First edition cover
|Cover artist||Chip Kidd|
|Genre||Science fiction, historical fiction, time travel|
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|LC Class||PS3553.R68 T56 1999|
Timeline is a science fiction novel by American writer Michael Crichton, his twelfth under his own name and twenty-second overall, published in November 1999. It tells the story of a group of history students who travel to 14th-century France to rescue their professor. The book follows in Crichton's long history of combining science, technical details, and action in his books, this time addressing quantum and multiverse theory.
The novel spawned Timeline Computer Entertainment, a computer game developer that created the Timeline PC game published by Eidos Interactive in 2000. Additionally, an eponymous film based on the book was released in 2003.
In Corazon, Dan Baker and his wife are lost and driving through the Northern Arizona desert when they come across a man in his seventies who looks like a priest. They pull over to help him, then take him to a hospital in Gallup, New Mexico. They learn that the man works at ITC and has unexplainable growth abnormalities in his blood vessels. The man dies twenty-four hours later.
In the Dordogne (southwest) portion of France, Archeology Professor Edward Johnston leads a group of relatively young archaeologists-Chris Hughes, Kate Erickson, and André Marek-as they study the fourteenth-century towns of Castelgard and La Roque. Professor Johnston travels to New Mexico because he has reason to believe ITC, their funds provider, is guilty of foul play. During his absence, his students discover several disturbing sights, including the lens to Professor Johnston's glasses and an inexplicable message from him. Chris, Kate, André, and a computer specialist named David Stern are whisked away to ITC Headquarters in New Mexico by the company's vice president John Gordon.
Once there, ITC CEO Robert Doniger informs them that Professor Johnston has traveled to 1357 using their undisclosed quantum technology. The students decide to venture into the past to rescue the professor. Stern chooses to stay behind, realizing that time travel is probably terrible for one's biology.
Immediately when they arrive in 1357, they are attacked by knights. Their ITC guards are murdered, and one activates a grenade before he is fatally wounded, and inadvertently initiates his return, causing the return pad in the present to be severely damaged. Stern and the ITC employees then struggle to repair it so the students can return home.
Kate and André find Professor Johnston; Lord Oliver of Castelgard is keeping him under arrest as he is convinced Professor Johnston knows the secret passageway to the famous castle of La Roque, which is commanded by Arnaut de Cervole, Lord Oliver's arch-nemesis, who plans to attack Lord Oliver's domain.
Meanwhile, Chris inadvertently tells a boy-in-disguise that he is a nobleman, and the boy is revealed to be a woman named Lady Claire in disguise. She takes Chris to Sir Guy de Malegant, her fiancé. Chris and André (who has since found Chris) meet Guy, who challenges them to a joust: Chris's proclamation of nobility and his flirtations with certain women have turned him into the enemy of several men. The two escape thanks to André's intelligence and knowledge of the area.
Oliver orders the students' deaths. They flee and are pursued by Guy and his knight, Robert de Kere. To keep Lord Oliver's men from pursuing them, the students look for the secret passage to La Roque. Chris and Kate focus on the secret passage while André gains entry into Castelgard by posing as Professor Johnston's assistant. André learns that the professor is helping Lord Oliver build a weapon to defeat Arnaut's incoming forces, believing that Oliver will lose the siege as he is supposed to.
Simultaneously, Chris learns that another future-person is helping De Cervole's forces. The man is revealed to be de Kere, who is really Robert Deckard, an ITC worker who has undergone so many quantum leaps that his DNA is tampered and weakened, much like the seventy-year-old man the couple in Arizona found at the beginning of the novel. Deckard plans to take the next trip to the future for himself.
Arnaut begins the siege of Castelgard, and eventually emerges victorious. During the battle, Kate runs away from Guy and sends him falling to his death. André and Chris free Professor Johnston from a dungeon. They see Arnaut battling Oliver, which ends with the latter being trapped in a deep pit. As the time travelers flee, Chris is attacked by Deckard, but kills him by setting him on fire with gunpowder supplied by Professor Johnston.
Stern and the ITC employees repair the machine just in time for the students' return. André realizes that he has longed for this life, and convinces the others to return to the present without him.
Back in the present, the team is confronted by Doniger, who, having had little concern for their safety, intends to exploit the quantum technology for his own monetary gain. Fed up with his boss, Gordon knocks him out and uses the machine to trap him in 1348 Europe, during the Black Plague.
The novel concludes with an epilogue. Chris and Kate are now married and expecting their first child. While digging through a site one day, they come across the grave of André and Lady Claire. They are pleased to know the two led a happy life together, and that André never forgot them.
The novel is written in the third person omniscient point of view. Crichton uses many voices to tell his story, including those of the main characters Marek, Kate, and Chris, as well as those of minor characters, such as the couple who finds a confused man wandering in the desert, and the cop who cannot accept the incredible story of an old man who simply wandered away from his own car in the desert.
Andre Marek is a researcher who works with Professor Johnston in Dordogne. Marek has always had a fascination with medieval times that is so intense that he has taught himself to joust, to fight with a sword, and to shoot a longbow. Therefore, when Marek gets the chance to go to that era, via ITC's invention, he jumps at it.
Marek proves himself very brave in the medieval world. He fights multiple soldiers, not hesitating to take their lives; bravely stands up to medieval warlords and Archpriests; and is very convincing in the role of a knight. No one - not even knights who oppose him - have a doubt about his being one, fully entitled to be called "Sir Andre". Ultimately, Marek realizes that he was meant to live in this period. For this reason, he chooses to remain behind. When Professor Johnston, Kate, and Chris return to their own world, they find Marek's grave and discover that he lived a happy life in that alternate universe.
Kate Erickson began her college career as an architecture student but found it boring and switched her major to history. Kate now works the Dordogne site from the perspective of architecture, examining the ruins to see how they were built and to make recommendations for restoration.
Kate is part of Marek's team that travels to the 14th century to save Professor Johnston. Kate repeatedly demonstrates her bravery and uses her climbing skills to outwit the soldiers of the period. Kate is also something of a romantic and falls in love with Chris during the adventure.
Chris Hughes is a student of Professor Johnston's. Chris' specialty at the archeological site at Dordogne is the mill; he is trying to determine whether or not the mill was fortified, a feature that was fairly new at the time. When Johnston disappears and Marek asks Chris to be part of the team that rescues him, Chris jumps at the chance.
Chris is something of a weakling who often finds himself getting in difficult situations, usually over women. When he goes to the past, he finds himself lying to a pretty girl to impress her, and his lie causes him to end up having to joust with her potential husband. As time passes, however, Chris proves himself to be much braver than he appears. In fact, he single-handedly kills de Kere, the one man crazy enough to kill Chris' entire team.
Professor Edward Johnston is a college professor who is in charge of the archeological site at Dordogne, in France. Johnston is an inspiration to and supportive of his students, and they admire him. When Johnston goes missing after traveling to New Mexico to confront ITC's CEO, his team rallies to find a way to save him.
Johnston has traveled to the past through a separate universe. He has been found by the local people and for this reason has created a new persona for himself, as a Magister who has come to help the local monastery's abbot look for important information in their archives. In this capacity, Johnston quickly becomes something of a local legend. This causes Sir Oliver to request his help in defeating Arnaut. Johnston plays along until the moment comes when he can return home.
David Stern is a computer geek who takes a job with the Dordogne River Valley archeological site just to be close to where his girlfriend is attending school. When Doniger calls Marek and asks him to pick his three best people to return to New Mexico, Marek chooses Stern to be part of the team. When the science behind the ability to transmit people to other universes is discussed, Stern probably understands it better than anyone else and, therefore, is also the only one who recognizes that it is dangerous and chooses not to go. However, by not going, Stern becomes a key part of the team by assuring their survival via his innovations to rebuild the water walls that provide buffer for the re-building team. Stern saves their lives.
Cahners Business Information says the book will "grab teens' attention from the very first page", and Entertainment Weekly calls Timeline "exhilarating entertainment." The novel has also grasped the attention of scholars of medievalism, since Crichton praises Norman Cantor's Inventing the Middle Ages (1999) as a central influence on his characterization of academic research on the medieval past. Crichton's narrative seems to support Cantor's notion that the work of academic medievalists amounts to little more than subjective reinventions of the medieval era.
Paramount Pictures produced a feature film adaptation, with a budget of $80 million, released on November 26, 2003. The adaptation was written by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi, and directed by Richard Donner, and stars Paul Walker as Chris, Gerard Butler as Marek, Billy Connolly as Professor Johnston, and Frances O'Connor as Kate. The film was poorly received by critics and audiences alike.