Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place, with scores of time-traveling historians being sent into the past. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser into letting her go to VE-Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, and dive-bombing Stukas—to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Connie Willis, who was recently inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, has received six Nebula Awards and ten Hugo Awards for her fiction; her previous novel, Passage, was nominated for both. Her other works include Doomsday Book, Lincoln’s Dreams, Bellwether, Impossible Things, Remake, Uncharted Territory, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Fire Watch, and Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. Connie Willis lives in Colorado with her family.
Read an Excerpt
Come then: Let us to the task, to the battle, to the toil—each to our part, each to our station, there is not a week, nor a day, nor an hour to lose.
Colin tried the door, but it was locked. The porter, Mr. Purdy, obviously hadn’t known what he was talking about when he’d said Mr. Dunworthy had gone to Research. Blast it. I should have known he wasn’t here, Colin thought. Only historians prepping for assignments came to Research. Perhaps Mr. Dunworthy’d told Mr. Purdy he was going to do research, in which case he’d be in the Bodleian Library.
Colin went over to the Bodleian, but Mr. Dunworthy wasn’t there either. I’ll have to go ask his secretary, Colin thought, loping back to Balliol. He wished Finch was still Mr. Dunworthy’s secretary instead of this new person Eddritch, who would probably ask a lot of questions. Finch wouldn’t have asked any, and he’d have not only told him where Mr. Dunworthy was, but what sort of mood he was in.
Colin ran up to Mr. Dunworthy’s rooms first, on the off chance Mr. Purdy hadn’t seen Mr. Dunworthy come back in, but he wasn’t there either. Then he ran across to Beard, up the stairs, and into the outer office. “I need to see Mr. Dunworthy,” he said. “It’s important. Can you tell me where—?”
Eddritch looked at him coldly. “Did you have an appointment, Mr.—?”
“Templer,” Colin said. “No, I—”
“Are you an undergraduate here at Balliol?”
Colin debated saying yes, but Eddritch was the sort who would check to see if he was. “No, I will be next year.”
“If you’re applying to be a student at Oxford, you need the Provost’s Office in Longwall Street.”
“I’m not applying to be a student. I’m a friend of Mr. Dunworthy’s—”
“Oh, Mr. Dunworthy has told me about you.” He frowned. “I thought you were at Eton.”
“We’re on holiday,” Colin lied. “It’s vital that I see Mr. Dunworthy. If you could tell me where he—”
“What did you wish to see him about?”
My future, Colin thought. And it’s none of your business, but that obviously wouldn’t get him anywhere. “It’s in regard to an historical assignment. It’s urgent. If you could just tell me where he is, I—” he began, but Eddritch had already opened the appointment book. “Mr. Dunworthy can’t see you until the end of next week.”
Which will be too late. Blast, I need to see him now, before Polly comes back.
“I can give you an appointment at one o’clock on the nineteenth,” Eddritch was saying. “Or at half past nine on the twenty-eighth.”
What part of the word “urgent” do you not understand? Colin thought. “Never mind,” he said and went back downstairs and out to the gate to see if he could get any more information out of Mr. Purdy. “Are you certain Research was where he said he was going?” he asked the porter, and when he said yes, “Did he say where he was going after that?”
“No. You might try the lab. He’s been spending a good deal of time there these past few days. Or if he’s not there, Mr. Chaudhuri may know where he is.”
And if he’s not there I can ask Badri when Polly’s scheduled to come back. “I’ll try the lab,” Colin said, debating whether to ask him to tell Mr. Dunworthy he was looking for him if he returned. No, better not. Forewarned was forearmed. He’d have a better chance if he sprang it on him suddenly. “Thanks,” he said and ran down to the High and over to the lab.
Mr. Dunworthy wasn’t there. The only two people who were were Badri and a pretty tech who didn’t look any older than the girls at school. They were both bent over the console. “I need the coordinates for October fourth, 1950,” Badri said. “And—what are you doing here, Colin? Aren’t you supposed to be at school?”
Why was everyone acting like a truant officer?
“You haven’t been sent down, have you?”
“No.” Not if they don’t catch me. “School holiday.”
“If you’re here to talk me into letting you go to the Crusades, the answer is no.”
“The Crusades?” Colin said. “That was years ago—”
“Does Mr. Dunworthy know you’re here?” Badri asked.
“Actually, I’m looking for him. The porter at Balliol told me he might be here.”
“He was,” the tech said. “You only just missed him.”
“Do you know where he was going?”
“No. You might try Wardrobe.”
“Wardrobe?” First Research and now Wardrobe. Mr. Dunworthy was obviously going somewhere. “Where is he going? St. Paul’s?”
“Yes,” the tech said. “He’s researching—”
“Linna, I need those coordinates,” Badri said, glaring at her. The tech nodded and went over to the other side of the lab.
“He’s going to St. Paul’s to rescue the treasures, isn’t he?” Colin asked Badri.
“Mr. Dunworthy’s secretary should know where he is,” Badri said and walked back to the console. “Why don’t you go over to Balliol and ask him?”
“I did. He wouldn’t tell me anything.”
And Badri clearly didn’t want to either. “Colin,” he said, “we’re very busy here.”
The tech, Linna, who’d come back with the coordinates, nodded. “We have three retrievals and two drops to do this afternoon.”
“Is that what you’re doing now?” Colin asked, walking over to look at the draped folds of the net. “A drop?”
Badri immediately came over and blocked his way. “Colin, if you’re here to attempt to—”
“Attempt to what? You act as if I’m planning to sneak into the net or something.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time.”
“And if I hadn’t, Mr. Dunworthy would have died, and so would Kivrin Engle.”
“That may be the case, but it doesn’t mean you can make a habit of it.”
“I wasn’t. All I wanted—”
“Was to know if Mr. Dunworthy was here. He’s not, and Linna and I are extremely busy,” Badri said. “So if there’s nothing else—”
“There is. I need to know when Polly Churchill’s retrieval is scheduled for.”
“Polly Churchill?” Badri said, immediately suspicious. “Why are you interested in Polly Churchill?”
“I’ve been helping her with her prep research. For the Blitz. I need to be here when she comes through to—” He began to say, “to give it to her,” but Badri was likely to tell him to leave it instead and they’d give it to her. “—to tell her what I’ve found,” he amended.
“We haven’t scheduled her retrieval yet,” Badri said.
“Oh. Is she going straight to her Blitz assignment when she gets back?”
Linna shook her head. “We still haven’t found her a drop site—” she began, but Badri cut her off with another glare.
“It isn’t going to be flash-time, too, is it?”
“No, real-time,” Badri said. “Colin, we’re extremely busy.”
“I know, I know. I’m going. If you see Mr. Dunworthy, tell him I’m looking for him.”
“Linna, see Colin out,” Badri said, “and then bring me the spatial-temporal coordinates for Pearl Harbor on December sixth, 1941.”
Linna nodded and escorted Colin to the door. “Sorry. Badri’s been in a foul mood this past fortnight,” she whispered. “Polly Churchill’s retrieval is scheduled for two o’clock Wednesday next.”
“Thanks,” Colin whispered back, grinned crookedly at her, and ducked out the door. Wednesday. He’d hoped it would be on the weekend so he wouldn’t have to sneak away from school again, but at least it wasn’t this Wednesday. He had over a week to talk Mr. Dunworthy into letting him go somewhere. If Mr. Dunworthy was going to rescue the treasures, Colin might be able to talk him into doing research in the past for him. If he was still at Wardrobe. He loped over to the Broad, down to Holywell, along the narrow street to Wardrobe, and up the stairs, hoping he hadn’t missed him again.
He hadn’t. Mr. Dunworthy was standing in front of the mirror in a tweed blazer at least four sizes too large for him, and glaring at the cowering tech. “But the only tweed jacket we had in your size has already been taken in to fit Gerald Phipps,” she was saying. “He had to have a tweed jacket because he’s going to—”
“I know where he’s going,” Mr. Dunworthy bellowed. He suddenly noticed Colin. “What are you doing here?”
“Wearing clothes that fit a good deal better than that,” Colin said, grinning. “Is that how you’re planning to smuggle the treasures out of St. Paul’s—under your coat?”
Mr. Dunworthy shrugged out of the jacket, said, “Find me something in my size,” and half threw it at the tech, who scurried off with it.
“I think you should have kept it,” Colin said. “You’d be able to fit The Light of the World and Newton’s tomb under there.”
“Sir Isaac Newton’s tomb is in Westminster Abbey. Lord Nelson’s tomb is in St. Paul’s,” Mr. Dunworthy said. “Which you would know if you spent more time at school, where you are supposed to be at this very moment. Why aren’t you?”
He would never buy the holiday story. “A water main broke,” Colin said, “and they had to cancel classes for the rest of the day, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to come see what you were up to. And a good thing, too, since you’re obviously haring off to St. Paul’s.”
“Water main,” Mr. Dunworthy said dubiously.
“Yes. Flooded my house and half the quad. We nearly had to swim for it.”
“Odd your housemaster didn’t mention it when Eddritch telephoned him.”
I knew I didn’t like Eddritch, Colin thought.
“He did, however, mention your repeated absences. And the failing mark you got on your last essay.”
“That’s because Beeson made me write it on this book, The Impending Threat of Time Travel, and it was total rubbish. It said time travel theory’s rot, and historians do affect events, that they’ve been affecting them all along, but we haven’t been able to see it yet because the space-time continuum’s been able to cancel out the changes. But it won’t be able to forever, so we need to stop sending historians to the past immediately and—”
“I am fully acquainted with Dr. Ishiwaka’s theories.”
“Then you know it’s bollocks. All I did was say so in my essay, and Beeson gave me a failing mark! It’s totally unfair. I mean, Ishiwaka says these ridiculous things, like slippage isn’t to stop historians from going to times and places where they’ll affect events at all. He says it’s a symptom that something’s wrong, like a fever in a patient with an infection, and that the amount of slippage will grow larger as the infection gets worse, but we won’t be able to see that either, because it’s exponential or something, so there’s no proof of any of this, but we should still stop sending historians because by the time we do have proof, it’ll be too late and there won’t be any time travel. It’s total rubbish!” Mr. Dunworthy was frowning. “Well, don’t you think it is?”
Dunworthy didn’t answer.
“Well, don’t you?” Colin asked, and when he still stood there, “You can’t mean you believe his theory? Mr. Dunworthy?”
“What? No. As you say, Dr. Ishiwaka hasn’t been able to produce convincing proof of his ideas. On the other hand, he raises some troubling questions that require investigation, not a dismissal as ‘total rubbish.’ But you obviously didn’t come up here to debate time travel theories with me. Or to, as you put it, see what I was up to.” He looked shrewdly at Colin. “Why did you come?”
Here was where it got tricky. “Because I’m wasting my time studying maths and Latin. I want to be studying history, and not dry-as-dust books—the real thing. I want to go on assignment. And don’t say I’m too young. I was twelve when we went to the Black Death. And Jack Car-greaves was seventeen when he went to Mars.”
“And Lady Jane Grey was seventeen when she was beheaded,” Mr. Dunworthy said, “and being an historian is even more dangerous than being a pretender to the throne. There are all sorts of risks involved, which is why historians—”
“—have to be third-year students and at least twenty years old before they can go to the past,” Colin recited. “I know all that. But I’ve already been to the past. To a ten. It can’t get more dangerous than that. And there are all sorts of assignments where someone my age—”
Mr. Dunworthy wasn’t listening. He was staring at the tech, who’d come in carrying a black leather jacket covered with metallic slide fasteners. “What exactly is that?” he demanded.
“A motorcycle jacket. You said something in your size,” she added defensively. “It’s from the correct historical era.”
“Miss Moss,” Mr. Dunworthy said in the tone that always made Colin wince, “the entire point of an historian’s costume is that of camouflage—to keep from drawing attention to himself. To blend in. How do you expect me to do that,” he gestured at the leather jacket, “dressed in that?”
“But we have photographs of a jacket like this from 1950...” the tech began and then thought better of it. “I’ll see what else I’ve got.” She retreated, wincing, into the workroom.
“In tweed,” Mr. Dunworthy called after her.
“Blending in is exactly what I’m talking about,” Colin said. “There are all sorts of historical events where a seventeen-year-old would blend in perfectly.”
“Like the Warsaw ghetto?” Mr. Dunworthy said dryly. “Or the Crusades?”
“I haven’t wanted to go to the Crusades since I was twelve. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Both you and—” He caught himself. “You and everyone at school still think of me as a child,” he said instead, “but I’m not. I’m nearly eighteen. And there are all sorts of assignments I could be doing. Like al-Qaeda’s second attack on New York.”
“Yes, there was a high school near the World Trade Center. I could pose as a student and see the entire thing.”
“I am not sending you to the World Trade Center.”
“Not to it. The school was four blocks away, and none of the students got killed. No one was even injured, except for the toxins and asbestos they inhaled, and I could—”
“I am not sending you anywhere near the World Trade Center. It’s far too dangerous. You could be killed—”
“Well, then send me somewhere that isn’t dangerous. Send me to 1939, to the Phoney War. Or to the north of England to observe the evacuated children.”
“I am not sending you to World War II either.”
“You went to the Blitz, and you let Polly—”
“Polly?” Mr. Dunworthy said alertly. “Polly Churchill? What does she have to do with this?”
Bollocks. “Nothing. Just that you let your historians go all sorts of dangerous places, and you go all sorts of dangerous places, and you won’t even let me go to the north of England, which wouldn’t be dangerous at all. The government evacuated the children there to be out of danger. I could pretend to be taking my younger brothers and sisters—”
“I already have an historian in 1940 observing the evacuated children.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As a huge Connie Willis fan, I am disgusted with this book. It's over 500 pages long and contains about 75 pages of plot. I believe that there is a reason for this, and I'm sure it's more interesting than this book. The overwhelming problem is that where the plot belongs is instead a grocery list. A hundred grocery lists. Instead of characters with thought processes and some sense of priority are cardboard cutouts who act too stupidly to be believable historians in order to stretch out 75 pages of setup into a 500 page Vol I. It's such an exciting premise and such a thrilling central conflict that it is baffling to see it ignored for 500 pages in favor of what train should be caught from which station, and whether one's coat and hat were left behind. Absolutely baffling. Such a mind-blowingly talented and interesting author churning out such a useless stack of pages about some very silly people who never twig to the very obvious and spend the entire story fumbling in a dark that is revealed to us much too soon for their futile efforts at not very much to be interesting at all. There is no emotional resonance in a 21st century character bothering to tidy up her department store counter while the bombs are falling. You can have no patience for a character who runs into the equivalent of a burning building looking for someone who logic dictates has already left. When the characters are more interested in returning a pair of stockings that have no bearing on the story than whether they will be dead in a pile of rubble by morning, you're left feeling cheated. What you want to know is what the characters are thinking and feeling, but all you ever find out is that they are scrupulously responsible maids and shopgirls. It starts out with everyone being flustered and pressured for way too long in Oxford, to no purpose, and continues with everyone being frustrated by the unavailability of transportation and the constant thwarting of schedules by petty annoyances like fussy nurses, demanding bosses and picky customers. In place of a rising dramatic tension is a simple sense of aggravation. Anyway, this book can be skimmed. You won't miss much past the midpoint. It hopefully sets up a sequel that actually has a plot and some of the fabulous twists and turns and emotional impact of ANY of the other Connie Willis books you could spend some quality time with.
Wow. Just, wow. Loved this one. So this is the latest installment of Willis' time travel stories, this time with historians travelling back to 1940 and the London Blitz. There are a number of different story lines flowing through here, and thankfully they're just on the "understandable" side of the "descent into utter chaos" cliff. It's hard to put down, though. There's a sense of panic that builds slowly but steadily throughout, and by the time the book ends, the peril is thick. There's the threat of the German bombs, of course, as well as the technical issues with time travel equipment. The depictions of 1940s England and the people who lived through the Blitz are wonderful. I'm not acquainted with wartime novels so I don't have much to compare with, but after reading this, I'm almost ready to jump in. Willis' characters are full and rich and quite varied. But here's my warning: This book might end, but it doesn't conclude. Willis' next book "All Clear," is supposed to conclude the story. If you're like me, and don't like to wait to finish a story, I'd suggest that you wait until Autumn 2010 when it's supposed to be released. I fell in love with Connie Willis' time travel universe when I first read "Doomsday Book" twenty years ago. "Blackout" is at least as good as Doomsday Book, if not better (20 years makes the comparison a little shaky). Highly, highly recommended. 5 of 5 stars.
In 2060, studying history at Oxford is a contact sport as historians conduct real field research. In that regard three historians are sent to different locations during WW II. Seventeen years old Colin Templer, who saved the life of project chief Mr. Dunworthy wants the faculty advisor's help so he can age enough in the past for older student Polly Churchill to notice him and how much he loves her. At the relative same time, Michael Davies is preparing to go to Pearl Harbor but the assignment changed after he obtained his American accent implant to be there for the Channel fishermen rescue at Dunkirk; Polly is going to London as a shopgirl during the Blitz; and Eileen works at a children's evac center in Warwickshire during a measles outbreak. However something is not quite right with the Research lab equipment as assignments change abruptly and the historians face danger when they arrive during the early stages of WW II in England. Although Eileen insists she trusts in the future, something Mike did at Dunkirk should not have happened; at least based on the prime premise of the History Department at Oxford in 2060 in which a traveling historian cannot change what has been. This is a super time travel historical thriller that hooks the audience from the onset and never slows down especially when the trio land in 1939-1940. The story line is fast-paced yet loaded with vivid detail so that the prime subplots seem genuine as Polly struggles with working at a store and evacuating during air raids; and Eileen with twenty two kids and resentful locals including the sponsor especially during a measles outbreak. However, it is Mike who may have changed the outcome of WW II and the next century with his impossible actions that could not have happened at Dunkirk. Perhaps the only issue with this great saga is it never climaxes as the second book to be published later in the year contains the rest of the story. Harriet Klausner
Connie Willis' most recent time travel novel, was a big disappointment. It is set in the same world as "Doomsday Book" and "To Say Nothing of the Dog" (both excellent books)...a world in which mid-21st century historians at Oxford University have a device that enables them to travel back in time to observe events. This book centers around a number of historians who go back to study various aspects of WWII. The descriptions of Dunkirk and the London Blitz are brilliant (the only reason this has 3 stars instead of 2). The book is almost entirely devoid of her trademark humor, which appeared even in the bleak/depressing Doomsday Book, and way too much of the book is taken up with the historians worrying that their preparatory research may have been wrong, worrying that their time travel device seems to be broken, worrying that they can't find each other (and frantically running about while just barely missing each other), worrying that they may have altered history, worrying that the retrieval team hasn't shown up yet, etc. etc.. Two-thirds of the book just feels like tedious, repetitive filler material written so that she could stretch this into a two-volume novel. That said...I will probably still read the second book just to see what happens (and in hopes that it is better written than the first). If you are a first time Connie Willis reader, you are much better off reading one of her other time travel books.
It's hard to imagine learning history through science fiction, but Connie Willis' time travel novels always hit the mark. I'm not much of a history buff, but I found myself wanting to know more about the Blitz and England during World War II. Connie's plot and characters, as always, make the time period come alive. This novel isn't as funny as some of her others, but I found myself riveted by the action and really wanting to know what happens to Polly, Mike and Merope. Do they change the course of the War? Do they ever get home? My only complaint is, I have to wait till fall of 2010 for the sequel!
Potential buyers should be warned that this book is not a novel--it is only the first half of a novel, the second half of which is apparently to be released under the title "All Clear." Unlike most books that are parts of a trilogy, or series, or what have you, which can be read as independent stories, even though they are part of a larger, over-arching story, "Blackout" does not end; it simply stops in the middle of the action. This may make a difference to some readers; it certainly did to the present reviewer. Nothing in the jacket copy or the on-line description of this book indicates that it is not complete. That said, "Blackout" is a gripping start to a rollicking story set in Ms. Willis' time-travel universe, which was also the setting of her novels "Doomsday Book" and "To Say Nothing of the Dog", and her very moving short story, "Firewatch." The action centers on the trials of three Oxford historians from A.D. 2060, who all happen to be researching events in Britain in 1940, during the first part of World War II. One is sent to a rural manor to observe children evacuated from London before the Blitz, one to observe the sea-lift that rescued the British Army after the Battle of Dunkirk, and the third to London to observe the behavior of Londoners during the beginning of the Blitz. "Blackout" constitutes the exposition of this large-scale novel. Each character has his or her professional concerns, as well as an emotional reaction to the historical circumstances under study. As in Ms. Willis' other time-travel stories, the characters all find themselves drawn to various people among the "contemps" they meet, and much of the drama of the story so far derives from the conflict between a strong desire to help and an even stronger imperative to avoid tampering with the course of history. There are mysterious goings-on in Oxford in 2060 that may affect the ability of our historians to return to their own milieu. It will spoil nothing to reveal that as this book ends, they have just joined forces and have begun to sort out the nature of their predicament. We must await the second volume to discover what is going on and how it all gets resolved. One of the most gripping aspects of the novel so far is Ms. Willis' vivid and moving depiction of Britain during the early war years, which she has extensively researched. For us, the events of World War II are still within living memory (albeit just barely), but for Ms. Willis' historians, they lie over a century in the past. The author is thus able to play both on the characters' unfamiliarity with conditions that are ordinary to us--and in the process to remind us of just how much the world has changed in seventy years, and how much more it is likely to change in the next fifty.
No plot. Indistinguishable charcters. Runs on four times longer than it needs to. Repetitive and predictable. Read only if you think a story set in the London Blitz can't possibly bore you. Makes one wonder who actually wrote Willis' earlier stuff.
Being a fan of both time travel and World War II buff, I was pulled into this story like very few stories have done before. The author did such a great job at making me feel like I knew the characters, and I could visualize every scene. Since there are time travel aspects to this book, and there are a lot of characters, there is a lot to keep up with, but that is what kept me so intrigued. I am often bored by books with few characters and a too-simple plot. This plot thickened with every turn of the page (actually, click of the button on my Nook). Also, it was fairly long at nearly 600 pages, which kept me entertained each night before bed for almost a week. I am so glad I found this book after the second book was already published so that I could dive right into the next one. I would have been anxiously awaiting the sequel had I found this sooner.
I read all the Willis I can get my hands on. While Blackout does not have the humor of Bellweather or To Say Nothing of the Dog, it's still a well-researched and gripping read. But with no warning whatsoever, it stops. The publisher made a truly awful decision to interrupt right in the mid action and with no warning, leaving a cliff-hanger ending like it's some cheap TV drama, just to make sure you return when the next season begins. Oh, and to make sure you spend another chunk of money? My response to Ballantine/Spectra is one big raspberry. What a crap idea and as a marketing concept, every reader should let them know what a blunder it is.
Historical fiction plus time travelers equals a suspenseful and engaging look at the Blitz. The cliffhanger ending is killing me though--can't wait for All Clear to come out later this year!
I got so enthralled with this story that I just wanted it to go on and on and never end. It of course does go on in the book "All Clear" which I am waiting impatiently to read. The premise is that time travel is a commonplace thing in the year 2060, and that historians from Oxford University make regular trips to the past to study historical events. The historians in this novel are all traveling to places in England during World War II. At first things seem routine, despite a bit of chaos concerning their schedules they arrive more or less where and when they are supposed to be. The story moves along as the historians get involved in various adventures with evacuated children, the Dunkirk evacuation, and London during the blitz. But then they each realize that their "drops" aren't working and they can't return to their own time.Don't let the time travel aspect through you off. That aspect of the novel is it's only weak point, for such a sophisticated technology the means used seem rather antiquated, as do the brief scenes depicting future life. The strength of this novel is the vivid creation of the people and places that makes this era of history come alive. My words can't describe how enjoyable it is to follow the characters on their stories, all I can say is read it and see if you are just as mesmerized as I was by them. The fact that the observers are from another time and are frantic to figure out why they can't get back just adds a element of suspense to an already superb story. I heartily recommend it to anyone!
I absolutely LOVED ¿The Doomsday Book¿ by Connie Willis. I¿ve read it ¿ 5 times, 6? Beyond the fact that I am a sucker for ¿what if?¿ type plots¿the characters in the book caught hold of me and wouldn¿t let go.¿Blackout¿ was a slightly different experience. I did enjoy it¿but the experience of listening to an audiobook is wildly different than reading the actual book. The narrator¿s voice was wonderful ¿ it was like the aural equivalent of a cozy chintz chair. (I¿m sorry ¿ that was an awful simile ¿ but that¿s what came to mind.) However ¿ the story was severely lacking in appearances by Mr. Dunworthy, one of my favorite characters, and while the reader learned a great deal about the time travelers in World War II, there was very little about what was going on in the time they came from. The parallel storylines was one of the best parts of ¿Doomsday¿.And? The end? Did I miss something? Did the story just end? Seriously ¿ if the package didn¿t specifically say 16 CDs ¿ I would think the last CD was missing.Soooo ¿ I want more!
The time is 2060 and scientists at Oxford have perfected the technology so that historians can travel in the past. As expected, there are rules of time travel and the system is fool proof. Historians cannot change the past and there are safeguards in place that prevent them from accidentally making a small misstep that could result in a different future. The premise, and some of the characters, are the same as Willis' Hugo award winner The Doomsday Book, one of my favorite sci-fi/historic fiction stories. But in Doomsday, the historians were researching the middle ages. This time historians have selected some various aspects of World War II. As with many of her novels, the original well-crafted plan falls apart and the characters end up running around on the verge of panic. Maybe that is why I like her books so much - the characters are not typical heroes, but ordinary people thrust into extra ordinary circumstances. All was going well for this book when it ... ended. I've read who Willis had originally hoped this would be a single novel, but decided while writing it to split it into two separate books. My main complaint is that the split point seems a bit arbitrary. There isn't really a clean ending for Blackout and to find a satisfactory conclusion, readers will have to pick up the sequel.
Connie Willis is one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy authors and I particularly enjoy her take on time travel fiction in works such as Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog so I eagerly sought out this book once I learned of it. This book like the two previous I mentioned is set in a future Oxford where graduate students in history study the past by traveling through time through a device known as the net. Blackout shares some of the supporting characters of the earlier novels but focuses on three young historians studying England in the early days of the second World War. Polly, the main protagonist of the novel, is an experienced time traveling historian observing people in shelters during the London Blitz. Eileen is a new historian spending time working with children evacuated to the countryside. Michael is hoping to learn about heroism by visiting various battles including the evacuation of Dunkirk.
<Spoilers Begin Here> All three historians find themselves unexpectedly trapped in their time. Furthermore, they find themselves participating in major historical events and seemingly affecting their outcome, something that the time travel theory of the net says should be impossible. The main conflict of the novel becomes whether Polly, Eileen, and Michael can find a way out of the past which means first they must find one another. <Spoilers End Here>
I find the best part of this novel is that it captures the everyday life of English people during the War in great detail, almost as if Willis were a time traveler herself shedding light on the ordinary life of the past. Willis' thorough research and attention to detail carries the novel through even at times when the plot and dialogue are a little flat. There are other characters introduced in the novel who are seemingly dropped although their resolution is made clear when I realized that the next book All Clear is not so much a sequel as a direct continuation of a lengthy work.
Like all of the Connie Willis books I have read, this one is frantically paced and yet still enjoyable. But the huge surprise was, this is not a complete novel only PART 1 !! Which I did not realize until I got all the way to the end of it only to find it was not over and part two is not coming until the fall! Dirty trick! I still recommend this, but do yourself a favor and don't read it until fall.
If you, like me, are fascinated by all things World War II, especially anything relating to the London Blitz, then this book is for you. Completely engrossing, compelling, and chock full of fun facts to know and tell. Un-put-downable.
Oh, Connie, Connie. I really loved much about this book. However, do you really think you need to repeat things over and over and over again? We get it. She has a deadline..., change one thing in the past..., for want of a nail..., etc. You only have to explain it once or twice, not a gazillion times over. Anyway, I loved the characters and am enjoying the plot. Can't wait for the second half to come out. I listened to this as an audiobook read by Katherine Kellgren. She is an EXCELLENT reader, creating especially perfect voices for the children Theodore, Alf and Bini.
First and foremost, as Connie Willis herself stated about 10 times at her appearance at the LBS, this is the first part of a two part book. At one point it was 3 books, but she and her editor worked very hard to get it back down to only 2 books, which made her publisher a little less annoyed. And equally important - the second book is done. The whole thing is written. All Clear is being proofed and printed and is due out in the fall. She absolutely promises you will not be left hanging indefinitely.Readers already familiar with her Oxford time-travel stories will recognize some of the minor characters reprising their previous roles. Mr. Dunworthy is still in charge of the History department, which is responsible for all time travel, since time travel is used to study history. Badri is still in charge of actually running the machine and sending the historians to and retrieving them from their assignments. Colin has had a taste of adventure and wants more of it. Plus he has a massive crush on Polly Churchill and has figured out a way to "catch up" to her in age by spending enough time in the past before returning to the present.At the start of the story Polly, Michael Davies and Merope aka Eileen are being run ragged by Mr Dunworthy, Badri and other extras before being sent off off only minimally prepared for their assignments in England during World War II. The story jumps from character to character and time to time as it follows their preparations and arrival in the past. Eileen starts the furthest back, in the countryside to observer the evacuated children. Michael is off to Dover to observe everyday heroes during the evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk. Eileen makes a brief visit to V-E day in London and then goes back further to to observe how the "contemps" handled the Blitz, and in particular their indomitable spirit. Along the way, starting in the past rather than the present we are introduced to Mary Kent who is stationed with a group of upper class women in the ambulance service at Dulwich at the start of the V-1 attacks. Willis has obviously done a tremendous amount of research on the period and the story is as much about the contemps - the people in England at that time - as it is about the historians and their trials and tribulations. Of course, we all know that Hitler lost the War and England survived the Blitz. But the contemps don't. Willis does a good job of portraying the worries and concerns and hopes of the contemps, even if the constant reminders by Michael, Eileen, and Polly that they, and we, know things will come out OK do get a little tedious. I suspect that Willis was reminding herself as she was writing as much as she is reminding her readers. In any case, by the end of Blackout all of the myriad threads have just about (but not quite) come together around the central problem the historians have. And there we're left waiting to see how they get out of their troubles and for the end of the War.There is no particular reason a new reader couldn't start with Blackout and All Clear, rather than Doomsday Book or To Say Nothing of the Dog. All of the necessary concepts and rules of time travel in this world are explained and there is no significant carryover of characters or back story from the other books. But you might want to read one or both of those while you wait for All Clear to come out so that you don't have to deal with a several month break in the middle of the story.
After his trip to the Black Death five years ago, Colin wants to time travel again, but Mr. Dunworthy won't hear of it. And right now Mr. Dunworthy has his hands full, anyways: going to St. Paul's in 1950 for some unknown reason and to London to speak with someone who raises troubling questions about time travel. Not to mention, many of his operatives' schedules change last minute, throwing wrenches in the works for people like Michael Davies, who was given an implant to have an American accent in Pearl Harbor only to be told he's going to Dunkirk instead. Because of the schedule changes, Michael, Merope ("Eileen" while on assignment), and Polly Churchill are all observing various aspects of World War 2: ordinary heroes, evacuated children, and Londoners in bomb shelters, respectively. But their assignments seem to be getting out of control, starting with the substantial slippage that Mike and Polly experience, and continuing downhill from there.Though easily accessible as a standalone, Blackout may also appeal to readers who would recognize returning characters from Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. Once you get into the meat of the book you're experiencing historical fiction with a twist: the characters you're following are from 2060, not 1940. Following their stories can be a little confusing at first, because though they all left within days of each other in 2060, they're in different whens from 1939-1940, and the story is told not chronologically but by following Mike, Eileen, or Polly for a chapter or two each. But the extra effort is worth it in the end. The characters are wonderful, and I really found myself caring not just about the main characters but also the "contemps" like Marjorie the shop girl and the terrible Hodbins. I really got lost in the story as I just had to find out what happens next, reading the last half of the book or so nearly in one sitting. If you're adverse to cliffhangers, I suggest waiting to read this one until All Clear comes out in the fall.
Connie Willis's latest novel was a long time in coming, but fans can rest assured that the wait was well-placed. This new novel takes us back into the world of the Oxford time-traveling historians of Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. Although rare in the genre, time-travel done well is my favorite type of adventure story and Connie Willis does it well. Her empathy for the "contemps" never fails to affect me, even more than actual historical fiction. We learn what they went through with the historical hindsight of knowing that their actions were greater than the sum of their parts. I always "miss" Willis's characters when the book is finished. Blackout takes place during WWII, with multiple historians traveling to various times during the war. Polly is to be a shopgirl in London during the Blitz. Michael is planning to interview boat captains in Dover after the rescues at Dunkirk. Eileen is attempting to contain evacuated children in the north of England. Several other historians are participating in events during the later years of the war. The frequent switches across mutliple plotlines are the novel's greatest weakness. There are so many plotlines to follow that 8 - 10 chapters can go by before we revisit a character. Still, this book is amazing for it's depth of characters and riveting stories. Several plot techniques we saw beginning in Doomsday Book and perfected in Passage are used profusely in Blackout. It is vintage Willis. However, a word of warning to those who do not like waiting for sequels: Blackout is only the first half of a two-part book which will culminate in All Clear to be published in October.
First of all, I will admit that I am a huge fan of Connie Willis. When a new title in her series about the time-travelling historians from Oxford University landed on my doorstep I was delighted. Setting everything else aside, I sat down to read.Three different historians (graduate students at Oxford) are sent via time travel back to London during the Blitz in World War II. One of the young women is to be a shop girl right down in the city, sharing a bomb shelter with "contemps"; another young woman is sent to be household help at an estate which is housing young children, sent from the city for safety; and a young man is to be a reporter on the scene at Dunkirk. Little by little things start to fall apart; the timing starts to be just a little off. Our students keep missing one another at meeting point; the "nets" to take them back to Oxford and safety don't seem to work. This is real edge-of-your-seat adventure--Willis really knows how to get the reader's adrenaline pumping. The two young women may not have been drawn differently enough--or perhaps, I was reading so fast to see what was going to happen next that I didn't pay attention to those differences! It's a corker! I have only one complaint about Blackout. .......SPOILER??........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................There is no ending! This book is to be concluded in the second half, All Clear, which will be published in October. What a letdown!
Connie Willis' newest novel, Blackout had a lot of things in its favor even before I read the first page: (1) it was written by Connie Willis, whose work I admire; (2) it's a time-travel story, which is a minor passion of mine; (3) it takes place in London in World War II, a setting which pushes more of my buttons. When I started reading it, I knew I would not be disappointed. The story follows three "historians" from Oxford, circa 2060, who are researching aspects of the Blitz in London. They do this by traveling back in time and embedding themselves in various events.The story is rich with the setting and details of the period. The amount of research I imagine it must have taken shows through in the fine detail of what life must have been like during the Blitz. Having been to London, roamed the city and the Underground, I could picture very well where the events took place. Connie Willis' fabulous description, and especially, the little details she adds, helped complete the picture of what it was like 70 years ago, with bombs falling overhead. The characters come to life, too, and Willis even captures some rather witty examples of the British sense of humor that had me laughing out loud.But the story has another layer, one which gradually build in tension: time travel itself, and its implications. More and more it appears that the historians are finding themselves stuck in 1940 London. The usual methods of extraction do not appear to be working. And no one knows why.The writing really helps make the story come alive. Connie Willis is a master at this. The words on the page disappear and you feel embedded in the scenes, the sounds of the exploding bombs shuddering your bones, the droning of the airplanes rattling your teeth. She makes it look so easy, and yet if it were this easy to write a good story, everyone would be able to do it.I don't give out 5-stars for books very often. (The last piece of science fiction to which I gave 5-stars was Joe Haldeman's The Accidental Time Machine.) I don't have hard and fast rules for this kind of thing, but there are 2 things that clue me in to the fact that what I am reading is 5-star material: first, it's a page turner, one that I can't seem to put down. I ended up finishing this book between 3-4 am simply because I woke up and had to know how it ended. Second, if I find myself getting close to the end of a book and wishing there was more, I know I've got something that's worthy of 5-stars. Both apply to Blackout. And yet--in this rare instance, my wish is coming true. For Blackout is really just the first half of the story. The second half of the story, All Clear is scheduled for a fall release. So the story will continue.This leads to one of two minor issues I found with the book. First, the fact that the story ends abruptly with a cliff-hanger means that people will have to wait to find out how things turnout, and some people may find that frustrating. Second, it seems there are ways that our stranded time-travelers could make contact with their colleagues in the future--some fairly obvious ones--but those are not considered by characters. At least not in the first half of the story. (Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity hints at one possible solution--something that was also used in the Back to the Future series.)Regardless, this was an absolutely wonderful read and I no eagerly await the conclusion of the story, desperately hoping it will be as good as the opening.
Oh, dear. I like Connie Willis so much . . . at least, I love some of her books and stories so much that it is a huge disappointment when I don¿t like one of them. Blackout is her newest novel, and really it¿s only Vol. 1 of a two-volume novel which will be finished in October with All Clear. The last Connie Willis book I read was Passage, which tried my patience and perseverance severely and of which I was, most unfortunately, strongly reminded as I struggled through Blackout. The gist of the story is that there are lots of historians (time-travelling graduate students from 2060 Oxford University) using the net to research first-hand WWII. Only something has gone wrong somewhere ¿ is it that the net is overloaded? Has one of the historians caused a history-altering event (something that is not supposed to be possible)? Because three of them, Polly, Merope (aka Eileen) and Michael are trapped in London during the Blitz. It¿s a fascinating premise with lots of possibility, but this thick novel literally doesn¿t go anywhere. It¿s an endless recitation of which department store, subway station, air shelter (take your pick) is supposed to be bombed on which night and the machinations necessary for the time-traveler to get from point a to point b without going through somewhere that¿s going to be bombed, or finding a train line that¿s functioning, or without being turned away by some sort of security guard¿ which, even when one of them manages to do, proves to be have been a wasted effort for one reason or another. It¿s exhausting and . . . boring. All that has really happened at the end of close to a thousand pages is that the three of them have managed to meet up in London to confirm to each other that, in fact, none of the drops (ports of entry for time travelling) that they were using is apparently working. (And lest you think I¿m giving something away . . . this information is in the advertising blurbs.) The novel is extremely thin on plot and character, and ponderous with minutiae that just didn¿t further the plot or enrich the story. It left me, not only cold, but frustrated and aggravated. Will I read All Clear when it is released later this year? Yes . . . but very grudgingly. Would I recommend this? Sadly, no.
Willis' latest novel gets off to a slow start. The first few chapters are a bit confusing as the characters run around Oxford getting their time travel assignments. But when the three central characters, Polly, Eileen and Mike get sent to England in 1940, the story starts to unfold. The Blitz, the German aerial attacks on Britain, is WWII is one of Wills' favorite themes and has been featured in a number of her short stories, most notably, Fire Watch and The Winds of Marble Arch. The best part of Blackout is the great historical detail as the characters experience the aftermath of Dunkirk, the evacuation of London children to wealthy homes the countryside, and the bombing and destruction of much of London. By then end of the novel, readers will eagerly anticipate the sequel which is supposed to be published in October 2010.
Too incredibly fun for words. I am loving this book! I hate that what's essentially part II isn't due out until the fall, because I fear I will have forgotten character names by then, especially for those who have two names, one for their time and one for the WWII era. But seriously, what I wouldn't give to be one of these historians. Truly, this has got to be my ideal. And the blitz, yeah, that's probably somewhen I'd want to go.