I’ll add the first of my reading posts by discussing my most recently consumed novel. I started reading Blackout some weeks ago and have now begun the next novel in the two-parter, All Clear. If you’re not familiar with Connie Willis or her Fire Watch universe, her stories involve a group of time traveling historians in 2060 oxford who go back in time to experience historical events first hand. Before reading this book, I also read her Doomsday Book split between the black plague and the future era and To Say Nothing of the Dog which was centered mostly around Victorian England. In each of the books, some or several time travelers end up stuck in a situation their utterly not prepared to deal with. Although their bumbling attempts at solving their predicaments often end up causing just more problems, fate always manages to bail them out in the end, deliberately as implied in To Say Nothing of the Dog.
To speak to Connie Willis and my impression of her writing, I think it’s something of an acquired taste. When I first read doomsday book I was utterly frustrated, especially with the future side of the story where little of interest was going on besides an interminable set of bureaucratic frustrations. While her later books don’t quell the sheer count of confounding incidents, they do better to cast a spell of intrigue across the storyline. I like that she’s willing to have her characters make not one mistake or wrong assumption, but tens in a chapter. Sometimes her characters seem daft, but Connie Willis is incredibly fond of dramatic irony and its easy to forget that we know more than any one individual. Another thing that impresses me is her writing to emotional and physical distress. She keeps to a character’s focus and ignores the things that they’d ignore in any given situation. Through all of the death and distress, Connie manages to keep her stories overall positive and humorous.
Just on the amount of research and in-depth study she employs, Connie Willis is clearly a writer focused on the historical aspect of her writing, so don’t expect 2060 to be too dazzling. Her laws of time travel and the technology and method of its procurement are mostly devices for the historians to experience major historical events. I’d say the most interesting revelations with respect to time traveling conundrums were in To Say Nothing of the Dog. Attempting not to spoiling anything, the time travel mechanism itself was abused to have one of the characters draw certain conclusions. But why does fate seem so aligned with one particular timeline?
I’ll get to Blackout specifically. I’ve never before learned so much about Britain’s involvement in World War II. There were a lot of interesting events that did occur, and its great to see one of the greatest conflicts of history presented on a knife’s edge. This novel has more characters than Connie Willis’s previous writings and it gives me some trouble to remember all of Polly’s bunker mates. It’s also a bit of nuisance as well with three characters all fruitlessly towards the same goal. It’s just incessant, ‘get back to the drop, get back to the drop’. I’m glad the characters joined together at the end as it should make the narrative simpler if not more interesting.
I personally can’t complain about there being two novels rather than one. If the story takes two, use two. If it takes three, use three. It’s either that or the book just ends up really thick. Overall, I really enjoy the novel and I’ll read anything Connie Willis writes in the universe. I’ll finish All Clear before I make to many pronouncements about Blackout, but it’s quite a fun read so far.