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.
Point of View
The novel is written in the third person omniscient point of view. In this novel, the author uses many voices to tell his story, including main characters Marek, Kate, and Chris. The author uses the voices of minor characters as well, such as the couple who finds a confused man wandering in the desert, and a cop who cannot accept the story of an old man who simply wandered away from his own car in the desert.
The point of view in this novel works well with the plot. The plot is complicated by settings in two different time periods. For this reason, the use of the omniscient point of view allows the author to use many characters to tell his story. It can occasionally become confusing to have so many characters tell one story, but the author is careful about separation of each voice, indicating a change with a switch in scene and paragraph breaks. This point of view works well in this plot.
This novel is based on the idea of traveling to another time period. However, it is not about basic time travel. The author is quick to point out that the traditional idea of time travel is not possible. Instead, the author uses quantum mechanics to suggest that other universes exist at the same time as ours, each existing in another time and place.
ITC has created a machine that allows people to be reduced to their most basic elements and then transmitted to other universes almost like information being faxed over phone lines. This allows researchers to travel to places that are like moving back in time so that they can witness important moments in time or see how certain towns and cities were built.
This time travel is an important element of the novel because it is the conflict that propels much of the plot. In this novel, Johnston learns that ITC knows more about his archeological site that he and his researchers. For this reason, he goes to find out how this is possible. When he does, Johnston learns about the machines that allow a type of time travel and insists on experiencing it himself. When he does, Johnston gets pulled away from his machine and needs to be rescued. This causes Marek and his team to have to travel in time as well. For this reason, time travel is a very important theme of the novel.
Greed is a theme of the novel because it is a basic motivation for several of the characters. In the past, Marek and his team are thrust into a world that is one large battlefield between the French and the English. The French are not happy that the English are continuously attempting to conquer their lands. For this reason, there is a great deal of fighting between the two sides. Of particular interest in this novel is the greed of Sir Oliver in taking Castelgard and La Roque, and Arnaut’s greed in wanting to take it back. This causes Marek and his team to be stuck in the middle of two battling hotheads.
In the modern world, the CEO of ITC has already made billions of dollars with his three previous companies. However, he continues to search for ways to make money. To do this, Doniger decides to use his time traveling machine to build historic sites as close to reality as possible. The reason for this is to buy up the land around these sites and build hotels, restaurants, and stores so that he can make more money from the tourists.
If not for greed, there might not be the time traveling machine. Without greed, there might not have been the need of medieval man to fight for more territory. Therefore, without greed, there might not have been a motive for some of the characters of this novel.
Marek and his team have worked together for months. Each of them deeply admires and respect Professor Johnston. They are quick to agree to an unorthodox way of saving Johnston when he becomes trapped in the past.
As Marek and his team search for Johnston in the past, they find themselves forced to rely deeply on one another for their basic safety. Marek proves to be quite brave, where Kate proves herself to be somewhat fearless. Chris takes longer to prove himself, but, eventually, he shows the reader that he is just as brave as Marek.
During this adventure, a great many friendships grow. Kate and Marek find themselves often thrown together. This shows trust. Kate and Chris also find themselves alone together. Not only does friendship grow out of this relationship, but love as well. Therefore, without friendship, this team might not have trusted enough in one another to survive, making friendship an important theme of the novel.
Andre Marek is a researcher who works with Professor Johnston in Dordogne. Marek has always had a fascination with medieval times that is so intense that he has taught himself to joust, to fight with a sword, and to shoot a longbow. Therefore, when Marek gets the change to go to that time period through ITC’s invention, he jumps at it.
Marek proves himself very brave in the medieval world. Marek fights multiple soldiers, not hesitating to take their lives. Marek bravely stands up to medieval warlords and Archpriests. When it is all said and done, Marek realizes that he was meant to live in this time period. For this reason, he makes the choice to remain behind. When Professor Johnston, Kate, and Chris return to their own world, they find Marek’s grave and discover that he lived a long, happy life in that alternate universe.
Kate Erickson began her college career as an architecture student, but she found it boring. For this reason, Kate switched to a major in history. Kate now works the Dordogne site from the perspective of architecture, examining the ruins to see how they were built and to make recommendations of restoration.
Kate is part of Marek’s team that travels to another universe in order to save Professor Johnston. Kate proves herself brave over and over again by using her climbing skills to outwit the soldiers of the time period. Kate is also something of a romantic, falling in love with Chris during the adventure.
Chris Hughes is a student of Professor Johnston. Chris’s specialty at the archeological site at Dordogne is the mill. Chris is trying to figure out if the mill was fortified or not, something that was fairly new at the time. When Johnston disappears and Marek asks Chris to be part of the team that rescues him, Chris jumps at the chance.
Chris is something of a weakling who often finds himself getting in difficult situations, usually over women. When he goes to the past, he finds himself lying to a pretty girl to impress her, a lie that causes him to end up having to joust with her potential husband. As time passes, however, Chris proves himself to be much braver than he appears. In fact, Chris single handedly kills de Kere, the one man crazy enough to kill them all.
Professor Edward Johnston
Professor Edward Johnston is a college professor who is in charge of the archeological site at Dordogne in France. Johnston is a great inspiration to his students and for this reason they greatly admire him. When Johnston goes missing after traveling to New Mexico to confront the CEO of ITC, his team quickly rallies to find a way to save him.
Johnston has traveled to the past through a separate universe. Johnston has been found by the local people and for this reason has created a new persona for himself as a Magister who has come to help the Abbot of the local monastery look for important information in their archives. In this capacity, Johnston quickly becomes something of a fable among the people of the area and this causes Sir Oliver to ask for his help in defeating Arnaut. Johnston plays along until the moment comes when he can return home.
David Stern is a computer geek who takes a job with the Dordogne River Valley archeological site just to be close to where his girlfriend is going to school. When Doniger calls Marek and asks him to pick his three best people to return to New Mexico, Marek chooses Stern to be part of the team. When the science behind the ability to transmit people to other universes is discussed, Stern probably understands it better than anyone else. Stern is also the only one who recognizes that it is dangerous and chooses not to go. However, by not going, Stern becomes a key part of the team by assuring their survival in his innovations to rebuild the water walls that provide buffer for the re-building team. Stern saves their lives.
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.