My Photo
Location: California, United States

Monday, December 05, 2011


- Balliol College

My latest book from the library is the science fiction novel Blackout by Connie Willis. The novel, set in 2060, is the first of a two-part story (the second part is All Clear) which won the 2010 Nebula Award, the 2011 Locus Award, and the 2011 Hugo Award. It tells of Oxford University (Balliol College) history students who time-travel to the WWII era. Here's a bit of a review of Blackout in The Washington Post ....

Book review: Michael Dirda reviews 'Blackout' by Connie Willis

[...] "Blackout" plunges the reader right into the middle of three key happenings of 1940: the rescue of the British troops from Dunkirk, the evacuation of children to rural villages and country houses, and the life of ordinary Londoners during the Blitz. Every detail rings true, with the kind of authority that only intense research can bring. Still, all of Willis's knowledge is subsumed in her bravura storytelling: "Blackout" is, by turns, witty, suspenseful, harrowing and occasionally comic to the point of slapstick.

By the year 2060, time travel has been perfected. At Oxford young historians don't merely study the past in books, they actually travel back to various time periods to collect data, observe and learn. To do this, they enter a force field -- described as a kind of shimmering net -- and are transported to their selected era, wearing appropriate dress and often with implanted knowledge essential for blending in. The drop site is carefully selected, so that no one detects the arrival of the historian; if the drop or its shimmer can be seen by "contemps," it will not open. To return to 2060 Oxford, the student needs to be at his or her arrival point at certain prearranged times. Should the historian fail to report in, or if anything seems to have gone wrong, Oxford will send a retrieval team.

Of course, nothing serious can really go wrong. Oh, there's been the occasional bit of "slippage," in which a historian is deposited in the past a few minutes, or at most a few hours, earlier or later than intended. And there was that mix-up -- recounted in Willis's "Doomsday Book" (1992) -- that left the main character, Kivrin Engle, stranded in the middle of the Black Death. But by its very nature, time travel won't allow historians to be present at key "divergence points," when their actions or even their mere presence might affect the outcome of world-shattering events, such as the Battle of Waterloo.

Hah ........

I'm still at the beginning but I like the book so far. It's a little different than Doomsday Book, which I read recently -- it has some of Willis' more comedic storytelling (I've not read any of her 'funny' books) mixed in with the drama, which I find that a bit disconcerting -- but it is a pretty interesting read. Another science fiction novel that tells of WWII bombing, but of Dresden, is Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (I posted about it here).


Blogger Dina said...

Oi, lately I've been reading bloggers' account of the discovery of huge unexploded WW II bombs in the Livorno port and in the Rhine.
Seeing these bombs today really brings home what it must have been like there in the 40s.

In a masochistic way I recently read

It tells of "life" after the nuclear war. In Israel we live under such a threat today.

11:58 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Yes, post-apocalyptic literature is seeming less and less like science fiction. After you mentioned A Canticle for Leibowitz in an earlier comment, I looked for an audio version at the library but they didn't have one - I'll keep looking in case they add it. The most upsetting post-apocalyptic book I've recently read was The Road ( - good but extremely disturbing.

1:41 AM  
Blogger William D. Lindsey said...

Crystal, just last night, I finished the two-part series, which I discovered through you. You're right: after reading the medieval novel, I was not quite prepared to be catapulted back to World War II, and it took me some time to be hooked.

But I'm glad I perdured. The message of the series--that all things are interconnected and all manner of things will be well--grabbed me. As did its emphasis on how acts of kindness may radically alter history for the good.

I'm so glad you put me onto Carol Willis!

5:13 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi William,

Thanks :) I'm glad you liked it - that has encouraged me to keep reading it. I'm about a quarter of the way through Blackout and if nothing else, I'm learning a lot about WWII England. Maybe sometime you'll have some posts about the books you like - I can always use some recommendations.

10:38 PM  
Blogger Dina said...

Interestingly enough, I found the Canticle book in the Jerusalem library of the American embassy.

12:21 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

I remember your post about the books there. Wonder if they do inter-library loan :)

2:36 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home