In Search of a Book
by K. Butler
Lacking books recently, I have been forced to drastic action.
No, I haven't started reading John Grisham, but it's almost as
bad: Michael Crichton. The depths to which one will descend
for something to read.
The story seems promising at the outset. It opens with a couple
in the desert discovering an old man who's mysteriously appeared
in the path of their car. We learn more about the company he
works for, ITC, a money sucking startup with a shadowy sort of
purpose. The scene shifts to France, where a group of archaeologists,
sponsored by ITC, are excavating a medieval site. It's a
decent setup, and in the first part of the book, Crichton draws
a picture of quite a few interesting characters.
Unfortunately for us, at that point, he introduces us to the
scientific wonder of the book: a time shifting machine invented
by ITC. Our archaeologists are invited down to Project Quantum
Leap-- excuse me, a completely unrelated secret laboratory under
the New Mexico desert, to view the accelerator chamber. They are
told that their project leader is lost in the past, and they
are the only ones who can rescue him.
He includes a great deal of technobabble to explain how this
machine works; he'd almost be better off to leave it out, because
he doesn't do a very good job. His characters contradict themselves
several times in the course of their lecture, partly because
they're lying and partly because they're trying to simplify for
their audience. According to them, it's not really time travel;
rather, they are shifting the people into another universe, one
where things are almost the same as they are here, except, of course,
that that universe is at a different point in history.
But then, for the remainder of they book they simply say time
travel. So, it seems that even they don't quite understand what
It doesn't matter, however, because as soon as the machine is
introduced, Crichton forgets what book he was writing and ends
up rehashing most of Jurassic Park. No, the scientists aren't
transported to the era of the dinosaurs, but they may as well
have been. Using the incredibly dangerous and poorly tested theory,
they are shifted into a universe of 14th century France, right
in the middle of an incipient battle.
While our intrepid heroes attempt to find their professor and
return to their own present, it's revealed how the arrogant
scientist man who created ITC is planning to use his invention.
Will he import people from these other universes to be cheap
labor? Will he travel to futuristic societies to steal technology?
Will he plunder them for energy supplies? Will he visit
Einstein, Newton, Euclid, Maxwell and see what they can do with
The answer is no. No. What he will do with his ability to time
travel is to create a theme park. That's right. A theme park.
Setting aside such absurdity (since part of me does hope Crichton got
confused as to what book he was writing), methinks the author has
been spending too much time on movie deals. There's virtually
no description in the novel, and where description is necessary
to visualize the scene, there's a picture instead. Now, a picture
is worth a thousand words, but it seems to me that if you're writing
a book, you ought to at least take a stab at writing. As it is,
the last two-thirds of the book will need very little work to
turn into a movie script -- it's all motion, dialogue and set design.
In general, I am a fan of historical fiction as well as sci-fi, and
if this book could make up its mind between being one or the other,
I might be able to recommend it as light reading. But it doesn't,
and so I won't. Timeline is definitely not worth your time.