First edition cover
|Cover artist||Chip Kidd|
|Genre||Science fiction Historical fiction|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|LC Class||PS3553.R68 T56 1999|
Timeline is a science fiction novel by Michael Crichton that was published in November 1999. It tells the story of a group of history students who travel to 14th Century France to rescue their professor. The book follows in Crichton's long history of combining technical details and action in his books, addressing quantum and multiverse theory.
The novel spawned Timeline Computer Entertainment, a computer game developer that created the Timeline PC game published by Eidos Interactive in 2000. A movie called Timeline based on the book was released in 2003.
In the New Mexico desert, a vacationing couple finds a wandering ill man and brings him to a hospital. Doctors discover he has bizarre deformities in his blood vessels and is an employee of the company ITC.
In the Dordogne region of France, Professor Edward Johnston heads a team of historians and archaeologists studying the medieval towns of Castelgard and La Roque. Suspicious of the knowledge of the site shown by their financier ITC, Johnston flies to ITC's headquarters in New Mexico to investigate. While he is gone, the students make disturbing discoveries in the ruins, among them the lens of Johnston's eyeglasses and a message in contemporary English.
Graduate researchers Chris Hughes, Kate Erickson, André Marek, and David Stern follow him to ITC and meet its founder Robert Doniger, who tells them Johnston has used their quantum technology to travel to the year 1357. Chris, Kate, and Marek agree to travel back themselves to recover him. When they arrive, though, they are immediately attacked by horsemen who kill the ITC military escorts. A grenade returns through the machine and explodes, destroying the present-day transit pad. Unable to return, Kate and Marek see Johnston held by the men of Lord Oliver of Castelgard.
Separated from the others, Chris accidentally declares himself as nobility to a boy who leads him to Castelgard. The boy is revealed to be the disguised Lady Claire, trying to escape from the leader of the horsemen, Sir Guy de Malegant. In the castle, Chris and André are challenged to a joust by Guy, which Chris survives only thanks to Marek's knowledge of the era. Oliver orders their deaths, but Kate helps them escape Castelgard, and they are pursued by Guy and his knight Robert de Kere.
Oliver believes that Johnston knows a secret passageway into the otherwise impenetrable castle of La Roque; Oliver's enemy Arnaut de Cervole is approaching the Dordogne to lay siege and Oliver wants the secret to defend it. After Lady Claire helps them elude Arnaut, Chris and Kate search for the passage while André enters La Roque as Johnston's assistant. Johnston helps Oliver develop a weapon, knowing that historically Oliver loses the siege. Chris deduces that someone else from the future is in the past with them, and Robert de Kere reveals that he is Rob Deckard, an ITC employee and former marine driven insane from the accumulation of "transcription errors," deformities that build up over multiple quantum trips. De Kere intends to take their trip home for himself.
As Arnaut's siege begins, Kate fights and kills Guy in a chase on the rafters of La Roque, while André and Chris are able to rescue Johnston from the dungeon when Arnaut himself appears and defeats Oliver in a duel. As the battle rages, de Kere attacks Chris to get his machine marker, but Chris manages to set him on fire with Johnston's gunpowder.
ITC and Stern repair the transit pad just in time for the travelers' return. André—who realizes he has longed for this life—decides to remain in the past while Chris, Kate, and Johnston return to 1999. When it becomes clear that Doniger had little regard for the lives of the travelers, the researchers and engineers send him to 1348—the outbreak of the Black Death.
In the epilogue, Chris and Kate are expecting a child together. The researchers find André and Lady Claire's graves and discover that André lived out a happy and satisfying life.
Kirkus Reviews calls Crichton "blockbuster king," and Cahners Business Information says the book will "grab teens' attention from the very first page." Entertainment Weekly calls Timeline "exhilarating entertainment."
A feature film adaptation was produced by Paramount Pictures, with a budget of $80 million, and was released on November 26, 2003. The adaptation was written by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi and directed by Richard Donner. The movie stars Paul Walker as Chris, Gerard Butler as Marek, Billy Connolly as Professor Johnston and Frances O'Connor as Kate. The film was poorly received by critics and audiences alike.