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Blackout- Connie Willis

October 2, 2010

Blackout

Connie Willis

Ballantine/Spectra 512 pages

I love the way Willis uses time traveling historians, sending them back in time to blend in with daily life, giving them deep cover, proper costumes, even new accents. Even with all that planning, things go awry. They can’t change history, and are wary of paradoxes, but there’s also slippage- they may not wind up exactly in the right place and time, so they have to improvise and panic. There’s suspense, sometimes scarily so. (Doomsday Book is set during the Black Plague. harrowing!) Of course I love these books. The historians are social historians, studying how ordinary people’s lives were shaped by daily events and patterns of culture. Anthropology. Science fiction. Social media. Cultural zeitgeists. Pretty much everything I love to think about generally, is what drives this approach to history.

I don’t know how or why I got out of the habit of reading Connie Willis. Her time travel books are especially good. To Say Nothing of the Dog is goofy, but a good intro to the way her time travel system works, and Doomsday Book was scary and immersive and made me cry. In a good way.

Blackout… this is just… I am blown away. Okay, bad choice of words for a book about World War II England, mostly during the Blitz. Willis is juggling chapters with an ensemble cast, invariably cutting off the action for one just at a really tense spot, jumping in and out of storylines and leaving me anxious to get to the next Mike chapter or Polly chapter, or Eileen, while pulling me into another set of action. With World War II, she’s got a lot of great, well-researched material, that the historians are studying. Dunkirk. Evacuated children. London during the Blitz itself, with train stations becoming bomb shelters.

Another thing Willis is doing here is that she’s really threatening the historians’ sense of safety. The time and place slipperiness is especially dangerous at a time of so much bombing. Historians are realizing that the newspapers they’ve been using as archives didn’t always publish accurate information. Some of what they’re trying to study is getting in their way- everything from measles to obstinate contemporary people. And some of them are having trouble getting out of the past as cleanly as they’d planned.

But… before you go get yourself a copy of this… be warned. There’s a sequel! I did not know this when I started reading and got hooked. And now I am stalling on finishing it because it’s a cliffhanger. All Clear isn’t even out yet. Two more weeks. I can wait two more weeks.  I’m going to try for a review copy, to see if I can get it any faster!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 2, 2010 5:12 pm

    I read this back in April, not realizing that not only was there a sequel, but it was essentially one book published in two volumes.

    I was NOT happy.

    And my efforts to track down a review copy were in vain. I wish you better luck!

    I’m very much looking forward to ALL CLEAR appearing on bookstore shelves, because BLACKOUT was amazing.

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