Fangirl Book Club Pick of the Month: “Timeline” by Michael Crichton

Timeline by Michael CrichtonA review written/summarized by Amanda.

Every month, our club votes on the book we will read for that month. September’s winning book was Michael Crichton’s Timeline. The following review is based on a verbal discussion at September’s meeting.

Spoiler-free Synopsis:

Timeline, published in 1999, reaches across multiple genre lines (namely mystery, romance, history, and science fiction). It tells the story of a group of young historians and archaeologists who travel to 14th century France to rescue their boss, Professor Edward Johnston.

The book began in the middle of the New Mexico desert, where an incoherent man was found by a married couple. He had been wandering miles from the nearest town, with no discernible means of transportation. The couple brought him to the closest hospital, where an MRI scan revealed several physical anomalies, such as blood vessels that don’t line up. It’s discovered that the man was a physicist in the employ of a powerful company called ITC.

Meanwhile, in the Dordogne region of France, Professor Johnston and his team of archaeologists and history students were uncovering the ruins of two medieval towns, Castelgard and La Roque. Their study was funded by ITC and its founder, Robert Doniger. Suspicions were aroused when ITC’s lawyer, Diane Kramer, revealed more knowledge of the site than she should have had. The professor decided to go to ITC and find out how they came by their information.

Soon after, the team, consisting of Chris Hughes, Kate Erickson, Andre Marek, and David Stern, made an unexpected discovery at the research site – a lens from a pair of glasses and a parchment written in modern English that seemed to be a request for help from the professor. Tests were run and repeated multiple times before it was determined that both items had inexplicably been in the ruins for 600 years. A phone conversation with Doniger’s right hand man confirms their suspicions. The team members pack their bags and travel to ITC.

Surprises continue once they reached ITC and it is revealed that time travel not only exists, but had been happening in relative secrecy for several years. Upon his arrival, Professor Johnston insisted on going back in time to see for himself, but didn’t return when he was expected. Doniger and Gordon train the professor’s team to go back to 14th century France and bring him back to the present. From that point, hijinks and adventures ensued.

Fangirls’ Analysis:

September’s hostess chose this book for us to vote on because “the description sounded bad-ass and I thought it would be interesting to read about time travel stuff.” When asked why people had voted for Timeline, the overwhelming response was “I remember liking the movie!”

Like many of Crichton’s works (Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain, Prey, etc.), Timeline was co-opted by Hollywood. The movie stars the late Paul Walker, as well as Billy Connolly, Frances O’Connor, Neil McDonough, and Gerard Butler. It was released in 2003 and has its own discussion-worthy issues.

What We Liked:

There are several strong female characters in this novel, all of whom are successful, intelligent, and driven (without coming across as man-haters). The action picks up once the team goes back in time. Well-crafted twists keep us guessing and interested in the outcome. Crichton’s use of circular time (rather than linear) in regards to the time travel aspect, made us think critically about quantum mechanics and multiverses. The transitions between medieval time and present day include juxtapositions that help bring readers firmly into the relevant time period.

What We Didn’t Like:

The first third of the book mostly consists of explaining the various scientific processes for time travel. While some of this information is helpful and rounds out the story, most of it is tedious and dry. Several of us found ourselves skimming over these parts and still had little to no difficulty understanding the concepts. Crichton also has a habit of introducing one-off characters as though they are integral to the story and will appear more than once. He includes details about their relationships and back stories that would be useful to know about main or even recurring supporting characters.

With as many people as he introduces throughout the story, Crichton adds to the confusion by using first and last names interchangeably, to the point where it distracts from the plot. And although he made his female characters well-rounded, his physical descriptions were centered on their beauty and desirability as though their value is increased solely because they are attractive.

As a group, we ultimately enjoyed the story but didn’t LOVE it.

Fangirl rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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