Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 585
Crichton's background in science and medicine (he has a degree from Harvard medical school and worked as a medical researcher) has influenced his writing style to a great degree. His action and suspense novels are always based in scientific and technologic possibilities, earning him the title of master of the technothriller. He included a bibliography of his research in his first novel, The Andromeda Strain, as well as various graphics, charts and maps to aid the reader in understanding the medical jargon and setting the precedent for his future publications. By relying on research and facts to drive the narrative, Crichton avoids being criticized for his flat characters and generally uninteresting writing style. What he excels at is writing plots that combine action and pedantry to create exciting realism. He repeats this formula for success in Timeline. The reader knows only as much about the characters as is necessary to make their actions believable, but is given a crash course in quantum physics and medieval history.
Many of Crichton's novels are technothrillers, novels set in the present or near future, the plots of which revolve around scientific or technological advances. The decision by Crichton's publicists to call his novels technothrillers in the book jackets was probably also influenced by a desire to avoid the stigma attached to the term science fiction. Of course, any novel involving time travel also falls into that category and so it is useful to compare Timeline to other science fiction novels. Authors often use the genre as a way to avoid censorship or to allegorize their vision. Often, readers who are blind to certain aspects of their own culture when presented with them directly will be able to recognize them in an unfamiliar or futuristic setting. Thus, one aspect of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds (1898) is a commentary on England's fear of unchecked immigration, and Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (1921) is a direct criticism of communist Russia, but neither novel mentions their respective subjects directly. Crichton takes advantage of this aspect of science fiction and uses Timeline in part to criticize American corporate culture today without directly attacking it.
As in Jurassic Park, Crichton bases his vision of the future on his personal research on the subject. In the case of Timeline, he familiarized himself with a number of popular and scholarly publications on quantum physics and is therefore able to describe time travel in plausible language, avoiding the common science fiction writer's syndrome of employing meaningless pseudoscientific terms that fool none but the most naive of readers. Crichton makes the reader believe that if scientists have not yet been able to master time travel, they soon will. His research on fourteenth century France is even more extensive (compare the seventy- one history related citations to the ten scientific ones), and Chris, Kate and Marek's experiences in the past will satisfy both the general public and the historian. Readers must beware, however, of taking Crichton's footnoted citations in the novel seriously. Although Alistair I. M. Rae's "Quantum Physics: Illusion or Reality?" is listed in a footnote to the introduction, and the "typical episode of private warfare" account is similarly footnoted, he does not credit either author in the bibliography. Even more notably, "quotations" from Robert Doniger and Professor Johnston are mixed in with a quotation from Winston Churchill on the first page, blurring the line between research and fiction. Since Johnston and Doniger have net yet been introduced as characters, it is easy to mistake them for actual sources.
Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 241
Timeline easily sparks many discussions about the role of technology and history in today's society. Science fiction writers always begin by asking the question, what if? What if time travel were possible in the future—what would the dangers be? What would the benefits be? Crichton's novel also asks readers to reevaluate their notions of what it means to be a scholar of history.
1. Robert Doniger makes the statement: ". . . it is an entirely benign and peaceful technology that will provide a great benefit to mankind." Discuss the accuracy of the statement. Is it possible for technology to be completely beneficial? You might consider the case of nuclear technology as well.
2. Notice that there is no mention of government intervention in Doniger's project. It is as if businesses operate in a world governed by separate rules. Does this make them a danger to the individual citizen? Discuss the dangers in corporate sponsorship of research and scholarly projects.
3. Discuss what Johnston means when he says that temporal provincials are like leaves that do not know they are part of a tree. Why is it so important to understand the past? How can it help us to foresee the future?
4. Crichton's characters are often criticized as being flat and having no interior personality. Discuss a) Chris Hughes' transition from pampered intellectual to man of action. Is it convincing? and b) compare Kate Erickson and Claire d'Eltham. Does Crichton portray them as convincing female characters?
Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 468
Timeline marks a turn away from modern and postmodern novels of discontent and disorganization, and a return to classical Romanticism. The medieval European setting facilitates a return to the epic tale and the chivalric romance. Traditionally, the hero of the epic slays the enemy and dies valiantly, as in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The return to equilibrium is not quite complete because Marek stays behind and there are notes of regret as well as satisfaction with his decision to do so. The plot follows the typical disturbance of equilibrium at the beginning (Professor Johnston gets lost in the past), a chronicle of the struggle (Chris, Kate and Marek enter the past to retrieve Johnston), and finally a return to balance that concludes the novel (everyone returns to their proper time periods). Although ITC still exists and will still pursue research in quantum travel, Timeline closes with the positive view that now that ITC is under capable management no further dangerous mistakes will occur.
Crichton's knight of the Green Chapel section is a clear nod to the medieval tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (ca. 1390). Crichton's Green Chapel is defended by "a huge man, nearly seven feet tall, and his armor . . . smeared with green mold . . .," basically a literal interpretation of the Green Knight. The original Gawain is an Arthurian romance which, according to prominent scholars in the field, focuses on the hero's personal growth in self-awareness as he journeys to meet and fight the Green Knight. In Gawain, the Green Knight issues his challenge to King Arthur, but Gawain accepts the challenge in his place. Similarly, Marek is the leader of the small group of twentieth century scholars, and the one with the most battle experience, but Chris is the one who fights the knight at the Green Chapel because the novel is about his journey to selfawareness.
Other time-travel narratives are worth examining in conjunction with Timeline, such as Tim Power's The Anubis Gates (1983), which has a very similar premise to Timeline. Brendan Doyle is a Samuel Taylor Coleridge scholar hired by a mysterious businessman, J. Cochran Darrow, to partake in a trial run of a new program his company has developed. Doyle is sent back to Victorian London for the unique opportunity of hearing Coleridge lecture in person. All goes well until he gets separated from the group and misses his chance to return. Like Professor Johnston and the others, Doyle must fend for himself. The idea of sending historians or other scholars back in time to do hands on research is not new then. Powers falls back on ancient Egyptian magic to enable his characters to travel in time, and although quantum physics is mentioned in trying to explain how it works, he on the whole avoids the technological specifics.
Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 47
Timeline is available as a book on tape from USA Random House Audio Publishing, Inc. Read by John Bedford Lloyd. Producer Robert Kessler. 15 hours, 9 cassettes, unabridged. 1999. Also available abridged on cassette and compact disc and a Random House Large Print edition and hardcover from Alfred A. Knopf.
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