Book Review:  Timeline by Michael Crichton

Image of the hardcover of the novel Timeline, written by Michael Crichton.  Image is of a old fashioned metal helmet worn by soliders in France in the 1300s.
First edition cover of 1999's Timeline, by Michael Crichton. Image courtesy of Simon&Schuster.

Master Storyteller's Time Travel Novel Perfectly Blends Adventure with Cutting Edge Technology.

by Garry Murdock


In December of 1999, I read Michael Crichton's Timeline.  Crichton, who died in 2008, was one of the few authors whose novels I always purchased in hardcover.  I simply could not wait the extra months for the paperback versions to be released.  In fact, I still have that first edition hardcover of Timeline.


As with Crichton's other works, the novel weaved a fascinating tale - this time about time travelers - that was not short on technical details.  I liked it. A lot.


The story revolves around a group of history students who journey back in time 600 years to save their professor, whose trapped in the Dordogne region of France.  It was a very violent period in France's history.  

Unfortunately the team has reason not just to fear the soldiers they encounter there, but the CEO of the company that has invented the time travel machine - who is working against them, in present day.

2003 movie poster image of the movie Timeline.  Shows images of stars Paul Walker, Gerard Butler and Frances O'Connor.
The 2003 movie adaptation of Timeline starred Paul Walker, Gerard Butler and Frances O'Connor. Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.


What I liked most about the book was that Crichton does not gloss over the details of how the time machine works.  In fact, it's explained to the students (and us) that time travel is impossible.  Our heroes learn that where they are going is, in fact, a parallel universe, almost identical to ours - that is simply existing in a different period in time.   Apparently there are countless such universes, all operating at different time periods.  Together they make up the 'multiverse'.  The technology that moves a person from our universe to another relies on quantum technology, breaking down the time traveler and transmitting him or her through a wormhole connection (you got all that, right?).


Much like my blog on transporter technology, one of the students in the novel - David Stern - suspects something is not quite right with this technology, and declines the opportunity to step into the time machine.  His friends go on without him, the main character Andre Marek seeing this as a dream come true.  Which works out well, as Marek is the best equipped to go - he's a natural leader, and knows how to joust and use a sword.  However, immediately after the students arrive in the past, things go tragically wrong very quickly.  It becomes a race against time to bring everybody back to present day safely, while Stern learns how the time machine truly operates (the implications for its users, referred to as "transcription errors", are chilling). 


I've read my favourite parts of this book over and over again many times over the years.  The novel was made into a movie in 2003, and was partly shot in Quebec.  It was plagued with production delays and the final film rates only a 5.6 on IMDB.  That's too bad because it had some solid talent - particularly Neal McDonough (in a minor role), along with Paul Walker, Gerard Butler (long before his White House Down days), Frances O'Connor and the always reliable Matt Craven. 


The book has a highly satisfying, if not a little bit sad, ending. I would not dream of giving it away here.  But suffice to say this is my favourite time travel novel. Question is - is it yours?

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Darin (Monday, 21 November 2016)

    Crichton's novels were always gems thanks to the amount of research he did when planning his books. Timeline was no exception.
    Other great time travel books on the same level of enjoyment
    The End of Eternity by Asimov and
    By His Bootstraps by Heinlein