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An old man has been found in the midst of the New Mexico desert, and is soon discovered to have strange deformities and to be an employee of a company named ITC. He is dead within a day of his discovery, and is quickly cremated by his closest associates. Meanwhile, a group of researchers in the Dordogne region of France, exploring a medieval archaeological dig, make an astounding discovery. ITC contacts them and reveals its greatest secret - tapping quantum technology to effectively travel through time...
A film adaptation was released in 2003.
Tropes within the novel include:
- Affably Evil: Arnaut.
- Alternate Character Interpretation: In-universe example; historical records paint Lord Oliver as a heroic character and Arnaut de Cervole as the villain, yet the differences are blurred when the characters meet them.
- Awesome but Impractical: due to Doniger's marketing plan, which is using the time travel technology just to create historically-accurate historical restorations, instead of, you know, obtaining stock prices from the future.
- Ax Crazy: Robert de Kere/Deckard. At first sight, a typical bloodthirsty medieval warrior, yet in fact a traveler gone mad due to transcription errors.
- Born in the Wrong Century: André. He later effectively rectifies the situation by choosing to stay behind.
- Chekhov's Armoury: Each researcher is introduced to us in certain scenes that make sense later. Also has elements of Plot Tailored to the Party.
- Cut Lex Luthor a Check / Reed Richards Is Useless: A lot of the technologies that had to be developed to make they system work, like quantum computers that ran millions in parallel and down-to-the-atom body scanners, would have probably made more money than the actual plan ever could if they had just sold those.
- Decoy Protagonist: Officer James Wauneka tries to uncover the truth behind Joseph Straub’s death. Wauneka then all but disappears from the story and the focus shifts to the researchers, and Doniger off handedly mentions later on he had ruined Wauneka’s career by making ITC look as boring as possible.
- Driven to Suicide: Straub is heavily implied to have intentionally used the splits caused by time travel to kill himself.
- Evil Genius: Doniger is this, in a Bill Gates vein.
- Grandfather Paradox: When one of the travelers asks this exact question, Doninger explains that one person couldn't make the Mets beat the Yankees, ie you can't change the course of history that much. But when the questioner presses the point, we get a Hand Wave.
- Jerkass: Robert Doniger, big time.
- Law of Conservation of Detail: Heavily averted, as several pages are devoted to explaining the concepts of quantum mechanics and parallel universes, even though they really are not central to the plot.
- Mohs Scale of Sci Fi Hardness: Pretty hard, but for an obvious lack of quantum transfer machines on a large scale in real life.
- Morton's Fork: Oliver to Francois.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: A problem that ITC encounters when it tries to market the time travel technology. Who wants to witness the Gettysburg Address when all you're getting is watching an ugly man speak quickly to a group of morose people in the rain?
- Relocating the Explosion: in a bad way, the grenade.
- Sleep Learning: (film) How ITC prepares its travelers to speak the proper dialects and such.
- Shown Their Work: In typical Crichtonian fashion, though the Expospeak can get grating with those who simply desire a time travel epic.
- Thrown Out the Airlock: adapted, effectively, on Doniger.
- In the book, he is tossed into the time machine and sent back to the time of the Black Death, which he rapidly contracts and dies from.
- In the film, he is sent into the medieval era, where a knight instantly decapitates him.
- Too Dumb to Live: In the film, taking Francois back with them. Did no-one understand that of taking a Frenchman back in time to a period where the English and French were at war would be an incredibly bad idea? Sure enough, shortly after arriving, he is forced to translate the phrase "Je suis un espion" into English ("I am a Spy") and gets himself run through. The book version of Chris is pretty stupid, mostly not listening to André regarding anything for the first half. After which they're separated and he becomes marginally more intelligent.
- Time Is Dangerous: Travel is accomplished by copying the information required to rebuild a perfect copy (at the atomic level) of the traveler and beaming this information into the past. Errors in copying are possible (in fact, inevitable if the machine isn't properly shielded) leading to Clone Degeneration.
- Universal Translator: (book) How the travelers can understand Old English and French. It doesn't translate for them, though.
- Unreliable Expositor: The explanation for how time travel works (it's an alternate universe functionally identical to that time, not earlier in the same timeline) turns out to be simply wrong.