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By Michael Crichton

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Large Print Edition
By Michael Crichton
Random House Large Print, (1999)
ISBN: 0-375-70416-7
Genre: Science Fiction / Thriller
Available Editions: Large Print | Mass Market Paperback | Library Binding | Audio Cassette (Unabridged) | Audio Cassette (Abridged) | Audio CD (Abridged)

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - June 6, 2001

You're a historian working on an archaeology dig. Suddenly you uncover an SOS from your boss, an SOS written almost six hundred years ago! What do you do? You try to rescue him, of course. This rescue attempt is the cornerstone underpinning the plot of Michael Crichton's swashbuckling adventure tale, Timeline.

Professor Edward Johnston is a historian who is in charge of the excavation of a castle near the Monastery of Sainte-Mere, in France. The dig is being financed by International Technology Corporation (ITC), who wants the site reconstructed and turned into a tourist attraction. Johnston is amazed when he discovers that ITC has information about the dig site that has yet to be discovered! To find out what is going on, Johnston heads to New Mexico, in order to talk with Robert Doniger. Doniger is the despicable head of ITC, a company that is 'into' quantum mechanics. ITC is also, via Doniger, financing the dig in France. Shortly after Johnston leaves, his graduate students uncover a hidden room, and in that room, an SOS that Johnston wrote to them - in 1357.

As events turn out, ITC has developed a quantum-fax machine that can fax a person to a parallel universe. By selecting the right universe, ITC can, essentially, send someone back in time. In this case, Johnston was sent back in time to visit the site of the current dig. Unfortunately, he became trapped in the past, and it falls upon three of his graduate students to try to rescue him.

Not only do they have to make their way through 14th Century France to find the professor and bring him home - but they also have a deadline. They have to find him, and get him home, in 37 hours or less, or stay trapped in time forever. To make matters worse, the Hundred Years War is currently in full swing, and one false step could result in one, or all of the rescuers, literally losing their heads. In addition, unbeknownst to the would-be rescuers the machinery back in their own time has been damaged. So even if they find the professor in time, they still might not make it home. While the students struggle to rescue the Professor, those they left behind, race against the clock to repair things so that the rescue party, if it succeeds, can come home.

This is a full-out, swashbuckling, adventure yarn. It is full of sword fights, damsels in distress, wicked and cruel villains, and the occasional flaming horse carcass. The rescuers, all students of the period, put their academic skills, their wits, and their brawn into this ultimate test of survival.

While science does play a major role in this story, it is really just background noise. In many ways, it is merely there in order to explain how our intrepid heroes manage to travel to the Middle Ages. If you were expecting a Jurassic Park type story, you may be disappointed, but I doubt it. This is a fast-paced thriller. Granted it is a bit heavier on the swashbuckling than the science, when compared to other Crichton books, but this is part of the attraction of Timeline. In a way, this book explores where we have been, and highlights just how much we've changed since the Middle Ages. In short, Crichton proffers the question, if we have changed so much over the last six hundred years, where will we be, six hundred years hence?

In Timeline, Crichton does an excellent job of bringing the Middle Ages to life. The bucolic pleasures of quiet country life are juxtaposed with the senseless slaughter of just about anybody, for any reason. Be forewarned, this book is on the gory side at times, but then, so was 14th century Europe. In all, Crichton gives this intrepid group of historians something most historians never get to experience - real history, complete with the sounds, smells, and the risk of their favorite period. He gives them a chance to put their theoretical knowledge to practical use in ways they could never have imagined.

Crichton is a wonderful storyteller, and this tall-tale is a mixture of myth and reality. The writing is fast-paced, the characters fully developed, and the plot is believable, if you ignore some minor flaws in the science. On the whole, this is one of Crichton's better works and one which I wholeheartedly enjoyed.

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