A Time To Kill

A smooth sci-fi yarn with tremendous attention to detail.

Michael Crichton needs no introduction. He is an established, popular author of thrillers like "Congo", "Jurassic Park", "The Andromeda Strain" and "Disclosure". All of these have been made into successful box-office hits. His latest - "Timeline" - is crying out to follow suit.

The style of narration is just a few steps away from a film script, in that each chapter opens as a frame on the mind's screen - the previous one fading away and a new image appearing in its place...

The pace of the novel is gripping, quick, descriptive and thought-provoking, as the reader is led into the immense possibilities that modern science has opened up by wireless communication systems and quantum physics, though the potential of the latter is stretched to breaking point. Once the reader accepts that by the end of this century, quantum physics will make it possible to transfer matter through a time tunnel to another time period and age, the novel goes down smoothly.

Doniger, the head of ITC and creator of this scientific breakthrough has shades of psychosis, which become apparent in his obsession with the experiment at hand and his total disregard for the price to be paid in terms of human lives. To his credit, he is focused, committed and regards the people sacrificed as mere foot soldiers in the advancement of technology.

Timeline, Doniger's pet project, is an attempt on his part to provide entertainment to a human race that is forever pushing the barriers for new "thrills". Nothing, according to him, could be more authentic that the "past" - uncontrollable, unchangeable, non-modernisable, yet approachable and authentic.

As the reader treads down Crichton's path, he too gets caught up with the possibility of reliving medieval warfare and culture, not only through books and screens, but by actually being there, and watching it as it unfolds.

Dark palaces, hidden secret passages, knights in shining armour, monasteries, dungeons, feasts and duels are the ancient ingredients of this futuristic story. The master puppeteer is Doniger and his pawns are Professor Johnston, a senior academician and his team of adventurers comprising Kate Erickson, a student of history under the Professor; Chris Hughes, also a graduate student in the history of science under the Professor; Andre Marek, an "experimental" historian and David Stern, a physicist. Feudal France comes alive in all its rawness, violence and otherworld charm through Crichton's brief descriptions. His controlled and able pen-portraits make the reading simple and fast.

This article was first published on 13 Sep 2000.