Friday, July 3, 2015

Michael Crichton's Timeline


Michael Crichton is one of those interchangeable authors who don't really have a style, as much as they have an agenda of sorts. For Crichton, it's usually a need to demonstrate the need for ethics in science and/or business. The success of one of his novels then rides on how much this theme interferes with the suspense of the fictional framework. At his worst (Rising Sun comes immediately to mind), dumb characters who require exposition bog down the pace of the book; when he refrains from assuming the poor education of his audience, however, these are quite satisfying thriller machines.

This one falls somewhere in the middle. We're given a number of characters who all have degrees rather than personalities, and who tend to explain various theories to each other when the narrative need arises. There isn't as much ranting about morality, however, leaving the reader to grasp the significance of the various decisions made by this novel's combination of greedy business exec and scientist.

For this is really Jurassic Park moved into Medieval Times. A corporation has been secretly using technology to develop a future entertainment empire based on recreating historical eras. They do this by sending people through quantum wormholes into parallel universes that sit along a different timeline. It's not really explained how this travel affects the timeline of the home universe, which it definitely does since messages are passed along the timestream. Perhaps Crichton thought that using up the first third of the book on explaining the theory, as well as setting up plot points, would be challenging enough for the modern reader.

The rest of the book takes place in the author's recreation of Europe in 1357. His descriptions really shine here, and are written with obvious love and interest in the time period. This setting provides Crichton with an almost ridiculous amount of obstacles for the heroes to overcome, on top of providing a "ticking clock" in the form of how long the explorers' batteries will last. He intersperses present and past time cliffhangers with expertise, never losing control of where anyone is at any particular time.

The only real problem here depends on your personal ability to ignore the silliness of the time travel science portrayed here. It only really exists in order to get his players into the past, and to produce technological problems for the people who stay in the present. It doesn't feel as integrated as the genetic and chaos math parts of Jurassic Park were. And as in that novel, it leads to a suitable end for a greedy lead character.

In the end, this is a good one or two day read, suitable for a palate cleanser in-between "serious" novels. If the action movies aren't good enough for you this year, perhaps this will satisfy your yearning. If given the choice, though, I'd recommend starting with The Andromeda Strain or Jurassic Park instead. This is more like a watered-down but well made sequel than a summer blockbuster.