Thursday, January 6, 2011

Blackout by Connie Willis

I haven't been a great fan of the time travel books by Connie Willis. As I am afraid that her new books will end on Hugo award short list, I decided to read this book already to get it over with. In part I was pleasantly surprised, on the other hand this book had all same faults I have usually disliked in her books. And it was a nice read while visiting London. My hotel was just across to St Pancras which was mentioned several times.

This time the historians from Oxford travel to second World War Britain to observe the Blitz and Dunkirk evacuation. There are some unspecified problems and some of the historians must start their travel with fairly little preparation, and in some cases travel to other times they were first planning. As usually the ”future” parts of the book are extremely badly imagined and the events are very chaotic. Luckily this fairly little part of the book happens in the future Oxford.

Most of the book happens in 1940. (there are some parts which happen a few years later, but they feel extremely separate from the other events, and for some reason the person at that time is forgotten before the halfway of the book and that plot thread is just dropped.) There are a few people at the same time period studying different aspects of Britain at that time. (I wonder if those three or four people are the ONLY ones ever to travel that period of time? That would be surprising and strange) They are having real trouble, as the “drops” which function as portals in time are not working, and they are afraid that they may have inadvertently changed something in the past,even if it is supposed to be impossible.

The things I dislike about Connie Willis are very well presented in this work. The characters have endless discussions about various things which usually have only a very minimal connection with the main plot. They mull over things endlessly and spend pages and pages pondering over mundane things. A lot of time is spent by the characters looking of each other, For some very strange reason they seem to consider the leader of the time travel department, Mr Dunworth, in extremely high esteem, even though in all books he has turned out to be extremely unorganized and not too bright a person. Well, none of the characters seems to be too bright, as they behave in many instances in extremely stupid way, so maybe this is a case where a one-eyed man is the king of the blind people...

In spite of all the faults, I enjoyed this book in some perverse way. The writing was easy to read and fluent, even though the endless discussions at places started to irritate more than a little. At least it was better that the “Doomsday Book” which I practically hated. Probably because this book had so few episodes which happened in the ridiculously badly described “future” Oxford. With some copy-editing (cutting the discussions, some of the wandering back and forth, making the characters somewhat less stupid) this might have been a very good book. Then it might also have been possible to publish this book in one volume. Now the story suddenly ends, just when things start to be interesting.

512 pp.

1 comment:

UK said...

"Blackout," by Connie Willis, is another novel in her historical time-travelers universe -- previous stories in this same universe, which dovetails with our present day, include "To Say Nothing of the Dog," "Doomsday Book," and the novella "Fire Watch." All of them have as their best quality that of shared humanity -- no matter what age a human being lives in, some things are universal -- people matter. Their choices matter. Their feelings matter, and their lives, no matter how historically insignifcant, matter greatly.