The down-and-dirty: Timeline is a well-developed, face-paced, engaging story that takes a team of grad-students from their 14th century dig site to period itself to rescue their professor who gets accidentally stuck in the feudal past. The story tightens violently as the cast is thrust in the middle of a medieval grudge-match between a brutal warlord (complete with his own black knight) and a wily defrocked priest and his army. To make matters worse, an unexpected accident in their time leaves them stranded. While the team struggles to survive their perpetually worsening jump to the 14th century, it’s up to unlikely pair back home to bring the group back in one piece. The story is intricately woven and well researched in Michael Crichton’s signature blend of science and fiction.
Timeline actually closes out the 2nd time travel novel in this month’s Science Fiction Double Feature and I must say the 9 o’clock show was a solid cut above the 7:30 (though to be fair, stacking Stephen King against Michael Crichton is like tossing an ice-cream truck driver in the ring with Mike Tyson: the ice-cream man is likeable in his element but he finds himself significantly out of his depth shortly into round 1–there’s just no contest). Crichton kicks the story off in his familiar here’s-the-big-brain-stuff-up-front way, which, as in Jurassic Park and other such yarns, underscores the whole story with that enveloping sense of “this could actually happen”. From there he sets the stage with cast of well developed characters between an R&D lab in New Mexico and seemingly unrelated archeological site in France. Here he does a fantastic job not just with the characters but the setting as well. This particularly true of the archeological site which he easily but thoroughly details and then vibrantly reanimates when the story takes its scientists-come-heroes back to 14th century France. Likewise the characters evolve smoothly if not a little predictably. Though certainly not unpleasantly: the bad guys are REALLY bad and the good guys are clearly good is all (the greedy, sketchy CEO is just that, for instance).
The storyline is a real page-turner and gallops along quickly but smoothly. It serves up a spicy fare of plot twists and a few lingering mysteries throughout, but nothing confusing or out of left field (which is quite and achievement for a time travel story); the author manages to tie everything together without any drawn-out asides or wishy-washy saves. Terrific read; I highly recommend it!