Tag Archives: time travel

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis (unabridged audiobook read by Katherine Kellgren; 43 hrs on 36 discs): These are actually two separate books, but they are a continuation of the same story and you really can’t read one without the other, so I’m reviewing them together.

In the future, historians study history by traveling through time and witnessing events first hand. They go incognito, with false identities and backstories, and when their assignments are up they return to the “drop,” the portal back to their own time. This is the story of three such Oxford students in World War II: Mike visiting the rescue at Dunkirk, Eileen studying evacuated children, and Polly working as a shopgirl during the London Blitz. One by one, they discover that their drops will no longer open and they are stuck in the past, in a country under attack. Back in Oxford, young Colin and Professor Dunworthy are scrambling to figure out the problem with the drop and find their students. I fully admit to a lack of knowledge of the English homefront during WWII. I didn’t know anything about the Blitz or the shelters or the sheer extent of the bomb damage. And all that was fascinating (and distressing, of course), but what really kept me enthralled were the characters. I loved Sir Godfrey the slightly snobby Shakespearean actor, Earnest and his adventures inflating tank decoys, and the party-obsessed FANYs – and I loved to hate the horrible Hodbins. As in all of Willis’s books, there is plenty of suspense, drama, and humor, and I loved every minute of it. It really should have been one book, but I guess that would have made the binding rather unwieldy. Definitely recommended, even if you’re not a WWII buff (which I certainly am not).

A note on the audio: Kellgren’s narration was marvelous, but I was especially impressed with her American accent.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis: Wow. And I mean that in a good way: I am completely awestruck by this novel. Kivrin is an undergraduate historian who wants to visit the Middle Ages. Mr. Dunworthy is a professor in the 20th Century History department who is trying to convince her not to go, since the Medieval History department has never sent anyone back in time and the Middle Ages were totally dangerous. She goes anyway, but while the tech is getting the fix to make sure she ended up in the correct place, he falls ill with a mysterious and possibly deadly virus. Oxford goes under quarantine as Dunworthy scrambles to figure out when and where Kivrin is. Meanwhile, Kivrin has her own set of problems in the 14th century, where she also has fallen ill and no longer knows where the rendezvous location is for when she is to be picked up two weeks later. On top of all this there are the blustery bureaucrat Gilchrist, the obnoxiously overbearing Mrs. Gaddson, the endearingly enthusiastic Colin, and a whole host of other wonderful and memorable characters. This book is nearly 600 pages but not once did it feel long. I was completely absorbed. If you like thrillers and are at all interested in the Middle Ages (and have a strong stomach, for many of the various symptoms and remedies are described in horrifying detail), definitely check this one out. It’s simply marvelous.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Time and Again by Jack Finney

Time and Again by Jack Finney: Though the story is about time travel, this is not what one would commonly consider a science fiction novel. Simon Morley, a bored illustrator living in 1960s New York, joins a top secret government program that sends him back to 1882. Rather than your standard time travel machine, temporal distances are covered through self-hypnosis and a bunch of hand-waving involving vague references to Einstein. But never mind all that. Since the narrator is from modern times, his descriptions of New York of over a century ago emphasize the sorts of things historical fiction would not: the little differences in everyday life, the future locations of certain buildings, that kind of stuff. In terms of nostalgia, it’s simply wonderful, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about life in the late 19th century. Unfortunately, at the end it becomes tiresomely preachy, obsessing over the “good old days” that, as any historian knows, never really existed. The loose ends are also a little too neatly tied up, but by and large the book is a fun look at how people really lived back in the day.

I listened to this on audiobook, then discovered the book has sketches and photographs. Perhaps if I’d looked at the paperback copy on my shelf I would have noticed that it was specifically listed as an “illustrated novel” but that’s what I get for not paying attention.

Note: this book was never made into a movie. That was Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson. The confusion is understandable; both use self-hypnosis as a means of time travel, and both involve romance that spans the decades.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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