I finished All Clear by Connie Willis and I have to say that I ended up a little disappointed by the two series. This disappointment stems from the opposite of my frustration regarding both of Dan Simmon’s two series. I find that Dan Simmons overreaches the narrative that can subsist within two books and usually by the end of the first novel initiates a story that can only be properly concluded with another two novels. Connie Willis, at the other end of the table, designs a plot line I feel is better suited to one novel and the final novel ends up writhe with padding and repetition. I haven’t read a significant number of two series, but I feel that the correct story must be out there somewhere suited to the duel novel setup.
But Aaron, Connie Willis’s intent isn’t to create a fast moving plot. It’s to explore the mindset of World War II London and the knife edge backbone of defense against the Germans. That may be, but with a novel as extensive in length as All Clear, I expect a more significant progression. With the three characters together, there should have been real developments with regards to the their location and understanding of the state of time travel. Instead, the three time travelers lie to each other constantly and sneak around with the most idiotic notions. The plot doesn’t move. As the pages stretched on I began to dislike the excessively noble and increasingly boneheaded cast. Why can’t they just talk? Why do they make the same mistakes over and over again?
And that takes us to my next frustration. As much as All Clear (and To Say Nothing of The Dog) reference Agatha Christie, the novel does a poor job at setting up its smoke and mirrors. Part of the problem stems for the relation between Connie Willis’s understanding of her time travel, the reader’s understanding of her time travel, and the character’s understanding of her time travel. I’ve read ‘To Say Nothing of The Dog’ and I was aware that the continuum carefully selected when and where the time travelers were dropped for reasons besides preventing discontinuity. Within the story, the characters who have lived their entire lives embedded in the concept of time travel don’t understand this, or even that they can’t cause discontinuities despite it being principle to their teachings. Mr. Dunworthy enters the story and at some point dictates that the continuum is chaotic, and that whatever a time traveler has done it’s already been done. But at the same time, he’s the first to shout that he’s caused a discontinuity and that for some reason the non-living continuum is going to start hunting them down. He also makes a claim regarding changes on the time line taking time to exact; which ends up being entirely untrue. Where do these notions come from? That one crackpot professor? Why would the continuum fight anyone? What is it that makes the continuum desire a certain direction in history at all? Anyway, the characters make a number of unsubstantiated assumptions and than it’s a surprise when it turns out they had no understanding of the time travel they’ve been utilizing for thirty plus years. Early in my reading of Blackout I was hoping that they’d just get over the discontinuity bit, but it doesn’t happen till the end of All Clear.
Let’s move on. Some other things Connie Willis did confounded me. Delirium is an interesting perspective to write from, but not if you do it too many times. There’s also no need to repeat scenes when theirs nothing new to glean from them. I don’t need the entire grueling thought process of a character plus their explanation of it to the others. Most importantly, the ending was incredibly soppy and in a way that was entirely unnecessary. We all so sacrificed sooooo so much. The readers is in the perfect position to make that judgement, not the characters in the story. The concluding drama seemed almost entirely artificial. I mean, we already know they’re going to make it back.
There were plenty of positives. The concept that their being stuck in the World War II era was an adjustment to the War itself was a strong fundamental. I’m also glad that there was some serious consequence in Mike’s death, though his passing felt slightly irrelevant and unnecessary in retrospect. Alf and Binnie were at times enjoyable. If this story was cut and cleaned a little more aggressively, it would have been a great single novel. Connie could have also gone the other route and included a main character that required a sort of redemption. Instead of three selfless characters in the spotlight who’d each make the same exact decisions in each other’s shoes, I’d like to see someone whose complications are a result of their own actions. And no, I don’t mean bumping into someone by accident in Bletchley park.
And there I was, complaining again. Maybe I’m a little critical of the books I read. No, I definitely am. In All Clear, I was hoping for a fresher and faster pace in the second half of the series. Instead, it was more (or less) of the same. To Say Nothing of the Dog remains at the top of my Connie Willis favorites. The storytelling of that novel remained consistent and the plot development and content were refreshing and interesting throughout. Doomsday Book also stays at second with a particularly well written story line from my least favorite character of All Clear’s perspective.