nrlymrtl, July 10, 2013 (view all comments by nrlymrtl)
Let me start with a little confession: I don’t often read time travel books because 1) the time travel going on is usually for dramatic reasons; and/or 2) there is some utterly ridiculous method for the time travel itself. Connie Willis avoids both these pitfalls and makes time travel and exciting, fresh, and a rousing good story. In short, this is how time travel should be. She doesn’t get all caught up in the mechanics or theories of time travel, whether it is plausible or not. She doesn’t use some mystical rock or token to suddenly sweep our adventures up into another place and time. No. It is simply a tool used for years by researches, set in a future Oxford University. Our main characters set out to study small things, nuances of the WWII in England �" evacuated children, the life of a shopgirl, the small heroes at Dover, female ambulance brigades, etc.
Some of my favorite characters were Alf and Binny Hodbin, two children that plagued Eileen in the countryside, often playing hookey from school, ‘collecting’ aluminum for the war effort by stealing cooking pans, and ‘practicing’ for a potential German invasion by leaving tacks at the start of the long driveway to the mansion. Quite charming, really. The Hodbins provided entertainment and drama, and were a challenging interaction for Eileen, and yet were still endearing.
Polly ends up working at Townsend Brothers shop by day and spending most nights in a small local shelter or one of the tube station shelters, instead of the boarding house where she rents a room. Over time, the small group of neighborhood folk she hangs with decide to form an acting troupe, complete with children and a dog.
Initially planning to go to Dover to witness unsung local heroes, Mike experiences the biggest slippage, placing him in the wrong place a few days ahead of schedule. Through a ridiculous set of circumstances, he ends up on a leaky tub captained by an aged lunatic who volunteers with the local ‘fleet’ to go to Dunkirk across the Chanel to rescue Allied troops. Of course, there are all sorts of things for Mike to be concerned about: the mined Chanel, enemy submarines, the seaworthiness of the vessel he’s in, fog, the knowledge of the captain, and of course enemy fire at Dunkirk. But he also has the added worry of Dunkirk being a time travel divergent point �" basically a place he should not be just in case any action of his alters something that then changes the known time line.
So those three (Eileen, Polly, and Mike) are all researching WWII at about the same time on the time line. Meanwhile, we also get to meet Mary, who is studying a female ambulance brigade set a few years later and at the very start of the V1 and V2 rockets. We only get a few scenes with her, but I can see how she could fill a larger role in the sequel.
By now, you can tell that I was very taken with the characters. Well, I also loved the plot and the setting. Willis does a beautiful job of weaving in small historical tidbits all over the place, seamlessly integrating them with the story line. It was interesting and part of the plot, and when I finished the book, I felt like I had just lived through a rather exciting WWII history course, I learned so much. And I will remember much of it because I was so attached to these characters that ‘lived’ through it. Connie Willis, you rock history!
Ingrid de Beus, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Ingrid de Beus)
Connie Willis one of my desert island authors, and I was delighted that with Blackout, she has returned to the madcap world of To Say Nothing Of The Dog (and Doomsday Book), which is one of my all-time favorite fantasy novels. Blackout and its second half All Clear are just as funny as To Say Nothing, plus a giant epic landscape of WWII history, with the kind of ridiculous detail makes me feel like I could walk around London with Blackout in my hand as a guidebook to individual Londoner's experience of the Blitz. The story is also intense, suspenseful and tragic. It's a great time travel story, and it's a great World War II story, and it's a great story about what living through a war really means.
MK Karni, October 7, 2012 (view all comments by MK Karni)
I love Connie Willis, but it's not a relationship where she can do no wrong. Sometimes she goes over long or belabors a metaphor. Her book Passages is a good example. This book had me worried that she was doing it again, but she pulls it together and leaves off with a real cliffhanger. She's good with page turning plotting and 3D characterizations. Recommended to historical fiction and time travel fans. Can't wait to read the next book!
Richard Alsen, January 31, 2012 (view all comments by Richard Alsen)
connie willis' blackout, along with all clear (it's really one big novel) was the best book i read in 2011. my hands were shaking; i was reading late late into the night; the suspense was off the scale - there should be a warning on the cover cautioning people taking heart medication. and the resolution was so satisfying, an essential element after the investment of reading such a huge tome; really a wonderful payoff. thank you, ms. willis.
David W Nicholas Sr, January 2, 2012 (view all comments by David W Nicholas Sr)
Connie Willis' BLACKOUT is the first half of a novel published in two parts, the second half being ALL CLEAR. My comments apply to the entire novel BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR and not to half of it.
Connie Willis is known for her painstaking research (just try to find an error in one of her books or stories), her dry sense of humor, and her ability to take her characters to a point of relative safety in the plot and then drop them in a bog full of hungry alligators. Things tend to turn out well (for most) in the end, but she is masterful at creating situations that seem to place her characters in inescapable peril.
BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR takes place in the same universe as her previous novel TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG, in which Oxford historians in the near future travel back in time to do what historians do: learn everything they can about the past. As in the real world, nothing quite goes as one would want on this journey back to World War II, where no preparations can be complete enough and the "law of unintended consequences" must be dealt with repeatedly.
This story is classic Connie Willis at the top of her game. If you don't already know her work, this is a good place to start. Willis has won more genre fiction awards (Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick) than almost any other living writer. Her books are what science fiction looks like when it becomes indistinguishable from the mainstream. Her sense of humor is legendary, but the reader has to peel layers of the story back like the layers of an onion to take advantage of the full depth of her skills.
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by The Denver Post,
“A tour de force...[Willis] is one of America’s finest writers.”
by The Times-Picayune,
“This compassionate and deeply imagined novel...gives the reader a strong you-were-there feeling.”
by The Seattle Times,
“[Willis has] researched Blackout so thoroughly, her readers may imagine she had access to the time machine her characters use.”
by Publishers Weekly,
“A page-turning thriller...Willis uses detail and period language exquisitely well, creating an engaging, exciting tale.”
The Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author of The Doomsday Book returns with an epic time-traveling story that follows three researchers from the future who are stranded in the past during World War II.
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.
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