Michael Crichton is a household name for anyone who loves to devour tonnes of sci-fi. After all, movies like Jurassic Park and Lost World wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the series of mind-numbing fiction created by this literary genius.
Timeline was published in the year 1999. Firstly, I would like to say that the author is truly praiseworthy because, for Crichton, it seems, the pace and consistency of creating one plot after another about a futuristic theme was as easy as cooking a sunny side up. The art of narrating a plot involving complex scientific processes with the minutest details with such lucidity is something not every sci-fi writer possesses naturally. Reading a Crichton novel is almost equal to experiencing the best virtual reality one could think of.
A sneak peek into the list of main characters in the storyline.
Firstly, comes Robert Doniger who is portrayed as a Tech entrepreneur and a Futurist and his character bears a resemblance to Elon Musk and he is undoubtedly ruthless and impatient most times but nonetheless, a result-driven inventor.
Then followed by Edward Johnston - a History professor at the Yale University. He is also someone who takes a profound interest in medieval archeology. Johnston also happens to be a fine team leader to a group of researchers who consider him a true father figure as well.
Johnston’s team comprises of Andre Marek who too is a History professor but much younger in age, with an enviable athletic built. Marek is passionate about medieval history, is well versed with the warfare methods and sports, and even languages of 14th century Europe. He is portrayed as a likable figure who would go to any extent to protect his team members who are no less than good friends to him.
Then there is Christopher Hughes — a student of Johnston as well as his research assistant. Hughes is in fact the character that goes through a noteworthy transformation as the narrative progresses.
Alongside Chris, is Kate Ericson - an avid rock climber and an Architect-turned-Historian. From disliking Hughes to becoming his love interest, Kate plays a significant role in the molding of Hughes’ character.
And lastly, David Stern who is an expert in Computers and Physics and helps crack all kinds of technological problems that the team would face.
The story begins with a couple driving through the desert of Northern Arizona when all of a sudden they come across an old man lying in quite a bad shape and is in a helpless situation on the driveway. They being kind enough, take him to a nearby medical facility and then some strange things begin to develop in this man. They then find out that the changes in his physical and mental state have got something to do with a monastery from 14th century France in a place called Dordogne.
A little fast forward and the story actually switches to the present-day Dordogne located in southern France where Professor Edward Johnston and his team are conducting an excavation which is sponsored by a company called ITC headed by its founder Robert Doniger. Everything goes normal until one of the team members goes missing one fine day and the rest of them are informed that this person has actually been transported to 14th century war-torn France. And now the only option left to bring this person back to the present is the rest of the crew would have to be transported to the past themselves. With the use of a never heard before technology based on the theory of Quantum mechanics combined with AI-backed equipment invented by Doniger’s company, they go back in time. The pace of the narrative doesn’t slow here as Crichton introduces us to a whole new world of medieval Europe filled with Knights and Godin and Bandits, where people communicate in different languages like Middle English, Middle French, Occitan, and Latin and lead an entirely different lifestyle. In fact, in one of the lines, the author claims that most of what is claimed to be 14th-century architecture as per the academic books today were actually from the 15th century. It clearly indicates the magnitude of research that has been put into the making of this story. What this little group of people experiences as each one of them confronts a totally unfamiliar world is the most interesting aspect of this book. With a slight tinge of drama here and there but the flow until the end makes Timeline simply unputdownable.
Although Michael Crichton himself was supportive of the many experiments on Quantum teleportation, he does quote at the end of the book — “Time travel firmly lies in the realm of fantasy.”
Here is a little excerpt from the book which the reader might find most relatable today. Robert Doniger delivers his lines in style —
“Today, everybody expects to be entertained and they expect to be entertained all the time. Business meetings must be snappy, with bullet lists and animated graphics, so executives aren’t bored. Malls and stores must be engaging, so they amuse as well as sell us. Politicians must have pleasing video personalities and tell us only what we want to hear. Schools must be careful not to bore young minds that expect the speed and complexity of television. Students must be amused — everyone must be amused, or they will switch: switch brands, switch channels, switch parties, switch loyalties…”
The Suitable Who
Are you someone who is fascinated by concepts like Quantum Physics, Artificial Intelligence as well as Medieval History? I heard a ‘Yes’ — meaning this book would act the perfect weed for you. ‘Zeit ist geld’, so let's just hop into that Time machine!