Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Book Review: Michael Crichton : Timeline

Timeline is a science fiction novel by Michael Crichton that was published in November 1999. It tells the story of historians who travel to the Middle Ages to save a friend of theirs who already traveled back in time before them. The book follows in Crichton's long history of combining technical details and action in his books, addressing quantum physics and time travel.
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.



[edit]Plot summary

The novel begins with a couple driving along a road in Arizona towards a near town when they are startled to see a man wandering in the middle of the road speaking deliriously and in need of medical attention. He is soon rushed to a nearby hospital where doctors notice veins, arteries and even bone joints misaligned in the man's body. During this same time in a region in France, Professor Edward Johnston heads a team of historians andarchaeologists studying a site in the Dordogne region of France where the medieval towns of Castelgard and La Roque stood. Suspicious of the detailed knowledge of the site shown by ITC (their funder), Johnston flies to ITC's headquarters in New Mexico to investigate. Soon the archaeologists begin to uncover modern objects in the ruins, recognizing among them, the lens of Johnston's eyeglasses. Researchers Chris Hughes, Kate Erickson, André Marek (a medieval enthusiast), and David Stern fly to ITC. Here they meet Robert Doniger, the founder of ITC. They learn that Johnston traveled back in time to the year 1357, to visit the site they were excavating, but has not returned as expected. Doniger insists that they travel back in order to retrieve Johnston. They are persuaded to do so and undergo the process of transferring their physical selves back to 1357. Accompanying them is a hardened marine and an experienced individual who works with ITC.
When they arrive in the past, the team is plagued by misfortune. They are attacked by a team of horsemen in pursuit of a boy suspected of being a thief, ultimately killing the ITC member and the marine. A grenade smuggled to the past by the marine is activated and sent to the present, destroying the transit pad and complicating the team's return. Kate and André see Johnston being taken away by the men of Lord Oliver of Castelgard. Separated from the others, Chris follows the boy and accidentally declares himself as a noble. The boy leads Chris to Castelgard and is revealed to be Lady Claire in disguise, trying to escape from Sir Guy's clutches. In the castle, Chris and André find themselves challenged to ajoust by Sir Guy and his second (Sir Charles de Gaune). Chris, thanks to André's instruction, survives the joust and André defeats both Sir Guy and his second. Sir Oliver orders the death of André and Chris for dishonouring Sir Guy. Kate helps them escape, but from then on they are pursued by the forces of Oliver, most notably Sir Guy and Sir Robert de Kere.
Lord Oliver believes that Johnston knows a secret passageway into the otherwise impenetrable castle of La Roque. Arnaut de Cervole is approaching Castelgard to lay siege and Oliver must know this secret to successfully defend the castle. Johnston helps Oliver, despite knowing that, historically, he loses the siege, but he never gains Oliver's trust. Chris, André, and Kate use Johnston's clues (which they had uncovered in 1999) to find the secret passageway themselves in order to save Johnston.
Chris and company learn that someone else from 1999 is also in the past with them and has been spying on their transmissions, always staying one step ahead in their pursuit of Lord Oliver. It is revealed that Rob Deckard, an ITC employee and former marine, who went insane from an accumulation of "transcription errors" (slight errors that occur during the process of traveling that, over time, can physically and mentally alter the traveler), went back to 1357 more than a year ago and never returned. Eventually Robert de Kere reveals his true identity as Deckard to the researchers and tells them that he has no intention of permitting their return to 1999.
Kate, Chris, and André are captured by Arnaut's men but are saved by Lady Claire and later escape. André enters La Roque as Johnston's assistant. As Arnaut prepares his siege, Oliver decides that Johnston is hiding information and takes him to a torture device to drown him. Meanwhile Chris and Kate find the secret passageway and enter La Roque. Kate kills Sir Guy and Arnaut's men begin to enter La Roque. Arnaut and André find Oliver about to drown Johnston, but save Johnston and leave Oliver to drown instead. De Kere goes after Chris to get the marker beacon that will allow the travelers to go home, but Chris manages to kill him.
ITC and Stern finally repair the landing area just in time for the travelers to return. André decides to remain in the past with Lady Claire. The group, including Kramer and Gordon, decide to send Doniger back into the past and leave him to die, as he was responsible for the mess. He presumably catches the Black Death. Back in the present, Chris and Kate are together and expecting a child. The researchers find André and Lady Claire's graves, and discover that André lived a good life after they left him behind.

[edit]"Multiverse" Theory

In Timeline, Crichton uses the plot device of the theory of many universes, or a "multiverse," to create the scientific basis by which time travel is possible. Crichton sets up the constraints of the multiverse theory in a very specific way that allows his characters to engage in time travel.
One of the main characteristics of Crichton's multiverse is that time moves at different speeds in the different universes of the multiverse. The implication of this is that while the year is 1999 in the main, "present" universe of the story, time has moved more quickly or more slowly in other universes, and the year may not be 1999 in those other universes. For example, in the universe that the main characters jump to in the novel, time has moved more slowly than the universe which they came from (where the year is 1999), so that the year in the jumped-to universe is only 1357.
Another of the main characteristics of Crichton's multiverse is that events in one universe have effects on the other universes, so that any given universe can never be isolated from the events of another universe. Thus, changes in the events in one universe will cause the other universes to experience the exact same changes - albeit, not at the "present" time in those other universes, but at the time of the original change in the originating universe. That is to say, if a change happens in the year 1357 in one universe, the corresponding change that happens in a universe that is presently at the year 1999 will also have occurred in the year 1357.
In essence, what all this means is that while characters do not technically engage in time travel in the traditional sense (e.g., they do not travel to another point in time within their same universe), in reality, if characters travel to a universe that exists in the past relative to their originating universe, any changes that they effect in that jumped-to universe will be reflected in their originating universe (as well as all other universes of the multiverse).
For example, when Professor Johnston traveled to the 1357 universe, he left a message along with his eye glasses in that universe, which were then discovered by his dig team. This occurred because the change he made in the 1357 universe became manifest in all the other universes of the multiverse.

Another theme of the novel is much the same as "Jurassic Park" as Doniger is attempting to sell trips to the past. However, Doniger is jarred when scans of the past show the truth of history: George Washington is seen at the Crossing of the Delaware to be huddled under a blanket, not standing firm. Also, watching the Gettysburg Address, Doniger is jarred that Abraham Lincoln's voice is a high pitched squeak. He demands they be changed for investors and when a technician protests that this is what happened, Doniger snaps that he's not selling the truth, he's "selling history."


Kirkus Reviews calls Crichton "blockbuster king", and Cahners Business Information says the book will "grab teen's attention from the very first page." [1] Entertainment Weekly callsTimeline "exhilarating entertainment." [2]

[edit]Film adaptation

The feature film adaptation was produced by Paramount Pictures, with a budget of $80 million, and was released on November 26, 2003. The adaptation was by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi, and directed by Richard Donner. The movie stars Paul Walker as Chris Hughes, Gerard Butler as Marek, Billy Connolly as Professor Johnston and Frances O'Connor as Kate Erickson.


[edit]External links


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