In Praise of Connie Willis

Blackout
All Clear Bellwether

The 2011 Hugo Award winner for Best Novel happens to be one of my favorite writers, Colorado author Connie Willis.

Many people may see Willis' books in the science fiction section, winning science fiction awards, and immediately think that those books are not for them. I urge you to reconsider.

The 2010 novels for which Willis was awarded her 11th Hugo Award, Blackout and All Clear, are epic stories set in World War II during the London Blitz. What makes them science fiction rather than historical fiction, you may ask? Well, the main characters in these novels are time travelers, historians from the future who are spending time in the 1940s studying various aspects of the war. When they become unable to return to their own time, their lives become even more intertwined with those of the ambulance drivers, shop girls, evacuated children, and officers in charge of deceiving the Germans than they were before. What struck me over and over as I listened to these books was the humanity of the characters--the wrenching choices they were forced to make, their hopes, worries, and quirks--they all seemed so real. I finished these books feeling like I had a much better understanding of what it was like for the people of England to live through the war--the blackouts, the rationing, fear of nightly raids, losing friends and acquaintances on a regular basis. If you have any interest in World War II, give these books a try.

Willis also has a wonderful sense of humor, evident in books such as To Say Nothing of the Dog (more time travel, this time to Victorian England) and All Seated on the Ground (one of my favorite holiday reads, involving aliens landing in Denver) and Bellwether (about trends and chaos theory).

I also highly recommend the audio versions of Willis' books, many of which are available on CD or as downloads through the Denver Public Library's eBooks collections. Check out some of her short stories or novellas if you don't want to commit to an epic novel to start!

Comments

Before you treat yourself to To Say Nothing of the Dog, treat yourself to Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.
You'll enjoy both books even more!

I had a very different experience of Blackout: I felt that way, way, too much time was spent in mundane details. There were long, repetitive passages about scheduling conflicts and railway time tables, lots and lots of inner dialog that was fairly unnecessary -- how many times does a character need to think "What if this happens? Or what if that happens?" We get it. While there were interesting parts, it seemed almost like Willis was trying to prove that time travel didn't have to be thrilling... it could also be bogged down in minutiae.

Thanks for your comments, Joel. It's always interesting to hear different perspectives on a book, everyone's experience with it is very personal. Thanks for reading the DPL blogs!

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