Portal to the Pages

A quick glimpse into my thoughts on various fiction

Timeline – Michael Crichton

on February 20, 2013
Book cover of

Timeline

I recently went on a short break and decided the night before my flight left that I wanted to bring a new book with me to read. A quick glance at my library’s eBook collection resulted in my selection of Timeline by Michael Crichton, on the basis that he had written Jurassic Park and, as far as I could remember, I liked that so I’d probably like this too.

The story of Timeline is quite intriguing. It centres on a group of historians who are excavating an old French castle, when the head of their research team disappears and a message from him appears in some documents from 1357. Through a series of events with their funding company, they end up being sent back in time to the 1300s, when the castle they are excavating was the stage for a series of battles, in order to rescue the head of the research team. Unfortunately, the team must return to the present within 37 hours, or face being trapped in 14th century France for good. They face numerous issues along the way, including trying to integrate themselves with the culture, locating the missing person and dealing with some trigger-happy (or sword-happy as is the case) locals.

Timeline is one of those sci-fi books that tries to convince you that the events described within are actually plausible. As such, the author spends a good bit of time explaining the technology behind the time travel (including reference to actual research outside of the story). This felt a little bit heavy handed, as when I’m reading a book that I know is about time-travel, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for a while. When the author first introduces the devices that the protagonists use to time travel, I was really impatient for them to use them (as I felt that the present-day part of the story wasn’t the main focus) but had to sit through a detailed explanation of how they operated.

However, once the characters were sent back in time, the story really started moving. Pace is one area in which I don’t think anyone could criticise Timeline; not only did the story keep moving but every section or chapter was prefaced with how much time was left until their 37 hours ran out. This created a sense of urgency, and even annoyance at any procrastination the characters may have engaged in! It was a very simple concept, but one that I felt added a sense of realism to the story, particularly when the characters fell asleep and suddenly lost hours!

Despite the fast-moving story, I can’t say I thoroughly engaged with this book. The main reason for this was that I found the characters to be very one-dimensional and stereotypical. Each one faced various peril during the story and I never felt any concern for their outcome, even if it was a particularly dangerous activity. It was not that I was confident that they would survive; I just wasn’t moved to care one way or another.

The lack of character depth affected this book a lot in my opinion. I think if it had contained compelling, engaging characters, I would have enjoyed this book a lot. However, as it stands, I think Timeline is an extremely forgettable book, which I doubt I will ever return to.

There was one final issue that I feel I must address, however I will warn you now that it contains major spoilers so if you plan on reading Timeline, stop reading now and I will see you on my next post!

I couldn’t post this review without commenting on the ending of Timeline. It felt so rushed, on top of being incredibly cheesy and predictable. I’m assuming if you’re still reading, that you have read Timeline, but on the off-chance you haven’t, here’s a little explanation; Doniger (the CEO of the company who shows little regard for the welfare of anything above profit) gets sent back in time to the outbreak of the Black Plague (and presumably dies), Marek (who has spent most of his life researching ancient customs and wishing he was born a few centuries earlier) decides to stay in the past and make a life for himself there, Chris (who seems to fill the role of the hapless idiot) and Kate (who is the good-looking tomboy) end up having a baby together (possibly as a result of Chris getting his act together near the end of their 37 hours in the past) and the head of the research team continues researching and eventually finds the remains of Marek, showing that he married for love, had numerous children and grandchildren and died happy.

I haven’t found a book in a long time with an ending so cheesy, that I actually felt physically disgusted. Marek’s choice to stay in the past was extremely predictable, so I didn’t feel a twinge of surprise when he announced it. However, Chris and Kate’s relationship was more surprising. The author had hinted at Kate becoming attracted to Chris, but I felt the inclusion of a baby was sugar-coating it a bit too much! It seemed like their relationship was based solely on what they had both lived through together in those 37 hours, which seemed a little forced to say the least.

The worst part of the ending had to be the treatment of Doniger, however, as that was nothing short of murder. Granted, he was a horrible person and no one liked him, but if we all went around killing people we didn’t like, there wouldn’t be many people left! He could have easily been dealt with in a normal manner, through a vote of no confidence by the board of directors for example, but the author felt that his crimes were so great that he deserved to be given the Black Plague. I just couldn’t get my head around how the characters were alright about doing this. It seemed very unrealistic.

All in all, I don’t regret reading Timeline, but I don’t think it’s a book I would be recommending to anyone either. If you have read it, let me know how you found it.

Sinead

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