Pros:Well-developed characters -- you really feel for them!
Cons:Continuing stories of each character are broken down to every other section of the book.
The Bottom Line: I love how Connie interweaves the experiences of history with her future characters and how the reader is just as mystified as the characters. Can't wait for All Clear.
Blackout, by Connie Willis
I love time travel stories and so when I found out about Connie Willis writing one, I had to pick this up. One of my favorite books of hers was “Doomsday Book”, about historians of the late 21stcentury journeying back to the Black Plague and how they coped. In that story, Connie weaved a tale of a historian who got a first-hand glimpse of how hard life was, and the people she became attached to slowly died from the Plague – which she, thankfully, was inoculated from.
But I digress! The same Oxford 21stCentury professor, Mr. Dunworthy from “Doomsday Book” reprises his role as various characters mingle with him and our heroes gather up their scholarly wits and go off to England during the Blitz (a horrific time, with Hitler bombing England to soften it up for invasion – which invasion thankfully never happened).
The usual format is for the historians to make their observations and return to Oxford, except something is very wrong. The portals that are supposed to open are not opening. And the retrieval team who is supposed to be coming to help in case a historian is trapped or delayed is not coming. What’s going on?
Style & Plot:
Connie writes in a way where we as readers ask the same questions as the historians in the novel – how much longer can I endure this? Why is the portal not opening? Kind of like being trapped on an island with no way off – literally.
Connie breaks the book down into three episodic narratives – Polly (her last name is Churchill, so she changes it for obvious reasons since she’s jumping into 1940), Mike and Merope (who takes the name Eileen) – and jumps to each person’s tale every other chapter. This style is new to me and took some getting used to. For example, just as Mike was shanghaied on a barely navigable boat to pick up British soldiers at Dunkirk we jump to Eileen’s problems with a measles epidemic and then I have to wait three or so chapters to get back to Mike and see what happens. I had to flip a few chapters over to catch what happened! As I said, this style of writing took some getting used to.
Time Travel Trouble:
Time travel is interesting where the historians talk of it, as being unchanging. Yet Mike saved a man who saved 500 soldiers who would have died otherwise – did this change history? Could this be why Oxford never came to retrieve them? That England had lost the war?! Nonsense, thinks Polly. Meantime, Eileen is developing shell-shock!
Exciting scenes include saving men from Dunkirk, as Mike struggles with his conscience – if he helps in the rescue, will he change history? Eileen as she deals with Alf and Binnie, two brats who cause much confusion and trouble – what is their connection in the future? And Polly, who comes across as a bit arrogant in her time-travel knowledge (example: A person will mention a place getting blown up and Polly will think “Oh, yes it will.” Willis does this several times rather than on occasion which comes across pedantic and annoying).
Despite its flaws, Blackout develops three characters that we really care about and as the three historians meet and confer and involve their 1940s friends in their lives, I get the same kind of feeling I got on “Doomsday Book” – these people of the past are not just pictures on paper or facts in a history book, but living, breathing humans. Is foreknowledge an advantage or a curse when you’re a 21stcentury historian?
“All Clear” which is essentially Part II of this series, not actually a sequel, follows right after “Blackout.” You can’t have one without the other, so buy both!
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