In Praise of 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!