© 1999 Michael Crichton
What happens when quantum mechanics and medieval history meet? Specifically, what happens when a team of American archaeologists excavating the site of a ruined medieval fortress-town are approached by the techno-firm ITC which is sponsoring the dig and asked to undertake an expedition into the past to find their missing professor?
In unearthing the foundation of a monastery and castle, the team is already exploring the past — but ITC offers them an opportunity to do so in an altogether different way. ITC’s interest in quantum teleportation inadvertently made a form of time-travel possible, and in the years since they first realized this, they’ve moved toward capitalizing on the discovery. They have constructed machines capable of sending a person or persons into the past: Professor Johnston, the team’s leader, has used one of those machines to enter the world of medieval France during the Hundred Years War. He has not yet returned, and so the two grad students and isolated adults involved in the history site are dispatched to find him.
What follows is a curious blend of science fiction and history as the team attempts to navigate the world of medieval France. It is a world no less dangerous than invented in Crichton’s Jurassic Park: the English-held castle being investigated at the outset of the novel is under siege by the French army, and violating social customs carries dangerous of its own — as one of the grad students, Chris, finds out when he picks up a glove thrown at him by an insulted nobleman and accidentally accepts a challenge to joust. What makes the book a thriller is that so much goes wrong on both ends: while the grad students and their guide try to avoid being taken for witches and spies, overcoming a language barrier and surviving court intrigue, ITC experiences an equipment malfunction that may prevent the expedition members from returning safety.
It’s certainly a fun story, and one rich in detail. History is a great love for me, and medieval history is a pet interest: I enjoyed seeing the two students react to their expectations being completely confounded, and found their realizations more interesting than the actual plot. As in Jurassic Park and its sequel, Crichton has a character to lecture throughout the novel: his eccentric Marek is as much fun to read as Ian Malcolm. His lectures were in line what I’ve been learning about the medieval era through my university studies and outside reading, and I hope that this novel has seduced a reader or two to find out more about history in general, for Crichton comments on its importance more than a few times.
This should be of interest to both SF and historical fiction fans.