Timeline by Michael Crichton


Timeline

Can man travel through time? As cool as that sounds, I doubt it could be possible. I doubt it from a philosophical point of view: if I could travel in time, why couldn’t I change history? Crichton argues that no significant changes can be introduced, but his explanation falls a bit flat. Science teaches us that the introduction of new elements will always change the environment (ergo, by adding a new person in the past, we change history). So, could you go back and evangelize someone who has already died? So, no, I don’t think time travel could work even though it would be really cool.

In this book, Crichton bases his time travel on concept of the multiverse. This theory is based on quantum physics and Crichton does a good job of explaining it. (It’s a little disconcerting to have journalists treat this theory as tested fact….) Still, instead of actually traveling back in time, they travel via a worm hole back into an alternate universe at an earlier point in time via quantum mechanics. One of the biggest flaws with the logic is here: how can I modify something in a parallel universe and have it affect my current universe? Anyway, that’s nit picking. 🙂

If Crichton does one thing well, it’s that he manages to explain science in an understandable manner. Whether it’s a discussion of compression algorithms or quantum mechanics, he does the science justice.

Now, for the negatives: profanity, some descriptive Middle Ages violence, and an honest portrayal of the sins of the past. Not that he goes graphic in these sins, but they are stated and treated as common and unremarkable for that time. These things tend to be glossed over in modern histories, but Crichton doesn’t do that. He makes every attempt to ensure reality in this book.

In fact, this leads us to the benefit of the book: his historical accuracy. This book could be a treatise for the Middle Ages. Repeatedly, the characters lecture each other and passing people about an erroneous term: Dark Ages. In fact, the characters repeatedly tell us that western civilization owes the Middle Ages for modern financial, political, and industrial systems. All three areas were founded in the Middle Ages. In many ways, the time travel and the adventures of the time traveling team are merely artifices used to bring the past to life.

Any book that can cause my wife and I to stop and carry on scientific, political, sociological, or historical discussions is worth reading.

Oh wait, you wanted an idea of the plot? Novel idea for a book review…. This archaeologist is stuck in the past. His assistants/students go back to save him. Now go read the book and revel in the discussion and descriptions of an early period of life.

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Odyssey By Keith Laumer


Odyssey

Yes, this is another collection of short stories by Keith Laumer. That’s because Laumer didn’t write many long stories. Laumer has a knack/gift for distilling a book to the essentials: the climax. He manages to bring you in just before the climax, grant you sufficient information to understand the climax and then takes you through the climax. You seldom feel as if you’ve missed anything as well. When I read Laumer, I often feel that the story could have had more depth and breadth, but it really wasn’t necessary to appreciate the work.

In this collection, the first story is exceptionally good. The story is about a twentieth century young man (down on his luck) who accidentally manages to be picked up by a space ship. In each phase of the story, something terrible happens to our unlikely hero. Every time, he accrues more scars and more skills before he escapes. Skills, I might add, that are necessary to helping him overcome the next obstacle. Our hero’s odyssey is somewhat predictable though: on the spaceship, he meets a young lady with whom he instantly falls in love. He is charged to protect her; she is captured on his watch. Then his quest begins to rescue her despite the minor detail that she was captured by an unknown race (thought to be extinct) from a distant portion of the galaxy. Not the most amazing plot or the most creative, but somehow, Laumer makes it a page turner.

There are a variety of interesting and philosophical middle stories that follow this first tale.

The final story is intriguing in that it covers time travel. We follow a time traveler who has the job of restoring the damage done to the fabric of time by earlier unwary time travelers. This is a confusing story as the time travel isn’t well explained, but it is still an interesting thought. Each successive era of mankind (since time travel was discovered) has attempted to repair the rips in time created by earlier generations. Each successive generation sees the previous efforts as clumsy and destructive and in their arrogance attempt to solve the problems – before the fabric of time self destructs. In many ways this story discusses the arrogance of mankind and the foolishness of men who think that they have achieved ultimate knowledge.

The stories are interesting as always. A warning in that the stories have mild profanity and the final story has an objectionable scene between the leading characters. I don’t know how bad it is as I skipped it.

I do find time travel interesting. I have another book on the subject coming up next week.