Timeline, by Michael Crichton - The Best Time Travel Fiction In Print Or On Screen

It’s no secret that the author of this website is a HUGE fan of Michael Crichton. His recent pandemic thriller, Carried Away, was largely influenced by The Andromeda Strain and other Crichton books.

However, as much as we love Crichton, we are also extremely critical of time travel fiction. It seems like most authors/writers don’t realize the logical inconsistencies that they often create in these stories.


We took a short break from our indie fantasy binge to read a few quality Crichton books. The first one we picked was Timeline, Crichton’s time travel adventure into medieval France.


Did Crichton manage to maintain a logically-consistent narrative? Read on to find out our analysis!


Why Do We Read Science Fiction?

Just like we have our theory of fantasy here at TheShortStoryTeller, we also have a theory about science fiction:


Science fiction allows us to examine ourselves by imagining what might happen if we remove some of our physical limits, or alter reality as we know it.


Although there are many sub-genres of science fiction, Crichton generally falls into the category of ‘hard science fiction.’ By this, we mean that there is a strong focus on real scientific detail in his books, often accompanied by in-depth research.


One of the questions that Crichton loves to explore in his fiction is the future of human entertainment. He loves to imagine amusement parks that exploit new, fanciful technologies, or other entertainment experiences made possible by scientific advances.

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Timeline is Crichton’s investigation into how traveling back through time will re-awaken the human imagination that has been dulled into mediocrity by artificial corporate branding and consumerism. The unique authenticity of the past, one of the characters claims, is something that we will never find again in our future.

Compared To The Movie:

In 2003, Paramount Pictures produced a screen adaptation of Timeline, starring Paul Walker and an almost unheard-of Gerard Butler. The movie is entertaining enough, and captures most of the science and suspense of the book, but apparently audiences wanted to see more time travel and less medieval warfare.

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Sigh.

The Criticism: Is This Time Travel or Dimension Hopping?

In 2019, Avengers: Endgame explored the possibility of time travel through different quantum realities.


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If you ask me, they stole that idea from Michael Crichton’s 1999 time travel novel, Timeline.


Always on the cutting edge of the scientific imagination, Crichton conceptualized time travel through something he called quantum foam, the very small-scale fluctuations in space-time due to quantum uncertainties.


The fictional physicists in Timeline initially described this time travel as lateral movement between alternate realities. However, this claim became a little inconsistent, as actions performed in the past had consequences on the present, something that alternate realities would fail to explain.

The Good: The Historic Accuracy

The particular quality that sets Crichton’s books above the rest is the in-depth research that he does into every aspect of the story. And his historical research into 14th century France in Timeline really makes the story come alive.


Between the dialect, the swordplay, the siege warfare, the alchemy, and the politics, Crichton recreates the medieval French environment with immaculate detail. The reader is so fully immersed that he will feel himself trapped in the 14th century, just like the main characters.


The Recommendation: 5 / 5 Stars.

Okay, if we’re honest, pretty much any Crichton book will get five stars on this website. Personally, I think that Timeline is one of his worst books, in terms of believability, but he’s such a thorough researcher and master of suspense that this book still tops the list of the time travel genre.


If you also love Michael Crichton, please comment below! Let us know what you thought of Timeline, and recommend your favorite hard sci-fi books for us to read next!


And if you are a fan of hard sci-fi, why not check out Carried Away, the most exciting pandemic thriller to survive 2020?


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