The Washington Post
Blackoutby Connie Willis, Katherine Kellgren
Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place. Scores of time-traveling historians are being sent into the past, to destinations including the American Civil War and the attack on the World Trade Center. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser, Mr. Dunworthy, into letting her go to VE-Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. And seventeen-year-old Colin Templer, who has a major crush on Polly, is determined to go to the Crusades so that he can “catch up” to her in age.
But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments for no apparent reason and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, unexploded bombs, dive-bombing Stukas, rationing, shrapnel, V-1s, and two of the most incorrigible children in all of history—to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past.
From the people sheltering in the tube stations of London to the retired sailors who set off across the Channel to rescue the stranded British Army from Dunkirk, from shopgirls to ambulance drivers, from spies to hospital nurses to Shakespearean actors, Blackout reveals a side of World War II seldom seen before: a dangerous, desperate world in which there are no civilians and in which everybody—from the Queen down to the lowliest barmaid—is determined to do their bit to help a beleaguered nation survive.
The Washington Post
“A tour de force . . . [Willis] is one of America’s finest writers.”
—The Denver Post
“This compassionate and deeply imagined novel . . . gives the reader a strong you-were-there feeling.”
“[Willis has] researched Blackout so thoroughly, her readers may imagine she had access to the time machine her characters use.”
—The Seattle Times
“A page-turning thriller . . . Willis uses detail and period language exquisitely well, creating an engaging, exciting tale.”
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Read an Excerpt
Come then: Let us to the task, to the battle, to the toil—each to our part, each to our station, there is not a week, nor a day, nor an hour to lose.
Colin tried the door, but it was locked. The porter, Mr. Purdy, obviously hadn’t known what he was talking about when he’d said Mr. Dunworthy had gone to Research. Blast it. I should have known he wasn’t here, Colin thought. Only historians prepping for assignments came to Research. Perhaps Mr. Dunworthy’d told Mr. Purdy he was going to do research, in which case he’d be in the Bodleian Library.
Colin went over to the Bodleian, but Mr. Dunworthy wasn’t there either. I’ll have to go ask his secretary, Colin thought, loping back to Balliol. He wished Finch was still Mr. Dunworthy’s secretary instead of this new person Eddritch, who would probably ask a lot of questions. Finch wouldn’t have asked any, and he’d have not only told him where Mr. Dunworthy was, but what sort of mood he was in.
Colin ran up to Mr. Dunworthy’s rooms first, on the off chance Mr. Purdy hadn’t seen Mr. Dunworthy come back in, but he wasn’t there either. Then he ran across to Beard, up the stairs, and into the outer office. “I need to see Mr. Dunworthy,” he said. “It’s important. Can you tell me where—?”
Eddritch looked at him coldly. “Did you have an appointment, Mr.—?”
“Templer,” Colin said. “No, I—”
“Are you an undergraduate here at Balliol?”
Colin debated saying yes, but Eddritch was the sort who would check to see if he was. “No, I will be next year.”
“If you’re applying to be a student at Oxford, you need the Provost’s Office in Longwall Street.”
“I’m not applying to be a student. I’m a friend of Mr. Dunworthy’s—”
“Oh, Mr. Dunworthy has told me about you.” He frowned. “I thought you were at Eton.”
“We’re on holiday,” Colin lied. “It’s vital that I see Mr. Dunworthy. If you could tell me where he—”
“What did you wish to see him about?”
My future, Colin thought. And it’s none of your business, but that obviously wouldn’t get him anywhere. “It’s in regard to an historical assignment. It’s urgent. If you could just tell me where he is, I—” he began, but Eddritch had already opened the appointment book. “Mr. Dunworthy can’t see you until the end of next week.”
Which will be too late. Blast, I need to see him now, before Polly comes back.
“I can give you an appointment at one o’clock on the nineteenth,” Eddritch was saying. “Or at half past nine on the twenty-eighth.”
What part of the word “urgent” do you not understand? Colin thought. “Never mind,” he said and went back downstairs and out to the gate to see if he could get any more information out of Mr. Purdy. “Are you certain Research was where he said he was going?” he asked the porter, and when he said yes, “Did he say where he was going after that?”
“No. You might try the lab. He’s been spending a good deal of time there these past few days. Or if he’s not there, Mr. Chaudhuri may know where he is.”
And if he’s not there I can ask Badri when Polly’s scheduled to come back. “I’ll try the lab,” Colin said, debating whether to ask him to tell Mr. Dunworthy he was looking for him if he returned. No, better not. Forewarned was forearmed. He’d have a better chance if he sprang it on him suddenly. “Thanks,” he said and ran down to the High and over to the lab.
Mr. Dunworthy wasn’t there. The only two people who were were Badri and a pretty tech who didn’t look any older than the girls at school. They were both bent over the console. “I need the coordinates for October fourth, 1950,” Badri said. “And—what are you doing here, Colin? Aren’t you supposed to be at school?”
Why was everyone acting like a truant officer?
“You haven’t been sent down, have you?”
“No.” Not if they don’t catch me. “School holiday.”
“If you’re here to talk me into letting you go to the Crusades, the answer is no.”
“The Crusades?” Colin said. “That was years ago—”
“Does Mr. Dunworthy know you’re here?” Badri asked.
“Actually, I’m looking for him. The porter at Balliol told me he might be here.”
“He was,” the tech said. “You only just missed him.”
“Do you know where he was going?”
“No. You might try Wardrobe.”
“Wardrobe?” First Research and now Wardrobe. Mr. Dunworthy was obviously going somewhere. “Where is he going? St. Paul’s?”
“Yes,” the tech said. “He’s researching—”
“Linna, I need those coordinates,” Badri said, glaring at her. The tech nodded and went over to the other side of the lab.
“He’s going to St. Paul’s to rescue the treasures, isn’t he?” Colin asked Badri.
“Mr. Dunworthy’s secretary should know where he is,” Badri said and walked back to the console. “Why don’t you go over to Balliol and ask him?”
“I did. He wouldn’t tell me anything.”
And Badri clearly didn’t want to either. “Colin,” he said, “we’re very busy here.”
The tech, Linna, who’d come back with the coordinates, nodded. “We have three retrievals and two drops to do this afternoon.”
“Is that what you’re doing now?” Colin asked, walking over to look at the draped folds of the net. “A drop?”
Badri immediately came over and blocked his way. “Colin, if you’re here to attempt to—”
“Attempt to what? You act as if I’m planning to sneak into the net or something.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time.”
“And if I hadn’t, Mr. Dunworthy would have died, and so would Kivrin Engle.”
“That may be the case, but it doesn’t mean you can make a habit of it.”
“I wasn’t. All I wanted—”
“Was to know if Mr. Dunworthy was here. He’s not, and Linna and I are extremely busy,” Badri said. “So if there’s nothing else—”
“There is. I need to know when Polly Churchill’s retrieval is scheduled for.”
“Polly Churchill?” Badri said, immediately suspicious. “Why are you interested in Polly Churchill?”
“I’ve been helping her with her prep research. For the Blitz. I need to be here when she comes through to—” He began to say, “to give it to her,” but Badri was likely to tell him to leave it instead and they’d give it to her. “—to tell her what I’ve found,” he amended.
“We haven’t scheduled her retrieval yet,” Badri said.
“Oh. Is she going straight to her Blitz assignment when she gets back?”
Linna shook her head. “We still haven’t found her a drop site—” she began, but Badri cut her off with another glare.
“It isn’t going to be flash-time, too, is it?”
“No, real-time,” Badri said. “Colin, we’re extremely busy.”
“I know, I know. I’m going. If you see Mr. Dunworthy, tell him I’m looking for him.”
“Linna, see Colin out,” Badri said, “and then bring me the spatial-temporal coordinates for Pearl Harbor on December sixth, 1941.”
Linna nodded and escorted Colin to the door. “Sorry. Badri’s been in a foul mood this past fortnight,” she whispered. “Polly Churchill’s retrieval is scheduled for two o’clock Wednesday next.”
“Thanks,” Colin whispered back, grinned crookedly at her, and ducked out the door. Wednesday. He’d hoped it would be on the weekend so he wouldn’t have to sneak away from school again, but at least it wasn’t this Wednesday. He had over a week to talk Mr. Dunworthy into letting him go somewhere. If Mr. Dunworthy was going to rescue the treasures, Colin might be able to talk him into doing research in the past for him. If he was still at Wardrobe. He loped over to the Broad, down to Holywell, along the narrow street to Wardrobe, and up the stairs, hoping he hadn’t missed him again.
He hadn’t. Mr. Dunworthy was standing in front of the mirror in a tweed blazer at least four sizes too large for him, and glaring at the cowering tech. “But the only tweed jacket we had in your size has already been taken in to fit Gerald Phipps,” she was saying. “He had to have a tweed jacket because he’s going to—”
“I know where he’s going,” Mr. Dunworthy bellowed. He suddenly noticed Colin. “What are you doing here?”
“Wearing clothes that fit a good deal better than that,” Colin said, grinning. “Is that how you’re planning to smuggle the treasures out of St. Paul’s—under your coat?”
Mr. Dunworthy shrugged out of the jacket, said, “Find me something in my size,” and half threw it at the tech, who scurried off with it.
“I think you should have kept it,” Colin said. “You’d be able to fit The Light of the World and Newton’s tomb under there.”
“Sir Isaac Newton’s tomb is in Westminster Abbey. Lord Nelson’s tomb is in St. Paul’s,” Mr. Dunworthy said. “Which you would know if you spent more time at school, where you are supposed to be at this very moment. Why aren’t you?”
He would never buy the holiday story. “A water main broke,” Colin said, “and they had to cancel classes for the rest of the day, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to come see what you were up to. And a good thing, too, since you’re obviously haring off to St. Paul’s.”
“Water main,” Mr. Dunworthy said dubiously.
“Yes. Flooded my house and half the quad. We nearly had to swim for it.”
“Odd your housemaster didn’t mention it when Eddritch telephoned him.”
I knew I didn’t like Eddritch, Colin thought.
“He did, however, mention your repeated absences. And the failing mark you got on your last essay.”
“That’s because Beeson made me write it on this book, The Impending Threat of Time Travel, and it was total rubbish. It said time travel theory’s rot, and historians do affect events, that they’ve been affecting them all along, but we haven’t been able to see it yet because the space-time continuum’s been able to cancel out the changes. But it won’t be able to forever, so we need to stop sending historians to the past immediately and—”
“I am fully acquainted with Dr. Ishiwaka’s theories.”
“Then you know it’s bollocks. All I did was say so in my essay, and Beeson gave me a failing mark! It’s totally unfair. I mean, Ishiwaka says these ridiculous things, like slippage isn’t to stop historians from going to times and places where they’ll affect events at all. He says it’s a symptom that something’s wrong, like a fever in a patient with an infection, and that the amount of slippage will grow larger as the infection gets worse, but we won’t be able to see that either, because it’s exponential or something, so there’s no proof of any of this, but we should still stop sending historians because by the time we do have proof, it’ll be too late and there won’t be any time travel. It’s total rubbish!” Mr. Dunworthy was frowning. “Well, don’t you think it is?”
Dunworthy didn’t answer.
“Well, don’t you?” Colin asked, and when he still stood there, “You can’t mean you believe his theory? Mr. Dunworthy?”
“What? No. As you say, Dr. Ishiwaka hasn’t been able to produce convincing proof of his ideas. On the other hand, he raises some troubling questions that require investigation, not a dismissal as ‘total rubbish.’ But you obviously didn’t come up here to debate time travel theories with me. Or to, as you put it, see what I was up to.” He looked shrewdly at Colin. “Why did you come?”
Here was where it got tricky. “Because I’m wasting my time studying maths and Latin. I want to be studying history, and not dry-as-dust books—the real thing. I want to go on assignment. And don’t say I’m too young. I was twelve when we went to the Black Death. And Jack Car-greaves was seventeen when he went to Mars.”
“And Lady Jane Grey was seventeen when she was beheaded,” Mr. Dunworthy said, “and being an historian is even more dangerous than being a pretender to the throne. There are all sorts of risks involved, which is why historians—”
“—have to be third-year students and at least twenty years old before they can go to the past,” Colin recited. “I know all that. But I’ve already been to the past. To a ten. It can’t get more dangerous than that. And there are all sorts of assignments where someone my age—”
Mr. Dunworthy wasn’t listening. He was staring at the tech, who’d come in carrying a black leather jacket covered with metallic slide fasteners. “What exactly is that?” he demanded.
“A motorcycle jacket. You said something in your size,” she added defensively. “It’s from the correct historical era.”
“Miss Moss,” Mr. Dunworthy said in the tone that always made Colin wince, “the entire point of an historian’s costume is that of camouflage—to keep from drawing attention to himself. To blend in. How do you expect me to do that,” he gestured at the leather jacket, “dressed in that?”
“But we have photographs of a jacket like this from 1950...” the tech began and then thought better of it. “I’ll see what else I’ve got.” She retreated, wincing, into the workroom.
“In tweed,” Mr. Dunworthy called after her.
“Blending in is exactly what I’m talking about,” Colin said. “There are all sorts of historical events where a seventeen-year-old would blend in perfectly.”
“Like the Warsaw ghetto?” Mr. Dunworthy said dryly. “Or the Crusades?”
“I haven’t wanted to go to the Crusades since I was twelve. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Both you and—” He caught himself. “You and everyone at school still think of me as a child,” he said instead, “but I’m not. I’m nearly eighteen. And there are all sorts of assignments I could be doing. Like al-Qaeda’s second attack on New York.”
“Yes, there was a high school near the World Trade Center. I could pose as a student and see the entire thing.”
“I am not sending you to the World Trade Center.”
“Not to it. The school was four blocks away, and none of the students got killed. No one was even injured, except for the toxins and asbestos they inhaled, and I could—”
“I am not sending you anywhere near the World Trade Center. It’s far too dangerous. You could be killed—”
“Well, then send me somewhere that isn’t dangerous. Send me to 1939, to the Phoney War. Or to the north of England to observe the evacuated children.”
“I am not sending you to World War II either.”
“You went to the Blitz, and you let Polly—”
“Polly?” Mr. Dunworthy said alertly. “Polly Churchill? What does she have to do with this?”
Bollocks. “Nothing. Just that you let your historians go all sorts of dangerous places, and you go all sorts of dangerous places, and you won’t even let me go to the north of England, which wouldn’t be dangerous at all. The government evacuated the children there to be out of danger. I could pretend to be taking my younger brothers and sisters—”
“I already have an historian in 1940 observing the evacuated children.”
Meet the Author
Connie Willis, who was recently inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, has received six Nebula Awards and ten Hugo Awards for her fiction; her previous novel, Passage, was nominated for both. Her other works include Doomsday Book, Lincoln’s Dreams, Bellwether, Impossible Things, Remake, Uncharted Territory, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Fire Watch, and Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. Connie Willis lives in Colorado with her family.
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As a huge Connie Willis fan, I am disgusted with this book. It's over 500 pages long and contains about 75 pages of plot. I believe that there is a reason for this, and I'm sure it's more interesting than this book. The overwhelming problem is that where the plot belongs is instead a grocery list. A hundred grocery lists. Instead of characters with thought processes and some sense of priority are cardboard cutouts who act too stupidly to be believable historians in order to stretch out 75 pages of setup into a 500 page Vol I. It's such an exciting premise and such a thrilling central conflict that it is baffling to see it ignored for 500 pages in favor of what train should be caught from which station, and whether one's coat and hat were left behind. Absolutely baffling. Such a mind-blowingly talented and interesting author churning out such a useless stack of pages about some very silly people who never twig to the very obvious and spend the entire story fumbling in a dark that is revealed to us much too soon for their futile efforts at not very much to be interesting at all. There is no emotional resonance in a 21st century character bothering to tidy up her department store counter while the bombs are falling. You can have no patience for a character who runs into the equivalent of a burning building looking for someone who logic dictates has already left. When the characters are more interested in returning a pair of stockings that have no bearing on the story than whether they will be dead in a pile of rubble by morning, you're left feeling cheated. What you want to know is what the characters are thinking and feeling, but all you ever find out is that they are scrupulously responsible maids and shopgirls. It starts out with everyone being flustered and pressured for way too long in Oxford, to no purpose, and continues with everyone being frustrated by the unavailability of transportation and the constant thwarting of schedules by petty annoyances like fussy nurses, demanding bosses and picky customers. In place of a rising dramatic tension is a simple sense of aggravation. Anyway, this book can be skimmed. You won't miss much past the midpoint. It hopefully sets up a sequel that actually has a plot and some of the fabulous twists and turns and emotional impact of ANY of the other Connie Willis books you could spend some quality time with.
Wow. Just, wow. Loved this one. So this is the latest installment of Willis' time travel stories, this time with historians travelling back to 1940 and the London Blitz. There are a number of different story lines flowing through here, and thankfully they're just on the "understandable" side of the "descent into utter chaos" cliff. It's hard to put down, though. There's a sense of panic that builds slowly but steadily throughout, and by the time the book ends, the peril is thick. There's the threat of the German bombs, of course, as well as the technical issues with time travel equipment. The depictions of 1940s England and the people who lived through the Blitz are wonderful. I'm not acquainted with wartime novels so I don't have much to compare with, but after reading this, I'm almost ready to jump in. Willis' characters are full and rich and quite varied. But here's my warning: This book might end, but it doesn't conclude. Willis' next book "All Clear," is supposed to conclude the story. If you're like me, and don't like to wait to finish a story, I'd suggest that you wait until Autumn 2010 when it's supposed to be released. I fell in love with Connie Willis' time travel universe when I first read "Doomsday Book" twenty years ago. "Blackout" is at least as good as Doomsday Book, if not better (20 years makes the comparison a little shaky). Highly, highly recommended. 5 of 5 stars.
In 2060, studying history at Oxford is a contact sport as historians conduct real field research. In that regard three historians are sent to different locations during WW II. Seventeen years old Colin Templer, who saved the life of project chief Mr. Dunworthy wants the faculty advisor's help so he can age enough in the past for older student Polly Churchill to notice him and how much he loves her. At the relative same time, Michael Davies is preparing to go to Pearl Harbor but the assignment changed after he obtained his American accent implant to be there for the Channel fishermen rescue at Dunkirk; Polly is going to London as a shopgirl during the Blitz; and Eileen works at a children's evac center in Warwickshire during a measles outbreak. However something is not quite right with the Research lab equipment as assignments change abruptly and the historians face danger when they arrive during the early stages of WW II in England. Although Eileen insists she trusts in the future, something Mike did at Dunkirk should not have happened; at least based on the prime premise of the History Department at Oxford in 2060 in which a traveling historian cannot change what has been. This is a super time travel historical thriller that hooks the audience from the onset and never slows down especially when the trio land in 1939-1940. The story line is fast-paced yet loaded with vivid detail so that the prime subplots seem genuine as Polly struggles with working at a store and evacuating during air raids; and Eileen with twenty two kids and resentful locals including the sponsor especially during a measles outbreak. However, it is Mike who may have changed the outcome of WW II and the next century with his impossible actions that could not have happened at Dunkirk. Perhaps the only issue with this great saga is it never climaxes as the second book to be published later in the year contains the rest of the story. Harriet Klausner
Connie Willis' most recent time travel novel, was a big disappointment. It is set in the same world as "Doomsday Book" and "To Say Nothing of the Dog" (both excellent books)...a world in which mid-21st century historians at Oxford University have a device that enables them to travel back in time to observe events. This book centers around a number of historians who go back to study various aspects of WWII. The descriptions of Dunkirk and the London Blitz are brilliant (the only reason this has 3 stars instead of 2). The book is almost entirely devoid of her trademark humor, which appeared even in the bleak/depressing Doomsday Book, and way too much of the book is taken up with the historians worrying that their preparatory research may have been wrong, worrying that their time travel device seems to be broken, worrying that they can't find each other (and frantically running about while just barely missing each other), worrying that they may have altered history, worrying that the retrieval team hasn't shown up yet, etc. etc.. Two-thirds of the book just feels like tedious, repetitive filler material written so that she could stretch this into a two-volume novel. That said...I will probably still read the second book just to see what happens (and in hopes that it is better written than the first). If you are a first time Connie Willis reader, you are much better off reading one of her other time travel books.
It's hard to imagine learning history through science fiction, but Connie Willis' time travel novels always hit the mark. I'm not much of a history buff, but I found myself wanting to know more about the Blitz and England during World War II. Connie's plot and characters, as always, make the time period come alive. This novel isn't as funny as some of her others, but I found myself riveted by the action and really wanting to know what happens to Polly, Mike and Merope. Do they change the course of the War? Do they ever get home? My only complaint is, I have to wait till fall of 2010 for the sequel!
Potential buyers should be warned that this book is not a novel--it is only the first half of a novel, the second half of which is apparently to be released under the title "All Clear." Unlike most books that are parts of a trilogy, or series, or what have you, which can be read as independent stories, even though they are part of a larger, over-arching story, "Blackout" does not end; it simply stops in the middle of the action. This may make a difference to some readers; it certainly did to the present reviewer. Nothing in the jacket copy or the on-line description of this book indicates that it is not complete. That said, "Blackout" is a gripping start to a rollicking story set in Ms. Willis' time-travel universe, which was also the setting of her novels "Doomsday Book" and "To Say Nothing of the Dog", and her very moving short story, "Firewatch." The action centers on the trials of three Oxford historians from A.D. 2060, who all happen to be researching events in Britain in 1940, during the first part of World War II. One is sent to a rural manor to observe children evacuated from London before the Blitz, one to observe the sea-lift that rescued the British Army after the Battle of Dunkirk, and the third to London to observe the behavior of Londoners during the beginning of the Blitz. "Blackout" constitutes the exposition of this large-scale novel. Each character has his or her professional concerns, as well as an emotional reaction to the historical circumstances under study. As in Ms. Willis' other time-travel stories, the characters all find themselves drawn to various people among the "contemps" they meet, and much of the drama of the story so far derives from the conflict between a strong desire to help and an even stronger imperative to avoid tampering with the course of history. There are mysterious goings-on in Oxford in 2060 that may affect the ability of our historians to return to their own milieu. It will spoil nothing to reveal that as this book ends, they have just joined forces and have begun to sort out the nature of their predicament. We must await the second volume to discover what is going on and how it all gets resolved. One of the most gripping aspects of the novel so far is Ms. Willis' vivid and moving depiction of Britain during the early war years, which she has extensively researched. For us, the events of World War II are still within living memory (albeit just barely), but for Ms. Willis' historians, they lie over a century in the past. The author is thus able to play both on the characters' unfamiliarity with conditions that are ordinary to us--and in the process to remind us of just how much the world has changed in seventy years, and how much more it is likely to change in the next fifty.
No plot. Indistinguishable charcters. Runs on four times longer than it needs to. Repetitive and predictable. Read only if you think a story set in the London Blitz can't possibly bore you. Makes one wonder who actually wrote Willis' earlier stuff.
Being a fan of both time travel and World War II buff, I was pulled into this story like very few stories have done before. The author did such a great job at making me feel like I knew the characters, and I could visualize every scene. Since there are time travel aspects to this book, and there are a lot of characters, there is a lot to keep up with, but that is what kept me so intrigued. I am often bored by books with few characters and a too-simple plot. This plot thickened with every turn of the page (actually, click of the button on my Nook). Also, it was fairly long at nearly 600 pages, which kept me entertained each night before bed for almost a week. I am so glad I found this book after the second book was already published so that I could dive right into the next one. I would have been anxiously awaiting the sequel had I found this sooner.
I read all the Willis I can get my hands on. While Blackout does not have the humor of Bellweather or To Say Nothing of the Dog, it's still a well-researched and gripping read. But with no warning whatsoever, it stops. The publisher made a truly awful decision to interrupt right in the mid action and with no warning, leaving a cliff-hanger ending like it's some cheap TV drama, just to make sure you return when the next season begins. Oh, and to make sure you spend another chunk of money? My response to Ballantine/Spectra is one big raspberry. What a crap idea and as a marketing concept, every reader should let them know what a blunder it is.
Great story, well written
Review is for both Blackout and All Clear. Complaints first: 1. More historical fiction than science fiction: There is an underlying time travel/science fiction element to the books, but 95% of the content is about living in England during the years before and during WWII - Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, and the V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks. 2. Total content of the two books is 25-50% too long - for example, when a character is faced with a dilemma, the reader doesn't need to hear them think through every ramification of every option they have, every time; as another example, when our heroes are escaping from a 7-story building, it isn't necessary for the author to take us through every floor, with the thoughts and concerns of each character on each floor. Overall, however, the books are highly readable, and since many chapters end in cliffhanger fashion, the story does keep one's interest. Characters are likeable and believable. And as historical fiction goes, the information is fascinating - I'm a big fan of history, and these books gave me a comprehensive appreciation of the dangers and sacrifices of the people of Britain during WWII, which lasted much longer for them than it did for American and Americans. The time travel element is also flawlessly executed, though you should keep the first novel handy as you read the second, to go back and reference chapters that, at the time you first read them, don't seem to fit the story. It's not linear, and keeping notes as to who is who, and when, will serve you well. So if you dont' mind the occasional thought of "C'mon, get on with it", these can be very enjoyable books.
This book is actually the first half of the All Clear duo. Together they come to some 1168 pages and, personally, I feel that they could have been published as one novel rather than splitting them in two. Both books centre on time travel from Oxford 2060 back into the past to recover historical items, in this case for the rebuilding of a certain Cathedral. The book is broken down into three episodic narratives, each from the point of one of the historians covered in the book, and it tends to jump from one narrative to another as it progresses. This can become a little confusing at times if, as a reader you are not used to either this Authors writing style, or the jumping around from one scenario to the next. However, I didn’t feel that this style of writing hurt the book in any way; after all it is a novel about time travel, which in its nature jumps around from one place to the next. The three main protagonists are likeable enough characters, and they are instilled with humour, compassion and worry. They worry if they will get home, they worry if their being in a particular timeline will alter their future, and most of all they care about and worry for those they come into contact with in World War II London. This brings us to the remainder of the cast of characters, of which there seems to be thousands; there are Soldiers at Dunkirk, civilians in the Blitz and many, many more; but for however briefly they appear in the storyline, this Author manages to write into each one their own personality and traits. It is a credit to the writing style of this Author that she is able to make these people from the past, not just some image in our mind, but actually come to life as living, breathing people that we care for and cheer on. The story is long and at times slow-moving, it also has plenty of things that don’t make sense if you really stop to think about it; but the time the Author takes to describe the effect of the bombing of London, the way the population rallies round each family hit and their stoical remarks as one night of air raids runs into another, and another, make the slow-moving pages feel rather like a break from the horror of the bombings. Regardless of the slower moving sections, the storyline was engaging and gripping enough to keep me reading on to the cliffhanger ending, and then make sure I read the second part of the story. Despite the topic of the Blitz, the Author manages to capture the dark the wit and humour of that era, and add to it a little piece of mystery and a touch of romance. The plot is extremely complex and the way in which the Author is able to take a multitude of disjointed plots and subplots and weave them into the cliffhanger ending of this book, makes this a very enjoyable read. The Author succeeds in taking the reader out of their own world for a while and into the Blitz of World War II; it is done in such a way that the serious and tragic nature of the subject matter is served up with enough humour to make it bearable – even uplifting. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy time travel genre, but are also open to satire and humour in their chosen reading material. As there is nothing offensive in this book, I would also have no problem in recommending it as a YA read.
I highly recommend Black Out and All Clear.
Literally every book i have read by willis has benn a book i cannot put down. This was no exception. While this is only the first half of the story it is thrilling and sets up what very well may be her definitive time travel novel. Basically it is breaking all the rules she has carefully set up in prior books... and one doesn't know if the characters will find their way home or not. I can't wait to read the conclusion.
Liked the book but was upset that the story was not complete in itself. Nothing in description alerted you that a 2nd book would need to be purchased. Willis' earlier work "The Doomsday Book" was better, less convoluted, more tightly crafted, and so much easier to follow.
Loved this book! Kept me wonderinf and kept my attention!