Timeline by Michael Crichton is hard to review. On one hand, like most of Crichton’s work, it is conceptually brilliant and tremendously well researched, while on the other hand the prose is choppy and the pacing inconsistent. As a teenager I loved the book, and counted it amongst the best I had ever read. Returning to it as a young adult I found it unenthralling and difficult to read.
Hence my conundrum; Timeline is a novel with obvious strengths and glaring weaknesses. What Crichton does well, he does as well as most any other author. His meticulous research into both quantum physics, and Medieval Europe, provide the novel with a foundation of bedrock. Science and history collide in an amalgamation of genres to create a science/historical-fiction hybrid which juxtapose the new technologies of a supposedly not-so-distant future with the relative barbarism of 14th century France. Making use of the multiverse to allow historians to (pseudo) time travel and get stuck in the past should make for an incredible story, and would, if not for Crichton’s inability to write.
It is greatly disappointing to see such a brilliant concept be mired in choppy writing. The author, or his editor, seem to be oblivious to the existence of punctuation other than the period. As a result, his narration is choppy and the dialogue stilted. This prevents the reader from establishing a rhythm, and the characters from coming fully to life. The pacing of the novel is also thrown off kilter by Crichton’s staccato writing, as it can move quite slowly during instances of great excitement, or speed up when the action has ceased.
The characterisation is decent, but not good enough to make up for the tepid writing. The protagonists were real and relatable, while the antagonists were easy to loathe, but had just enough humanity make them believable. However, none were able to jump off the page and truly come to life, as most were easily forgotten upon either their death, or the return of the book to the shelf. They do however provide great social commentary on the human condition, as the collision of past and present calls into question who is truly barbaric; modern man, or his medieval counterpart.
Crichton is an idea’s man, and the premise and setting of Timeline ensure that it is an enjoyable read, yet the ineffectual style of writing mires the book in mediocrity sometimes making reading it a chore. In all honesty, the low rating probably stems from the incredible potential of the plot, and the product not living up to the concept, but this is a book that can only be loved if you’re willing to ignore bad writing, as I could, when I was young(er).