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Timeline    by Michael Crichton order for
by Michael Crichton
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2000 (1999)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Time travel is not a new theme in speculative fiction. There have been a myriad of stories about it with different takes on whether or not it is possible to change the past and what happens if you accidentally kill an ancestor. My favorite overall is Heinlein's Door Into Summer, which does allow its naive inventor hero to go back and fix past mistakes. More recently Connie Willis has had a lot of fun with her version in novels like To Say Nothing of the Dog. Time travel stories have become so common that they became a regular Star Trek theme - Captain Kirk took the Enterprise back in time on more than one occasion.

Crichton writes his own version of SF time travel adventure in Timeline, with his usual high gloss of credible science, fast moving action and characters that will play well on the silver screen. And of course there's an amoral multinational in the picture as well with a rather trite, brilliant but highly arrogant CEO, Robert Doniger ... 'I'm not interested in the future. I'm interested in the future of the future.'

The author extrapolates from current research in quantum technology to posit the development of quantum teleportation in the early 21st century, and to apply this to travel to fixed past times, which exist in a sense like parallel worlds. Doniger's company ITC have done the research and are experimenting with travel to medieval Dordogne, France, rife with battle between English and French knights in armor.

Of course, even in the Middle Ages, Murphy has to get into the act and things go wrong. A team of young researchers, graduate students in History, is sent back to correct the problem, but nothing is simple in the 14th century and things go awry for them as well. The team is comprised of two young men, one a wimp and the other an athlete trained in medieval languages and chivalry, and a young woman, an architect and mountain climber. What follows is a riotous romp of thrills and action with danger at every turn.

Though time travel is not a new theme, Crichton has applied his well-honed skills to give us a gripping and polished version, with an excellent mix of engaging characters, tons of action, and both medieval and corporate politics stirring the pot. Of course, he throws in a few surprises along the way, to keep the reader guessing. Timeline will make a very entertaining movie indeed.

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