the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Connie Willis’ Category

Blackout by Connie Willis

published in 2010*

where I got it: purchased used

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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.

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I’m about half way through Blackout by Connie Willis.

 

Someone told me that To Say Nothing of the Dog is the sequel to The Doomsday Book?  I disagree!! Who is the first person I meet in Blackout? Colin! And who is he looking for? Mr. Dunworthy! And who does Colin run into as he’s running around Oxford? Badri! And who knows to not let Colin anywhere near the net? EVERYONE.  Blackout is the sequel to Doomsday Book says I, as all my fave people are in the first chapter! Don’t at me!

 

Anyway,  I love time travel stories that go a little like this: Let’s go back in time! What could possibly go wrong?  In fact, let’s go back to the London Blitz, and then go to Dunkirk!

 

Um, everything could wrong? Didn’t Dunworthy already learn that the hard way?

 

I’m about half way through and Blackout is a damn Lobster.

 

It’s super intense, and scary AF, and I can’t put it down, it freaks me out to read it, it freaks me out to not be reading it and not know what is going to happen, i want to poke it I’m afraid to poke it.  I call books like that Lobsters.

 

I was so into this book, and being so affected by it,  that when my husband asked me something super basic about dinner, it took me a good 60 seconds to realize that I wasn’t in 1940 London and that I was perfectly safe.

 

What books have been lobsters for you?

 

(this post has minor spoilers for Blackout by Connie Willis)

 

What’s doubly scary is that all our time travellers – Polly, Mike, Eileen, and Mary, they KNOW exactly what happened in England during World War II.  Our time travelers are in fact, historians studying at Oxford in the year 2060.

 

And while the time travellers are on assignment observing people,  if they need to learn something (like how to drive), they can pop through the net back to the future, learn whatever they need to learn, and then pop back right moments after they left. Time travel is neat!

 

But they people they are with, they have no idea where and when the bombs will fall, they have no idea how much war is yet to come.

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The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

published in 1992

where I got it: purchased used

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I’ve read this book before, and I mean that both figuratively, and literally.  This is my or second or third time reading The Doomsday Book, and it’s a book about time travel that asks the question “what could possibly go wrong?”, which is a story trope I’ve read before.  Not a spoiler, but everything goes wrong. Oh, the name of the book sounds familiar?

 

And since this book was written in 1992, I don’t feel bad about spoiling certain plot points. Click here for my spoiler-free, original book review of this title.   Because this blog post? It rambles. It has mild spoilers. And it gets a little personal.

 

In late January, I found myself in a reading slump. I had a lot going on, and I was struggling to relax and just fall into a book. I needed a book that would grab me on page 1, throw me about, transport me, allow me to escape into someone else’s life for a few hundred pages, and then not break my heart into a million little pieces at the end, because damnit, i wanted something with a happy ending for once.  I did cry at the end of The Doomsday Book, but not from a broken heart.

 

If you’ve never read this book before, it’s got a lot of death. A lot of people die, a lot of people are helpless in the face of death, some people lose hope.  I’m not gonna lie, there is a lot of sadness and a lot of fear of dying in this book. You might cry. But oh, this book is full of so much hope! So many people who are doing everything they can to save their friends, people who refuse to be helpless, people whose compassion knows no bounds, characters who spend every waking moment caring deeply about other people, even if they don’t quite know how to show it.  There are scenes that are sad, but this is not a grim book. What is the opposite of grimdark? Hopebright? The Doomsday Book is hopebright.

 

In the near future, we’ve discovered how to travel into the past. The technology is mostly utilized at universities, and they send historians back in time, with the goal of avoiding the most dangerous times in history.  Kivrin will be the first historian at Oxford who is sent to the Middle Ages. She’s been working towards this moment for the last 2 years. Her advisor James Dunworthy has never been so worried in his entire life.

 

Something I love about this novel is how Willis starts the book when the action starts. There is no preamble, hardly any character introduction, plenty of British banter, and before page twenty you know the characters are anxious about sending a historian back to the thirteen hundreds, you know people are nervous and vulnerable and worried.  By page 30 you know something has gone horribly wrong. And that’s when the character development starts – after you’ve been hooked.

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The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Published in 1992

Where I got it: purchased used

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In the future, historians don’t just study the past, they visit it.  In 2048 the technology that allows time travel is still rather new, so calculations are double checked and triple checked. At Oxford, Kivrin has been studying for years with Dr. Dunworthy to qualify to travel back to the early 1300s.  Armed with inoculations against the plague and other diseases, a translator, and a recorder embedded in her wrist, Kivrin is as prepared as anyone could be. What could possibly go wrong?

Kivrin refers to her ‘corder as the Domesday Book, in reference to the records of life in the middle ages that were created for William the Conquerer, and she starts recording as soon as she arrives in the past.  But something has already gone wrong. If she can only get to the village in the valley, perhaps someone can help her. Maybe they know the name of the town, or of the village. But she is so cold, and so dizzy all of a sudden. . .

Meanwhile, back in merry old modern (comparatively) times England,  other people aren’t feeling well either.  As a dangerous illness spreads across Oxford, quarantines are put into place and medications start to run low.  Dr. Dunworthy needs to be sure that Kivrin arrived in the right place, and even more important, in the right when.  With a narrative that jumps back and forth between Middle Ages England and 2048, Willis keeps keeps the suspense high.

 

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Because I just can’t help myself, you know?  Nature abhors a vacuum like my credit at my favorite local bookstore abhors not being spent. Who cares that I just got a half dozen books from the library?  Bookstores are my kryptonite! Even more so after one of the employees let slip they’d just gotten in a ton of vintage SF.

teh new goodies:

 

from bottom to top, we’ve got:

A Feast for Crows, by George R R Martin. I got this out of the library a few years ago, I wish I’d thought to buy it before they changes the cover art to the “new” style. now my Martin covers don’t match!  😦  I can’t decide if I’m going to buy into the hype and purchase Dance with Dragons in hardback, or just get it from the library and wait to purchase until it’s in paperback.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.  I’ve never read any Willis, but I keep hearing really good things about her.

Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg.  Another one I’d gotten from the library a few years ago, it was my first Silverberg.  After I finished it, I remember my husband asking me what I thought of it as this is one of his favorites too, and I expressly remember saying that not only did I want to learn how to juggle, but if we ever had a son, I wanted to name him Valentine.

Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch.  I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Midnight Riot, and I’ve been hearing this 2nd one is just as fun too.

Stalking the Unicorn, by Mike Resnick – it just looked fun. and the acknowledgement pages makes some reference to a friend of Resnick’s who is the “God emperor” of something, which made me chuckle. and that brings us to . . .

The Heaven Makers, by Frank Herbert.  You wouldn’t know it by skimming the review index, but I am a HUGE Frank Herbert fan.  I think I’ve read maybe a dozen books by him, and I know most of his discography by sight. But this is one I have never even heard of! Anyone know anything about this title?

 

 


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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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