Sunday, October 20, 2013

Blackout / All Clear : Connie Willis

All Clear
By Connie Willis

A refreshing combination of sci-fi and historical.

Historians in Oxford in the year 2060 are able to travel back in time to see what life really was like in-person. The plot centers around three protagonists: Eileen, Polly and Mike, who have gone back to the Blitz in UK during WWII and begin to have troubles returning to their regular time.

The novels are rich with historical details of what it was like in England during WWII: of having to go to bomb shelters, of working in department stores, of working as ambulance drivers, of hearing V-1 bombs drop from the sky etc.  Willis certainly has done her homework in this regard, and if  nothing else, one can learn more about history from these novels.

I also liked the sense of fear, uncertainty, and later, desperation that the main characters must face and the extent to which Willis does not let readers off the hook to this either.  Too often, you know that protagonists will survive, completely unscathed, with a happy ending.  Here, there is a sense of the characters not knowing what will happen and not knowing whether they made the right decision or not, which is more similar to real life and is refreshing.

Lastly, it's great to have both female and male characters, who are relatively fleshed out and where no manufactured love story plays a major role.

A few dislikes:

* The multiple mentions of Agatha Christie books - One of the characters is a fan of Agatha Christie and mentions that she always amazed by the reveals, since she has been thinking about the who-done-it situations wrongly.  These mentions setup expectations for the Willis novels that there will be an marvelous reveal for how things work out.  While the ending is certainly well-thought out, the reveal is still a bit of a let down, especially because of these build-ups.

* Lack of emotional back-story so the reader can empathize with the characters.  Willis does a great job of placing you where the protagonists are: conveying what they are feeling at the moment, understanding their brief emotional bonds to the people they meet and the conundrums they feel knowing some of the future.  But there is not as much coverage of each protagonists' memories or personality quirks or some attribute that allows you to root for their survival.

That being said, overall, the novels were quite enjoyable and certainly I will have no problem picking up another Connie Willis novel again.

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