Flaming Geeks

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 they're doing.

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 a computer?

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.

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