Author: Michael Crichton
RRP 6.99
ISBN 0 09 945792 X
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An old man is found wandering in the Arizona desert, demented and talking in rhymes. In his pocket is a diagram, which turns out to be the plan of a medieval monastery. This is the same monastery that is being excavated by a team of archaeologists. Just how is it that a crazy old man has the full plans of a building that the archaeologists are still uncovering?...

Timeline is the latest Michael Crichton novel to be given the Hollywood treatment, with a movie currently in the pipeline. Rumours are already starting to materialise at this early stage that the screenplay is having to be drastically rewritten. A revelation which will not be a surprise to anyone having read the book.

The novel opens well, with the mysterious appearance of a man in the middle of the Arizona desert. He is babbling incoherently and is carrying a strange plastic device as well as a piece of paper with a strange drawing on it. The next thing we know we are heading over to France to an archaeological site on a medieval monastery. Somehow, these events are connected and the following novel will see our heroes travelling back in time to the very monastery they are unearthing in the present day.

Now stories revolving around time travel always have a problem associated with them if they want to be considered credible. Timeline goes for a theory that is based largely on fact, that of Quantum physics. A few years ago I was Features Editor of a magazine for the UK electronics industry. I commissioned a feature on this very topic, and while the time travel aspect is, so far, very science fiction, the possibility that we will be able to transport living tissue from one place to another instantaneously (like Star Trek's teleportation) is, theoretically, a distant possibility.

So, from a technical point of view Timeline is not as far fetched as you'd think. However, the execution of the narrative is not the stuff of Hollywood movies. Firstly, The opening chapters seem to be regurgitating ideas we've already witnessed in Jurassic Park. Having the main protagonists working on a dig and being worried about their funding until the man who is financing their project invites them to come and see something wonderful... has all been done before by Crichton.

You'll have completed 50 percent of this novel before you are introduced to the time travel element, and it's not hard to see why. Once the heroes hop over to Merry Olde Medieval France, they simply run around not knowing what to do. Avoiding a black knight here, a nobleman there, they run around until the reader is lost.

They get into scrape after scrape (chased by knights onto a ceiling which then collapses; knights chasing them again to cut off their heads; being discovered in a secret passage and again being chased by knights). It really does feel as though Crichton didn't think this part of the book through very well. We have a fantastically long introduction, a fairly speedy conclusion and in-between there are pages of confusion that read like a badly conceived Carry On movie.

What could have been an interesting adventure is simply rather dull. Let's hope the movie is either changed drastically, or that someone rewrites it as Carry On Timeline.

Darren Rea

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