I have just finished listening to the latest Writer and the Critic podcast, in which one of the books discussed was Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear (which has also just been nominated for a Locus Award). And so I am going to ramble about the books, hopefully avoiding spoilers.
As always, Kirstyn and Ian are worth listening to. And hey, I got a shout out for my feedback (and I don’t mind at all that you talked politics with Oryx and Crake). And as always, they manage to define some of my own feelings about books.
I read Doomsday Book recently, and loved it. I was very happy to move onto Blackout and All Clear. I really love the detail that goes into the historical world building (inaccurate thought it may be, I’m not in a position to be knowledgeable enough to make any statement there).
I will state at the outset that I am a massive World War II buff. I just find the whole war fascinating, at times in a gruesome fashion. It still amazes me that the world was so different, and that such awful things really happened. Which means that I would probably volunteer to travel back in time in the world of Blackout/All Clear.
I loved reading both books while I was reading them. I burned through them extremely quickly for books of their size, mostly because I was totally immersed in their world. And Willis has a very good hand with cliffhangers at the end of chapters which make you need to keep reading, even if the cliffhangers are sometimes very contrived.
However, thinking back over the books now, I have many of the same problems that Ian and Kirstyn did. And this is in no way to say that I didn’t enjoy the books, because I did – and I would happily reread them.
My major issue is the time travelling characters. I get that they want to travel back and study the periods of history that they’re interested in. But there’s no why. There’s absolutely nothing known about them outside the fact that they’re historians. I wanted to know why they were so determined to see specific events, and I wanted to care about why they wanted to get back to their real lives in Oxford (apart from the obvious reason for one character, which I shall not spoil). Ultimately, I ended up feeling far more for the WWII characters and what they were going through than any of the issues the time travelling characters were going through.
Also frustrating were the characters who kept on trying to protect others by not telling them what was going on. Seriously, you’re all supposed to be academics who should be vaguely mature – just be up front with each other! It’s a personal bugbear of mine, when characters hide things from each other for no real reason, and it just feels like a forced plot point.
I think Ian was dead on when he said that these two books could easily have been written as one, much smaller volume. Or, to justify this length, we could have been given a lot more detail about the historians. I want a reason to care about them – as it is, it almost just feels like a massively selfish thing that they do. I want to know more about the future Oxford as well as the past that they travel into.
These things aside, I did really love the books, and I know that I will reread them many times. And I absolutely believe that they deserve all of the award nominations they’ve been getting. I’m only a newcomer to Connie Willis, and I already count myself as a rabid fan.
Mirrored from Stephanie Gunn.