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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


Timeline

By Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf, 444 pp, 1999

Iíve never been terribly impressed with Michael Crichton. He writes excellent action and adventure scenes, but his characters always seem flat and one-dimensional, never doing much more than dodging raging dinosaurs or white gorillas. Not surprisingly, what I feel is his best novel to date, Disclosure, lacks the heart-pounding action and delves more into conflicts between characters, which I found much more compelling.

I had high hopes for Timeline, a weighty book that had drawn good reviews from the few publications I take book reviews seriously. Unfortunately, it lacks the depth of character of Disclosure but still packs a good punch.

International Technology Corporation, ITC, headed by the brilliant but abrasive Robert Doniger, has invented a new method of time travel based on quantum technology. Like in most of Crichtonís books, the company merely wishes to profit from this and will do anything, even break the law, to do so. Why is it that, in Crichtonís world, only greedy, unethical companies headed by greedy, unethical white men like Doniger come up with the best stuff?

Anyway, ITC has a problem: Edward Johnston, Regius Professor of History at Yale, is trapped in 1357 France. Doniger needs to bring him back, but only to avoid a public relations nightmare. ITC invites four of Johnstonís graduate students to travel back in time to get him.

That about sums up the plot. Crichton sprinkles it with his usual scientific jargon and high-tech toys, though to his credit he does make it understandable to the non-scientific reader. The bookís action doesnít really get going until the four students show up in 1357 France, and itís fairly relentless until the end, although I was beginning to wonder how many times the students can fall off a ledge or slide down a mountain into a river. Toward the end, the book actually grew somewhat tedious.

Crichton fans will no doubt enjoy Timeline, and even though I have criticized it, I enjoyed it myself. Itís fairly simple and transparent, but should make a good movie, which more and more seems like Crichtonís true goal.

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