Hugo: Doomsday Book (1993)

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Read September 3, 2010 – September 8, 2010

Premise: A 2054 flu pandemic leads to an Oxford historian accidentally being sent back in time to the Black Death.

Verdict: I would like to address the person who keeps leaving reviews for Connie Willis’ Blackout saying that there is “a whole bunch of running around looking for people that doesn’t even advance the plot.” Well, one half of this entire book is running around looking for people who are never even found. Might that not be the purpose? Also, this is the first of the “series” (which doesn’t really need to be read in order) but To Say Nothing of the Dog and Blackout certainly make more sense now. I’m thrilled that Colin is actually a developed character, for one thing, and not just some random kid I’m supposed to know. I am just this side of horribly in love with Mr. Dunworthy. It seems, somehow, that in two of the three novels I’ve read, the best character is a clergyman of some sort—probably because they have infinite patience with which to face their challenges. I’d also like to address whoever the hell it is that writes synopses. I was led to believe many things about this book—none of which were true. Basically, there are two main storylines: Kivrin back in time, and Mr. Dunworthy in the story’s present. Kivrin (the historian) does not go off on wild adventures, try and organize bell concerts, or any other such nonsense. She lives with a family and cares for the children. Mr. Dunworthy is the one who has to contend with modern politics, educational politics, crazy American bell ringers trying to organize a concert, and the stress of not knowing exactly where his historian is. This is a book about illness, but it’s two separate illnesses. Yes, people are trying to organize a bell concert in the middle of a pandemic. But it’s not the Black Death, it’s the flu. And there are so many more things to focus on than that in this novel. The amazing descriptions of medieval life, the amazing descriptions of having the flu (no really—it’s hard to accurately describe that kind of disorientation), the telling of the Bubonic Plague that made me feel queasy and ill (I’m a hypochondriac—I wish someone had told me this book was so disease-filled before I started). It was strange to me to read this (which was quite serious) when I had read To Say Nothing of the Dog first. Dog is lighthearted, amusing, and when it is direly serious—screwing up the time-space continuum and destroying the world etc.—somehow, it’s just another joke. (Dog is based off of comedy of manners novels—this seems to be based off of gruesome medieval accounts of pestilence). And you know, it sort of tricks you (I won’t say how because the trick wouldn’t work). But I don’t feel tricked, I feel deeply moved. Don’t go into this novel with any preconceived notions about it. It made me cry. Just read it, and enjoy.

I’d also like to address the reviewers of Blackout who were saying that “the time-traveler formula is getting old.” Well, so far I haven’t really seen a formula. One explores illness, one absurdity, and one… well, I’m not sure yet. It’s not done. Nevertheless, none of them are “formulaic” except in that, when you need the authority, they are usually missing and the characters have to play phone tag.

This novel is vivid and was very alive for me. It makes me love Connie Willis even more.

(Note: This novel tied with A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge)

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