(2000) Michael Crichton, Arrow, pbk, £5.99, 496pp, ISBN 0-09-924472-1
Not surprisingly, from the title, Timeline is Crichton's time travel story. If you are a SF buff, the question you will want answering is whether Timeline is better or worse than The Andromeda Strain or Jurassic Park? However before we get to that, a brief resume of the first quarter of the novel's plot. An ultra wealthy entrepreneurial physicist funds an archaeological dig in France while covertly buying up all the surrounding land. Then an old man, in a strange brown robe, is found wandering the Arizona desert who turns out to be an employee of the physicist. Meanwhile, the dig uncovers a few centuries old SOS message from its own head archaeologist. From the novel's first quarter you will have obviously sussed that the physics entrepreneur has invented time travel. That the archaeological Professor will go back in time, will need rescuing, and so a rescue team has to be sent. Indeed, this is what happens. Along the way Crichton once again proves himself as a competent researcher into his novel's background, for the book is jam-packed with historical detail (occasionally a little stiflingly so).
OK, so does Crichton add anything to the novel's predictibility? Unfortunately no. The SF dimension is literally confined to the just possibility of time travel, and does not include the exploration of time paradoxes, journies to the future, or encounters with other time travellers outside of our entrepreneurial physicist's team. So, to answer our first question as to whether the book is better or worse than The Andromeda Strain or Jurassic Park? The answer is that it is certainly no better. Of course this does not mean that Timeline is not an entertaining read, for it is: Crichton has always been able to spin a cracking yarn. It is just that the SF is decidedly weak. Nonetheless, I am sure that Timeline will sell well with the general public, and many SF buffs will want it for their collection if only for completeness' sake.
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