s identification with the main characters.
The storyline is a sequence of unconnected adventure scenes. For example, while walking down a path toward a chapel, the characters slip on the mud and slide into a stream, right above a waterfall. The chapel is defended by a crazed knight (what does he live on?), which two academics unskilled in arms defeat without injury – and none of this makes a bit of difference to the plot. The female graduate student is able to pass for a man by cutting her hair short, without even changing her clothes! The plot feels like something Crichton thought up before he knew a thing about medieval France, including a tournament, small war, a damsel (well able to take care of herself, it must be admitted) in distress, and two or three secret passages, one over a mile long! Crichton’s historical research appears to have been used solely to ornament this pre-conceived plot. He does present some interesting tidbits, like a fortified mill and monks playing the latest craze – tennis! Coincidence plays a major role, with two local movers and shakers just happening by as the party arrives. Though only one of the characters has any significant training with medieval weapons, they win a joust and several battles with knights and guards.
It’s written at something like an eighth-grade reading level. This may be the key to enjoying the book; it would make a fine present for a teen or pre-teen with an interest (but not too much knowledge) of the Middle Ages. The one sex act is off camera.
Crichton is capable of much more mature writing – in The Andromeda Strain and Congo, despite similarly iffy premises, characterization and plotting carry the novel through.
%A Michael Crichton %T Timeline %P Random House %D Copyright 1999 %O ISBN 0-375-40873-8