the Little Red Reviewer

Blackout by Connie Willis

Posted on: June 30, 2019

Blackout by Connie Willis

published in 2010*

where I got it: purchased used





I finished reading Connie Willis’s Blackout shortly after blogging about how much of a Lobster this book is.  When I wrote that blog post, I was about half way through the book, I am pretty sure I read the 2nd half in a non-stop reading marathon.


That post, and this post has minor plot spoilers for Blackout.


I’m a sucker for time travel thrillers,  and I especially love it when the premise of the thriller is “what could possibly go wrong?” and the author has correctly answered that question is “everything!”,  thus the thrilling storyline.


Willis’s Doomsday Book is one of my favorite time travel novels, and I’d heard the sequel was To Say Nothing of the Dog.  I recently bought a copy of TSNofD, and don’t tell anyone I said this, but i DNF’d that book about 50 pages in. I wasn’t getting any of the Three Men in a Boat jokes (yes, I am a midwestern heathen with no education. More on that in a bit, actually),  I wasn’t connecting with any of the characters. So back on the bookshelf that book went. But I still wanted my Connie Willis fix? So I picked up Blackout.


Blackout takes place about 5 years after the events of Doomsday Book, and who were the first two characters I met?  Dunworthy and Colin!! This was the sequel to Doomsday Book I’d been looking for!! Colin is nearly college age, and as adorable and puppy-like as always,  Badri knows not to let Colin anywhere near the net, and Dunworthy is his usually curmudgeonly and rushing all about self. Dunworthy cares deeply for his time traveling students, he’s just real good at showing it.  And he keeps rescheduling everyone’s drops and driving the net techs crazy.


Just joining us for Connie Willis time travel?  Here’s some context: It’s the year 2060, time travel exists (but somehow smartphones, e-mail, and pages do not**),  and Oxford University sends historians back in time for weeks or months, so the historian can embed themselves in the time and location they are studying.  The language and accent you need will be imported into your implant, you’ll receive tons of training on how to act and dress, and when your drop date arrives, you go to the Net with your props, and the net techs send you through. To avoid anyone being able to change history, the net simply won’t open to let you go through to a moment in the past where you’d have any ability to muck things up. To return home, you got to the “drop” site at specific pre-arranged times when the net will open for you. Pretty cool, right?


Minor spoiler:  Dunworthy and Colin are not major characters in Blackout. I think I cried with joy to get to see them again, and even 20 pages with them was enough for me to be OK with not seeing them for another who knows how many pages.  The novel follows four time travelers/historians who I hadn’t met before, and they have all gone back to different areas of England at different points during World War II. They each have an assignment to observe different places.  The good news is that while some things do go wrong, this book is nowhere near as brutal as what all went wrong in The Doomsday Book.

Even though Mary, Eileen, Mike and Polly are brand new characters for me,  I found them all to be immediately engaging and interesting. As the danger and tension ratcheted up (and it ratchets up FAST),  I wanted all four of my new book-friends to be away from danger. And of course none of that happened. Drop sites are inaccessible, bombs are falling in London, Eileen gets quarantined at the country manor and is thrown out as soon as the quarantine is lifted giving her no way of accessing her drop, Mike ends up in a leaky Little Ship on its way to Dunkirk,  in the bomb shelters Polly meets an elderly man who I swear looks at her with recognition, and although I had trouble following Mary’s storyline there is something going on about people starting a conversation with her about who she might know at Oxford but then the sirens go off and they can’t finish the conversation. That epic run on sentence gives you the feel of the tension of this book!


The elderly actor that Polly becomes sort of friends with, I want to know who he was when he was younger.  He seems to know that she is in a unique sort of danger but he either truly has no idea what’s going on with her, or he has a hint and can’t say anything.    It would be so very romantic if it turns out that Polly’s actor friend was a historian who travelled back, couldn’t access his drop, and ended up having to live out his life in the past.  But I don’t think this is that kind of book? maybe? And who the hell was Mary supposed to have known at Oxford?


Also,  why was Dunworthy moving everyone’s drop schedule around?  His lab knows that time travel works. They have minimal problems.  So why all the changing things around literally at the last minute?   I really need to know what this is all about!


Ok, so a few words about me being a midwesterner with a bad history education. American public schools were not, and  are not known for their excellent history curriculum, and my middle and high school were no different. If you had asked me when I was in 11th grade what World War II consisted of, I would have said “The holocaust”.  Yes, sure, that is important to learn about, but so is Dunkirk, Pearl Harbor, Normandy, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what Stalin was up to, and all the rest of it. I shouldn’t have had to learn about Pearl Harbor from a shitty Ben Affleck movie, I shouldn’t have had to learn about Hiroshima from Grave of the Fireflies. Maybe things would be different if I’d been able to get into an AP History class, but somehow I doubt it.


I wish Blackout had been required reading in one of my high school english or history classes.  Parents, give this book to your teenagers. Anyone who reads this book can’t help but want to learn more about what happened. I love getting interested in history by reading fiction!!   (That is a whole nother conversation – which will get a young person more interested in history – reading historical FICTION, or memorizing names, dates, and places for an upcoming history test in school? )


Anyone who reads Blackout will also be obsessed with knowing what happens to Polly, Mike, Eileen and Mary.   Because you will need to know that they are safe. You might also get addicted to reading time travel thrillers!


But SPOILER:  this book ends on a complete cliffhanger.  I do believe I screamed out loud when it ended with


“for the riveting conclusion to Blackout, be sure not to miss Connie Willis’s All Clear. Coming from Spectra in Fall 2010.”



Yeah, but that’s no so bad right?  The 2nd part of the book, All Clear, came out in 2010,  that means paperbacks are everywhere and easy to get a hold of at any bookstore or your local library.


Blackout and All Clear came out the same year I started this blog. Neat!

** it’s a thriller because the character’s don’t know what’s happening with other characters. Being able to text your location, or pick up the GPS of someone else’s iphone, or facetime when you need something. . .  takes away the tension right away, doesn’t it?


11 Responses to "Blackout by Connie Willis"

You’re making me want to re-read these! My kid just read Doomsday Book and is loving TSNotD, which I plan to snitch for yet another re-read when it’s available. I might have to put these on the list too.

Liked by 1 person

Yep, I went and put them on hold at the library. 🙂

Liked by 1 person

I can’t believe I still haven’t read Doomsday – which i seem to recall i bought after reading a similarly glowing review of yours.
Lynn 😀


you really need to read Doomsday Book! I know it’s a chunkster, but once you get into it you won’t be able to put it down!


Awesome post!! Yay for Blackout!! Such a great, tense, utterly thrilling read!!! All the exclamation marks!!!! Now I want to go and read Blackout and All Clear again right now … 😀

Liked by 1 person

you totally should go reread them! yes, ALL THE EXCLAMATION POINTS! 😀

Liked by 1 person

I loved reading that book! I still haven’t forgiven Ms. Willis for the book just stopping in the middle with no warning that it was part 1, but other than that, it was great 🙂


” I still haven’t forgiven Ms. Willis for the book just stopping in the middle with no warning that it was part 1, ”

you and me both!


Hello, Redhead: I stumbled into your review while surfing the net to find out if Willis has written a new book, and am I glad I did, because both Blackout and All Clear are sitting in an old ebook unread. Now where did I put that charger. Great review, I agreed with everything you said!


lol, we’re sure to be friends, as I have an e-reader here. . . but it hasn’t been charged in months! Did you have luck finding info on Willis’s newer books? I confess I’m still catching up on her old stuff, so I don’t know what newer titles she has out.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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