Timeline by Michael Crichton

14th century metal helmet
Helmet topped a metal outfit.

In Michael Crichton’s Timeline, an American company has discovered how to exploit the properties of quantum physics to send people back in time to study history. ITC lures archeologists studying a 14th French century site to be time-travel guinea pigs.

When archeology project’s director disappears near where within days the French and English will fight an historic battle, four of his associates are zapped back in time to look for him. In France, the four young people get separated.

Preparing for battle, both armies are wary of strangers who may be spies for their opponents.

Back in the US, the transporter equipment is out of order. Even if it’s repaired quickly, the archeologists may not be saved: Sometimes transportation has nasty side effects.  ITC’s CEO is too busy practicing his spiel to attract new investors to worry about getting the researchers back to 20th century America.

Crichton keeps the American story in hand, but lets the story in France get hopelessly muddled. Besides the confusion of two armies in the field and the noncombatants scrambling to get out of the way, Crichton adds secret passages, coded messages, and deep dungeons until he turns his extensive research into farce.

Timeline by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1999. 450 p.
1999 bestseller #5; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Airframe by Michael Crichton

title AIRFRAME is blurred on globe crisscrossed with flight lines Michael Crichton’s Airframe opens with a couple and their infant daughter flying back to America from on a charter flight. Nearing Los Angeles, the plane goes into convulsions.

When the shaking stops, the pilot radios for 40 ambulances to stand by. Two people are already dead.

Norton Aircraft, which built the plane, is in negotiations to sell $8 billion worth of aircraft to China. Bad publicity could kill the deal.

Casey Singleton, Quality Assurance representative on Norton’s Incident Review Team, is promoted to a VP position and assigned to manage the investigation, which normally would take a year or more. Casey is given one week to do the it. By the time she gets the assignment, the charter’s crew have already flown out.

Internal politics make Casey’s situation even more complicated. Union workers are fighting mad over  secret plans to move the company’s most profitable work off-shore. In addition, Casey has been saddled with an assistant who is related to Norton’s owners, has no relevant experience, and thinks he knows everything.

Like Crichton’s earlier bestsellers Disclosure and The Lost World, Airframe is can’t-put-down reading packed with information that you’ll remember long after you’ve forgotten the plot.

Airframe by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1996. 351 p.
1996 bestseller #4; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Lost World (novel)

bones of dinosaur head look menacing
Something has survived.

In Michael Crichton’s novel The Lost World, scientists find genetically-cloned dinosaurs living on a small volcanic island.

Crichton made a name for himself by writing fiction that sounds like reportage, but The Lost World doesn’t even sound like reportage.

The story begins believably enough, with mathematician Ian Malcolm speculating at a seminar of scientists about why dinosaurs became extinct. The verisimilitude disappears when two middle school geniuses get involved.

Before you can say Jurassic Park, Malcolm, paleontologist Richard Levine, field biologist Sarah Harding, applied engineering professor “Doc” Thorne, and Thorne’s foreman Eddie Carr are on the southernmost of Costa Rica’s Five Deaths island.

And the middle-schoolers, who stowed away in the science team’s exploration vehicles, are there, too.

Although there’s plenty of believable detail, such as jargon-rich conversations between scientists, only the most gullible of readers would believe The Lost World is anything but fiction written with Hollywood in mind.  There are high-speed chases, literal cliff-hangers, and blood and gore enough to fill a giant popcorn box.

But for the less-gullible, Crichton includes musings about the history of science, the scientific process, why the dinosaurs disappeared, and the rise of mass culture signals the end of the human species. That material is better than the story.

The Lost World by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1955. 393 p.
1995 bestseller #02; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Disclosure by Michael Crichton

Title and author's name are all that's disclosed on front cover
Inside the circle says, “A NOVEL.”

Michael Crichton’s novel Disclosure is not about disclosure. It’s about all kinds of deception.

Crichton sets his novel in the early 1990s in Seattle where DigiCom is developing a virtual reality device for information storage and retrieval. Tom Sanders, who has overseen the development of the Twinkle, hopes he’s up for promotion when DigiCom merges with educational publisher Conley-White, and Tom’s division is spun off into a separate company.

The day the merger is supposed to be announced, Tom learns the company is being restructured. Instead of being promoted, he will report to his ex-lover of a decade earlier, Meredith Johnson.

After a late-day meeting with Meredith, Tom finds himself accused of sexual harassment. He hires a lawyer and fights back, claiming that Meredith was the harasser.

Thus, Crichton sets up a story about sexual harassment with a male as the victim. For readers today, the edge is off that story.

What’s interesting today is what has not changed in those 30-plus years in employment law:  societal attitudes about women’s roles, the number of women in executive positions, the world of high technology manufacturing. Crichton’s observation remains true today:

“We all live every day in virtual environments, defined by our ideas.”

Disclosure by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf ©1993. 397 p.
1994 bestseller #10; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Great Train Robbery entertains and informs

Man in top hat watches a steam-drawntrain
The dust jacket of The Great Train Robbery tells part of the novel’s story.

In The Great Train Robbery, Michael Crichton’s masterfully blurs fact and fiction as he did in The Andromeda Strain.

This time Crichton takes readers to 1855 London, a teeming urban center where the immensely rich often live just across the street from the pathetically poor.

Edward Pierce, a man of unknown antecedents and unsurpassed effrontery, plans to steal the gold bullion being shipped from London to the continent to pay the British Army fighting in Crimea.

Pierce is a meticulous researcher, though his methodologies would not have been well regarded at Oxford or Cambridge.

To secure the four keys needed to open the two safes in which the bullion is transported, Pierce not only spends hour observing and timing the activities of railway employees, but also courts the daughter of one of the key holders and springs a noted cat-burglar from Newgate Prison.

Crichton laces the dialogue with the argot of London’s criminal class, declining to translate much of it, thereby intensifying the impression that he’s recording exactly what the thieves said.

Crichton surrounds the plot with vital trivia about Victorian England’s socioeconomic conditions, architecture, and burial practices.

Readers will close the novel better informed about nineteenth century history and very well entertained.

The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf, 1975. 266 p.
1975 bestseller #8. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Andromeda Strain: Be careful what you wish for.

Dot matrix diagrams
Computers are used to identify the organism causing the deaths.

The US military has sent small, unmanned satellites into space, hoping to find weaponizable microorganisms.

After being briefly bumped out of orbit, one of those satellites lands in Piedmont, AZ, pop. 38.

Within minutes all but two of the inhabitants — a baby and an old man — are dead.

A team of medical scientists chosen in advance for their varied expertise, are summoned to a secret subterranean laboratory in the Nevada desert to identify and contain the organism.

They work feverishly, sometimes brilliantly, often stupidly, trying to piece together what the deadly thing is.

Michael Crichton said he deliberately wrote in the “factual, non-fiction writing style of New Yorker profiles.”

Crichton intensifies the sense of reality by referring to scholarly journals, academic conferences, and including copies of documents in the text.

The characters are barely more than CV highlights. What they do is more important than who they are — and even what they do is done inside man-sized, inflatable plastic suits to keep them from contamination.

Crichton’s writing is good. His musings on the hazards that personalities bring to collaborative projects are still worth rereading.

The dot-matrix printed documents, though, are a blurry reminder that Andromeda is approaching its fiftieth birthday.

The Andromeda Strain: A Novel by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf, 1969. 295 p. 1969 bestseller #5. My grade: B.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni