Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book

by Connie Willis

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback - Reprint)

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Five years in the writing by one of science fiction's most honored authors, Doomsday Book is a storytelling triumph. Connie Willis draws upon her understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering and the indomitable will of the human spirit.

For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin—barely of age herself—finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history's darkest hours.

Praise for Doomsday Book

“A stunning novel that encompasses both suffering and hope. . . . The best work yet from one of science fiction’s best writers.”The Denver Post

“Splendid work—brutal, gripping and genuinely harrowing, the product of diligent research, fine writing and well-honed instincts, that should appeal far beyond the normal science-fiction constituency.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The world of 1348 burns in the mind’s eye, and every character alive that year is a fully recognized being. . . . It becomes possible to feel . . . that Connie Willis did, in fact, over the five years Doomsday Book took her to write, open a window to another world, and that she saw something there.”The Washington Post Book World

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553562736
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/01/1993
Series: Oxford Time Travel
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 592
Sales rank: 92,257
Product dimensions: 4.12(w) x 6.87(h) x 1.28(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Connie Willis has won six Nebula Awards (more than any other science fiction writer), six Hugo Awards, and for her first novel, Lincoln's Dreams, John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Her novel Doomsday Book won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards, and her first short-story collection, Fire Watch, was a New York Times Notable Book. Her other works include To Say Nothing of the Dog, Bellwether, Impossible Things, Remake, Uncharted Territory and Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. Ms. Willis lives in Greeley, Colorado, with her family and is hard at work on her next novel, Passage.

Read an Excerpt

Mr. Dunworthy opened the door to the laboratory and his spectacles promptly steamed up.

"Am I too late?" he said, yanking them off and squinting at Mary.

"Shut the door," she said. "I can't hear you over the sound of those ghastly carols."

Dunworthy closed the door, but it didn't completely shut out the sound of "O Come, All Ye Faithful" wafting in from the quad. "Am I too late?" he said again.

Mary shook her head. "All you've missed is Gilchrist's speech." She leaned back in her chair to let Dunworthy squeeze past her into the narrow observation area. She had taken off her coat and wool hat and set them on the only other chair, along with a large shopping bag full of parcels. Her gray hair was in disarray, as if she had tried to fluff it up after taking her hat off. "A very long speech about Mediaeval's maiden voyage in time," she said, "and the college of Brasenose taking its rightful place as the jewel in history's crown. Is it still raining?"

"Yes," he said, wiping his spectacles on his muffler. He hooked the wire rims over his ears and went up to the thin-glass partition to look at the net. In the center of the laboratory was a smashed-up wagon surrounded by overturned trunks and wooden boxes. Above them hung the protective shields of the net, draped like a gauzy parachute.

Kivrin's tutor Latimer, looking older and even more infirm than usual, was standing next to one of the trunks. Montoya was standing over by the console wearing jeans and a terrorist jacket and looking impatiently at the digital on her wrist. Badri was sitting in front of the console, typing something in and frowning at the display screens.

"Where's Kivrin?" Dunworthy said.

"I haven't seen her," Mary said. "Do come and sit down. The drop isn't scheduled till noon, and I doubt very much that they'll get her off by then. Particularly if Gilchrist makes another speech."

She draped her coat over the back of her own chair and set the shopping bag full of parcels on the floor by her feet. "I do hope this doesn't go all day. I must pick up my great-nephew Colin at the Underground station at three. He's coming in on the tube."

She rummaged in her shopping bag. "My niece Deirdre is off to Kent for the holidays and asked me to look after him. I do hope it doesn't rain the entire time he's here," she said, still rummaging. "He's twelve, a nice boy, very bright, though he has the most wretched vocabulary. Everything is either necrotic or apocalyptic. And Deirdre allows him entirely too many sweets."

She continued to dig through the contents of the shopping bag. "I got this for him for Christmas." She hauled up a narrow red-and-green-striped box. "I'd hoped to get the rest of my shopping done before I came here, but it was pouring rain and I can only tolerate that ghastly digital carillon music on the High Street for brief intervals."

She opened the box and folded back the tissue. "I've no idea what twelve-year-old boys are wearing these days, but mufflers are timeless, don't you think, James? James?"

He turned from where he had been staring blindly at the display screens. "What?"

"I said, mufflers are always an appropriate Christmas gift for boys, don't you think?"

He looked at the muffler she was holding up for his inspection. It was of dark gray plaid wool. He would not have been caught dead in it when he was a boy, and that had been fifty years ago. "Yes," he said, and turned back to the thin-glass.

"What is it, James? Is something wrong?"

Latimer picked up a small brass-bound casket, and then looked vaguely around, as if he had forgotten what he intended to do with it. Montoya glanced impatiently at her digital.

"Where's Gilchrist?" Dunworthy said.

"He went through there," Mary said, pointing at a door on the far side of the net. "He orated on Mediaeval's place in history, talked to Kivrin for a bit, the tech ran some tests, and then Gilchrist and Kivrin went through that door. I assume he's still in there with her, getting her ready."

"Getting her ready," Dunworthy muttered.

"James, do come and sit down, and tell me what's wrong," she said, jamming the muffler back in its box and stuffing it into the shopping bag, "and where you've been? I expected you to be here when I arrived. After all, Kivrin's your favorite pupil."

"I was trying to reach the Head of the History Faculty," Dunworthy said, looking at the display screens.

"Basingame? I thought he was off somewhere on Christmas vac."

"He is, and Gilchrist maneuvered to be appointed Acting Head in his absence so he could get the Middle Ages opened to time travel. He rescinded the blanket ranking of ten and arbitrarily assigned rankings to each century. Do you know what he assigned the 1300s? A six. A six! If Basingame had been here, he'd never have allowed it. But the man's nowhere to be found." He looked hopefully at Mary. "You don't know where he is, do you?"

"No," she said. "Somewhere in Scotland, I think."

"Somewhere in Scotland," he said bitterly. "And meanwhile, Gilchrist is sending Kivrin into a century which is clearly a ten, a century which had scrofula and the plague and burned Joan of Arc at the stake."

He looked at Badri, who was speaking into the console's ear now. "You said Badri ran tests. What were they? A coordinates check? A field projection?"

"I don't know." She waved vaguely at the screens, with their constantly changing matrices and columns of figures. "I'm only a doctor, not a net technician. I thought I recognized the technician. He's from Balliol, isn't he?"

Dunworthy nodded. "He's the best tech Balliol has," he said, watching Badri, who was tapping the console's keys one at a time, his eyes on the changing readouts. "All of New College's techs were gone for the vac. Gilchrist was planning to use a first-year apprentice who'd never run a manned drop. A first-year apprentice for a remote! I talked him into using Badri. If I can't stop this drop, at least I can see that it's run by a competent tech."

Badri frowned at the screen, pulled a meter out of his pocket, and started toward the wagon.

"Badri!" Dunworthy called.

Badri gave no indication he'd heard. He walked around the perimeter of the boxes and trunks, looking at the meter. He moved one of the boxes slightly to the left.

"He can't hear you," Mary said.

"Badri!" he shouted. "I need to speak to you."

Mary had stood up. "He can't hear you, James," she said. "The partition's soundproofed."

Badri said something to Latimer, who was still holding the brass-bound casket. Latimer looked bewildered. Badri took the casket from him and set it down on the chalked mark.

Dunworthy looked around for a microphone. He couldn't see one. "How were you able to hear Gilchrist's speech?" he asked Mary.

"Gilchrist pressed a button on the inside there," she said, pointing at a wall panel next to the net.

Badri had sat down in front of the console again and was speaking into the ear. The net shields began to lower into place. Badri said something else, and they rose to where they'd been.

"I told Badri to recheck everything, the net, the apprentice's calculations, everything," he said, "and to abort the drop immediately if he found any errors, no matter what Gilchrist said."

"But surely Gilchrist wouldn't jeopardize Kivrin's safety," Mary protested. "He told me he'd taken every precaution—"

"Every precaution! He hasn't run recon tests or parameter checks. We did two years of unmanneds in Twentieth Century before we sent anyone through. He hasn't done any. Badri told him he should delay the drop until he could do at least one, and instead he moved the drop up two days. The man's a complete incompetent."

"But he explained why the drop had to be today," Mary said. "In his speech. He said the contemps in the 1300s paid no attention to dates, except planting and harvesting times and church holy days. He said the concentration of holy days was greatest around Christmas, and that was why Mediaeval had decided to send Kivrin now, so she could use the Advent holy days to determine her temporal location and ensure her being at the drop site on the twenty-eighth of December."

"His sending her now has nothing to do with Advent or holy days," he said, watching Badri. He was back to tapping one key at a time and frowning. "He could send her next week and use Epiphany for the rendezvous date. He could run unmanneds for six months and then send her lapse-time. Gilchrist is sending her now because Basingame's off on holiday and isn't here to stop him."

"Oh, dear," Mary said. "I rather thought he was rushing it myself When I told him how long I needed Kivrin in Infirmary, he tried to talk me out of it. I had to explain that her inoculations needed time to take effect."

"A rendezvous on the twenty-eighth of December," Dunworthy said bitterly. "Do you realize what holy day that is? The Feast of the Slaughter of the Innocents. Which, in light of how this drop is being run, may be entirely appropriate."

"Why can't you stop it?" Mary said. "You can forbid Kivrin to go, can't you? You're her tutor."

"No," he said. "I'm not. She's a student at Brasenose. Latimer's her tutor." He waved his hand in the direction of Latimer, who had picked up the brass-bound casket again and was peering absentmindedly into it. "She came to Balliol and asked me to tutor her unofficially."

He turned and stared blindly at the thin-glass. "I told her then that she couldn't go."

Kivrin had come to see him when she was a first-year student. "I want to go to the Middle Ages," she had said. She wasn't even a meter and a half tall, and her fair hair was in braids. She hadn't looked old enough to cross the street by herself.

"You can't," he had said, his first mistake. He should have sent her back to Mediaeval, told her she would have to take the matter up with her tutor. "The Middle Ages are closed. They have a ranking of ten."

"A blanket ten," Kivrin said, "which Mr. Gilchrist says they don't deserve. He says that ranking would never hold up under a year-by-year analysis. It's based on the contemps' mortality rate, which was largely due to bad nutrition and no med support. The ranking wouldn't be nearly as high for an historian who'd been inoculated against disease. Mr. Gilchrist plans to ask the History Faculty to reevaluate the ranking and open part of the fourteenth century."

"I cannot conceive of the History Faculty opening a century that had not only the Black Death and cholera, but the Hundred Years War," Dunworthy said.

"But they might, and if they do, I want to go."

"It's impossible," he said. "Even if it were opened, Mediaeval wouldn't send a woman. An unaccompanied woman was unheard of in the fourteenth century. Only women of the lowest class went about alone, and they were fair game for any man or beast who happened along. Women of the nobility and even the emerging middle class were constantly attended by their fathers or their husbands or their servants, usually all three, and even if you weren't a woman, you're an undergraduate. The fourteenth century is far too dangerous for Mediaeval to consider sending an undergraduate. They would send an experienced historian."

"It's no more dangerous than the twentieth century," Kivrin said. "Mustard gas and automobile crashes and pinpoints. At least no one's going to drop a bomb on me. And who's an experienced mediaeval historian? Nobody has on-site experience, and your twentieth-century historians here at Balliol don't know anything about the Middle Ages. Nobody knows anything. There are scarcely any records, except for parish registers and tax rolls, and nobody knows what their lives were like at all. That's why I want to go. I want to find out about them, how they lived, what they were like. Won't you please help me?"

He finally said, "I'm afraid you'll have to speak with Mediaeval about that," but it was too late.

"I've already talked to them," she said. "They don't know anything about the Middle Ages either. I mean, anything practical. Mr. Latimer's teaching me Middle English, but it's all pronomial inflections and vowel shifts. He hasn't taught me to say anything.

"I need to know the language and the customs," she said, leaning over Dunworthy's desk, "and the money and table manners and things. Did you know they didn't use plates? They used flat loaves of bread called manchets, and when they finished eating their meat, they broke them into pieces and ate them. I need someone to teach me things like that, so I won't make mistakes."

"I'm a twentieth-century historian, not a mediaevalist. I haven't studied the Middle Ages in forty years."

"But you know the sorts of things I need to know. I can look them up and learn them, if you'll just tell me what they are."

"What about Gilchrist?" he said, even though he considered Gilchrist a self-important fool.

"He's working on the reranking and hasn't any time."

And what good will the reranking do if he has no historians to send? Dunworthy thought. "What about the visiting American professor, Montoya? She's working on a mediaeval dig out near Witney, isn't she? She should know something about the customs."

"Ms. Montoya hasn't any time either; she's so busy trying to recruit people to work on the Skendgate dig. Don't you see? They're all useless. You're the only one who can help me."

He should have said, "Nevertheless, they are members of Brasenose's faculty, and I am not," but instead he had been maliciously delighted to hear her tell him what he had thought all along, that Latimer was a doddering old man and Montoya a frustrated archaeologist, that Gilchrist was incapable of training historians. He had been eager to use her to show Mediaeval how it should be done.

"We'll have you augmented with an interpreter," he had said. "And I want you to learn Church Latin, Norman French, and Old German, in addition to Mr. Latimer's Middle English," and she had immediately pulled a pencil and an exercise book from her pocket and begun making a list.

"You'll need practical experience in farming — milking a cow, gathering eggs, vegetable gardening," he'd said, ticking them off on his fingers. "Your hair isn't long enough. You'll need to take cortixidils. You'll need to learn to spin, with a spindle, not a spinning wheel. The spinning wheel wasn't invented yet. And you'll need to learn to ride a horse."

He had stopped, finally coming to his senses. "Do you know what you need to learn?" he had said, watching her, earnestly bent over the list she was scribbling, her braids dangling over her shoulders. "How to treat open sores and infected wounds, how to prepare a child's body for burial, how to dig a grave. The mortality rate will still be worth a ten, even if Gilchrist somehow succeeds in getting the ranking changed. The average life expectancy in 1300 was thirty-eight. You have no business going there."

Kivrin had looked up, her pencil poised above the paper. "Where should I go to look at dead bodies?" she had said earnestly. "The morgue? Or should I ask Dr. Ahrens in Infirmary?"

"I told her she couldn't go," Dunworthy said, still staring unseeing at the glass, "but she wouldn't listen."

"I know," Mary said. "She wouldn't listen to me either."

Dunworthy sat down stiffly next to her. The rain and all the chasing after Basingame had aggravated his arthritis. He still had his overcoat on. He struggled out of it and unwound the muffler from around his neck.

"I wanted to cauterize her nose for her," Mary said. "I told her the smells of the fourteenth century could be completely incapacitating, that we're simply not used to excrement and bad meat and decomposition in this day and age. I told her nausea would interfere significantly with her ability to function."

"But she wouldn't listen," Dunworthy said.


"I tried to explain to her that the Middle Ages were dangerous and Gilchrist wasn't taking sufficient precautions, and she told me I was worrying over nothing."

"Perhaps we are," Mary said. "After all, it's Badri who's running the drop, not Gilchrist, and you said he'd abort if there was any problem."

"Yes," he said, watching Badri through the glass. He was typing again, one key at a time, his eyes on the screens. Badri was not only Balliol's best tech, but the University's. And he had run dozens of remotes.

"And Kivrin's well prepared," Mary said. "You've tutored her, and I've spent the last month in Infirmary getting her physically ready. She's protected against cholera and typhoid and anything else that was extant in 1320, which, by the way, the plague you are so worried over wasn't. There were no cases in England until the Black Death reached there in 1348. I've removed her appendix and augmented her immune system. I've given her full-spectrum antivirals and a short course in mediaeval medicine. And she's done a good deal of work on her own. She was studying medicinal herbs while she was in Infirmary."

"I know," Dunworthy said. She had spent the last Christmas vac memorizing masses in Latin and learning to weave and embroider, and he had taught her everything he could think of. But was it enough to protect her from being trampled by a horse, or raped by a drunken knight on his way home from the Crusades? They were still burning people at the stake in 1320. There was no inoculation to protect her from that or from someone seeing her come through and deciding she was a witch.

He looked back through the thin-glass. Latimer picked the trunk up for the third time and set it back down. Montoya looked at her watch again. The tech punched the keys and frowned.

"I should have refused to tutor her," he said. "I only did it to show Gilchrist up for the incompetent he is."

"Nonsense," Mary said. "You did it because she's Kivrin. She's you all over again — bright, resourceful, determined."

"I was never that foolhardy."

"Of course you were. I can remember a time when you couldn't wait to rush off to the London Blitz and have bombs dropped on your head. And I seem to remember a certain incident involving the old Bodleian—"

The prep-room door flared open, and Kivrin and Gilchrist came into the room, Kivrin holding her long skirts up as she stepped over the scattered boxes. She was wearing the white rabbit-fur-lined cloak and the bright blue kirtle she had come to show him yesterday. She had told him the cloak was hand-woven. It looked like an old wool blanket someone had draped over her shoulders, and the kirtle's sleeves were too long. They nearly covered her hands. Her long, fair hair was held back by a fillet and fell loosely onto her shoulders. She still didn't look old enough to cross the street by herself.

Dunworthy stood up, ready to pound on the glass again as soon as she looked in his direction, but she stopped midway into the clutter, her face still half-averted from him, looked down at the marks on the floor, stepped forward a little, and arranged her dragging skirts around her.

Gilchrist went over to Badri, said something to him, and picked up a carryboard that was lying on top of the console. He began checking items off with a brisk poke of the light pen.

Kivrin said something to him and pointed at the brass-bound casket. Montoya straightened impatiently up from leaning over Badri's shoulder, and came over to where Kivrin was standing, shaking her head. Kivrin said something else, more firmly, and Montoya knelt down and moved the trunk over next to the wagon.

Gilchrist checked another item off his list. He said something to Latimer, and Latimer went and got a flat metal box and handed it to Gilchrist. Gilchrist said something to Kivrin, and she brought her flattened hands together in front of her chest. She bent her head over them and began speaking.

"Is he having her practice praying?" Dunworthy said. "That will be useful, since God's help may be the only help she gets on this drop."

"They're checking the implant," Mary said.

"What implant?"

"A special chip corder so she can record her field work. Most of the contemps can't read or write, so I implanted an ear and an A-to-D in one wrist and a memory in the other. She activates it by pressing the pads of her palms together. When she's speaking into it, it looks like she's praying. The chips have a 2.5-gigabyte capacity, so she'll be able to record her observations for the full two and a half weeks."

"You should have implanted a locator as well so she could call for help."

Gilchrist was messing with the flat metal box. He shook his head and then moved Kivrin's folded hands up a little higher. The too-long sleeve fell back. Her hand was cut. A thin brown line of dried blood ran down the cut.

"Something's wrong," Dunworthy said, turning toward Mary. "She's hurt."

Kivrin was talking into her hands again. Gi}christ nodded. Kivrin looked at him, saw Dunworthy, and flashed him a delighted smile. Her temple was bloody, too. Her hair under the fillet was matted with it. Gilchrist looked up, saw Dunworthy, and hurried toward the thin-glass partition, looking irritated.

"She hasn't even gone yet, and they've already let her be injured!" Dunworthy pounded on the glass.

Gilchrist walked over to the wall panel, pressed a key, and then came over and stood in front of Dunworthy. "Mr. Dunworthy," he said. He nodded at Mary. "Dr. Ahrens. I'm so pleased you decided to come see Kivrin off." He put the faintest emphasis on the last three words, so that they sounded like a threat.

"What's happened to Kivrin?" Dunworthy said.

"Happened?" Gilchrist said, sounding surprised. "I don't know what you mean."

Kivrin had started over to the partition, holding up the skirt of her kirtle with a bloody hand. There was a reddish bruise on her cheek.

"I want to speak to her," Dunworthy said.

"I'm afraid there isn't time," Gilchrist said. "We have a schedule to keep to."

"I demand to speak to her."

Gilchrist pursed his lips and two white lines appeared on either side of his nose. "May I remind you, Mr. Dunworthy," he said coldly, "that this drop is Brasenose's, not Balliol's. I of course appreciate the assistance you have given in loaning us your tech, and I respect your many years of experience as an historian, but I assure you I have everything well in hand."

"Then why is your historian injured before she's even left?"

"Oh, Mr. Dunworthy, I'm so glad you came," Kivrin said, coming up to the glass. "I was afraid I wouldn't be able to say good-bye to you. Isn't this exciting?"

Exciting. "You're bleeding," Dunworthy said. "What's gone wrong?"

"Nothing," Kivrin said, touching her temple gingerly and then looking at her fingers. "It's part of the costume." She looked past him at Mary. "Dr. Ahrens, you came, too. I'm so glad."

Mary had stood up, still holding her shopping bag. "I want to see your antiviral inoculation," she said. "Have you had any other reaction besides the swelling? Any itching?"

"It's all right, Dr. Ahrens," Kivrin said. She held the sleeve back and then let it fall again before Mary could possibly have had a good look at the underside of her arm. There was another reddish bruise on Kivrin's forearm, already beginning to turn black and blue.

"It would seem to be more to the point to ask her why she's bleeding," Dunworthy said.

"It's part of the costume. I told you, I'm Isabel de Beauvrier, and I'm supposed to have been waylaid by robbers while traveling," Kivrin said. She turned and gestured at the boxes and smashed wagon. "My things were stolen, and I was left for dead. I got the idea from you, Mr. Dunworthy," she said reproachfully.

"I certainly never suggested that you start out bloody and beaten," Dunworthy said.

"Stage blood was impractical," Gilchrist said. "Probability couldn't give us statistically significant odds that no one would tend her wound."

"And it never occurred to you to dupe a realistic wound? You knocked her on the head instead?" Dunworthy said angrily.

"Mr. Dunworthy, may I remind you—"

"That this is Brasenose's project, not Balliol's? You're bloody right it isn't. If it were Twentieth Century's, we'd be trying to protect the historian from injury, not inflicting it on her ourselves. I want to speak to Badri. I want to know if he's rechecked the apprentice's calculations."

Gilchrist's lips pursed. "Mr. Dunworthy, Mr. Chaudhuri may be your net technician, but this is my drop. I assure you we have considered every possible contingency—"

"It's just a nick," Kivrin said. "It doesn't even hurt. I'm all right, really. Please don't get upset, Mr. Dunworthy. The idea of being injured was mine. I remembered what you said about how a woman in the Middle Ages was so vulnerable, and I thought it would be a good idea if I looked more vulnerable than I was."

It would be impossible for you to look more vulnerable than you are, Dunworthy thought.

"If I pretend to be unconscious, then I can overhear what people are saying about me, and they won't ask a lot of questions about who I am, because it will be obvious that—"

"It's time for you to get into position," Gilchrist said moving threateningly over to the wall panel.

"I'm coming," Kivrin said, not budging.

"We're ready to set the net."

"I know," she said firmly. "I'll be there as soon as I've told Mr. Dunworthy and Dr. Ahrens good-bye."

Gilchrist nodded curtly and walked back into the debris. Latimer asked him something, and he snapped an answer.

"What does getting into position entail?" Dunworthy asked. "Having him take a cosh to you because Probability's told him there's a statistical possibility someone won't believe you're truly unconscious?"

"It involves lying down and closing my eyes," Kivrin said, grinning. "Don't worry."

"There's no reason you can't wait until tomorrow and at least give Badri time to run a parameter check," Dunworthy said.

"I want to see that inoculation again," Mary said.

"Will you two stop fretting?" Kivrin said. "My inoculation doesn't itch, the cut doesn't hurt, Badri's spent all morning running checks I know you're worried about me, but please don't be. The drop's on the main road from Oxford to Bath only two miles from Skendgate. If no one comes along, I'll walk into the village and tell them I've been attacked by robbers. After I've determined my location so I can find the drop again. She put her hand up to the glass. "I just want to thank you both for everything you've done. I've wanted to go to the Middle Ages more than anything, and now I'm actually going."

"You're likely to experience headache and fatigue after the drop," Mary said. "They're a normal side effect of the time lag."

Gilchrist came back over to the thin-glass. "It's time for you to get into position," he said.

"I've got to go," she said, gathering up her heavy skirts. "Thank you both so much. I wouldn't be going if it weren't for you two helping me."

"Good-bye," Mary said.

"Be careful," Dunworthy said.

"I will," Kivrin said, but Gilchrist had already pressed the wall panel, and Dunworthy couldn't hear her. She smiled, held up her hand in a little wave, and went over to the smashed wagon.

Mary sat back down and began rummaging through the shopping bag for a handkerchief. Gilchrist was reading off items from the carryboard. Kivrin nodded at each one, and he ticked them off with the light pen.

"What if she gets blood poisoning from that cut on her temple?" Dunworthy said, still standing at the glass.

"She won't get blood poisoning," Mary said. "I enhanced her immune system." She blew her nose.

Kivrin was arguing with Gilchrist about something. The white lines along his nose were sharply defined. She shook her head, and after a minute he checked off the next item with an abrupt, angry motion.

Gilchrist and the rest of Mediaeval might be incompetent, but Kivrin wasn't. She had learned Middle English and Church Latin and Anglo-Saxon. She had memorized the Latin masses and taught herself to embroider and milk a cow. She had come up with an identity and a rationale for being alone on the road between Oxford and Bath, and she had the interpreter and augmented stem cells and no appendix.

"She'll do swimmingly," Dunworthy said, "which will only serve to convince Gilchrist Mediaeval's methods aren't slipshod and dangerous."

Gilchrist walked over to the console and handed the carryboard to Badri. Kivrin folded her hands again, closer to her face this time, her mouth nearly touching them, and began to speak into them.

Mary came closer and stood beside Dunworthy, clutching her handkerchief. "When I was nineteen — which was, oh, Lord, forty years ago, it doesn't seem that long — my sister and I traveled all over Egypt," she said. "It was during the Pandemic. Quarantines were being slapped on all about us, and the Israelis were shooting Americans on sight, but we didn't care. I don't think it even occurred to us that we might be in danger, that we might catch it or be mistaken for Americans. We wanted to see the Pyramids."

Kivrin had stopped praying. Badri left his console and came over to where she was standing. He spoke to her for several minutes, the frown never leaving his face. She knelt and then lay down on her side next to the wagon, turning so she was on her back with one arm flung over her head and her skirts tangled about her legs. The tech arranged her skirts, pulled out the light measure, and paced around her, walked back to the console, and spoke into the ear. Kivrin lay quite still, the blood on her forehead almost black under the light.

"Oh, dear, she looks so young," Mary said.

Badri spoke into the ear, glared at the results on the screen, went back to Kivrin. He stepped over her, straddling her legs, and bent down to adjust her sleeve. He took a measurement, moved her arm so it was across her face as if warding off a blow from her attackers, measured again.

"Did you see the Pyramids?" Dunworthy said.

"What?" Mary said.

"When you were in Egypt. When you went tearing about the Middle East oblivious to danger. Did you manage to see the Pyramids?"

"No. Cairo was put under quarantine the day we landed." She looked at Kivrin, lying there on the floor. "But we saw the Valley of the Kings."

Badri moved Kivrin's arm a fraction of an inch, stood frowning at her for a moment, and then went back to the console. Gilchrist and Latimer followed him. Montoya stepped back to make room for all of them around the screen. Badri spoke into the console's ear, and the semitransparent shields began to lower into place, covering Kivrin like a veil.

"We were glad we went," Mary said. "We came home without a scratch."

The shields touched the ground, draped a little like Kivrin's too-long skirts, stopped.

"Be careful," Dunworthy whispered. Mary took hold of his hand.

Latimer and Gilchrist huddled in front of the screen, watching the sudden explosion of numbers. Montoya glanced at her digital. Badri leaned forward and opened the net. The air inside the shields glittered with sudden condensation.

"Don't go," Dunworthy said.

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Doomsday Book 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 253 reviews.
epow50 More than 1 year ago
It takes a while to get into this book, but it is a real look into the middle ages, not a fairy tale. I had more of a problem with the present, or futuristic part of the book. While the characters were charming, it seemed more like the seventies instead of 2054. The fact that there was time travel was the only thing that made it seem futuristic. When you finally start to realize what is happening, you can't put it down.
Joel_M More than 1 year ago
In this book, set in the not-too-distant future, historians from Oxford University have a time machine which they use to study history firsthand (a number of Willis' other books are set in this same world). A young historian named Kivrin goes back to the Middle Ages and things begin to go wrong. A mysterious plague rages through Oxford while she is trapped in medieval England during a plague. The parts of the story taking place in Oxford have some humorous elements thanks to a few ridiculous (but believable) characters and Willis' witty narrative style, but the parts of the story set in Medieval England are pretty unremittingly dark...I loved it even though it was depressing!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to read this for a college lit class and it quickly became my favorite book. 15 years and many books later, it is still my all-time favorite book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The way Connie Willis blends the story of the "present" and "past" in this book is not only brilliant, it keeps you on edge while also playing with your emotions. Definitely recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Overall I liked the story, but it took a while for it to gain momentum.
Anonymous 6 days ago
readingfiend on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book through IBooks and I didn't want it to end!Kivrin time travels back to (what she thinks is) the 1320s. Only it's not - it's 1348 at the start of the Plague! Meanwhile, the mistake isn't discovered because everyone comes down with influenza and London is quarantined.Fascinating and sometimes horrifying book! It really makes you think about how far we've come.
buffalogr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Loonnng book. Could be much shorter with the same impact. Interesting time travel thesis with little redeeming value.
readaholic12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A page turning story, once I got past the first 20 pages or so. It seemed bogged in excess detail at times, which was frustrating given its length. Some of the characters jump off the page, others are mere caricatures, especially the bad guys. Otherwise a good read, one I kept visualizing as thrilling but gruesome movie.
jeffjardine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The first two thirds of this Doomsday Book really seemed to drag. That's fine - I can handle a plodding plot. What I couldn't stand was the repetition. "But the slippage was minimal!" "But I've had all of my shots!" Again and again and again... Maybe it was meant to be some sort of metanarrative about how history repeats itself or something. It was annoying.The book could have used some trimming, at least in the 21st century story. The much more compelling 14th century story goes through long stretches of nothing apparently happening. However, I think they are necessary to set up the gravity of the events of the final third of the book - this is where the book comes to life and mostly redeems the preceding slog. Overall, I'm glad I finished this one.
mellowtrouble on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
loved this book. was a little slow in starting - so many characters and relationships and worlds to understand, but still - what a great book. makes me want to learn much more about the black plague. interesting characters, sure, but really the time and events were the main characters in my mind.
meersan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Time traveling researcher takes far too long to figure out what century she's in while plague rages in a boring current-timeline subplot.
nebula61 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It makes you feel as if you lived through it. What more is there to say?
abbylibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the year 2054, people have perfected time travel and historians often go back in time to observe and study the people and conditions. For young historian Kivrin, traveling back to the Middle Ages has long been a dream, although her tutor Dunworthy frowns on it, thinking the time too dangerous. Eventually Kivrin finds a scholar willing to let her travel to the year 1320 and though Dunworthy still worries, Kivrin goes through. Something goes wrong, but just as Kivrin went through, Oxford is besieged with a flu epidemic and the one tech who knows is delirious with fever. Kivrin did not go to the year 1320. She went to 1348, just as the plague began its death march across England. Totally engrossing, combining science fiction and historical fiction, this is one of the best books I've ever read. Both the historical setting and the futuristic setting come alive as the stories intertwine. Willis has created some truly memorable characters, some we love and some we love to hate. I didn't want this book to end.
mckait on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A historian by training, adventuress by nature. That describes Kivrin, the young woman whose dream is finally coming through as she is sent to study life in the year 1320. The middle ages is a time fraught with danger, especially for a woman alone. Kivrin shrugs this off as she prepares to be a part of something that she has dreamed of for years. Nothing can go wrong. There are checks and cross checks and redundancies everywhere. The net has been used before and often. So often that Gilchrist, the arrogant, self serving unprepared and untrained man in temporary charge of the facility seems fine with foregoing some of the tests and checks. Kivrin is all too willing to believe him, and to take the risk to live her dream. Nothing can go wrong. She has made preparations down to the last detail of proper clothing, and language, She even made sure that her nails were worn and broken by volunteering at a local archeological dig before she leaves. The archeological dig that was nearly the undoing of everyone for miles around. Kivrin herself and Baldri the tech assisting at sending her to 1320 are both infected by a bacteria that has survived the tomb they helped to uncover.Not only does Kiverin arrive at her destination infected, but something else has gone gravely wrong. People are dying in the time she left and the time where she is now living. Was it her? Did she bring this upon them?I admit to an affinity for time travel stories. Who would not want to see what it was like when the Pyramids were being built? Who would turn down a chance to see a time before they were born, a simpler, happier time?The characters in this story were realistic, complicated and human. People doing the best that they can to have the best that life can offer them. They lived and loved and worked together in communities 700 years apart, but not so different after all. This is a story filled with dreams, with anguish and fear. But it is also a story of love and hope and strength. I was captivated by the characters and the tale. I couldn't put it down, until I finally learned how the story ended.
PghDragonMan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Absolutely apocalyptic!", to quote one of the characters from the book. Imagine going back to England in the Middle Ages on a field assignment as a student of history. Now imagine you awake in this past to find yourself horribly sick, even though you've been immunized against the Plague and your time destination is before the Plague strikes. Once you are over your sickness, you find a horrible mistake has been made and you ARE in the time when the Plague strikes your location, everyone around you is dying and, just to make thing a little more exciting, you missed your return trip to your real present.This is the situation Connie Willis plunges an anxious history student into in Doomsday Book. There is much more fiction than history going on in this story, but the historical facts are accurate enough to move the plot along realistically. While the scenario deals more with the survival of someone trying to return to their proper time period than the history of the Middle Ages, there is enough of everyday early 14th Century English manor life to remove the "fairy tale" view many people have of the period, to paraphrase another character from the book. To the people living through and during this time, it must indeed have seem like the apocalypse coming to pass.I found the characters very well developed, the plot well paced and the details in the story helped to keep me riveted to the pages. There was enough comic relief, without being anything remotely like Monty Python, to back the tension down to a bearable level. The counter plot was as well done as the main and mirrored the main plot quite well without becoming overbearing. The story ends with a possible return of one of the characters. I cared enough about these characters I'd like to see that happen.All is not perfect, however, with this story. Ms. Willis demonstrates, as Shaw once remarked "Great Britain and America are two countries separated by a common language". I had a lot of trouble wrapping my eyes around the phrase an historian when I had it drilled into me in school that "an" is used before vowel sounds and in American English the "h" in "historian" is not a vowel. My brain kept wanting to read a historian. This is minor in terms of the scope of the plot.What kept me from giving this work a full five stars is that time travel plots with problems is not entirely original. Timeline by Chricton is another standout in this area. Doomsday Book, however, may be the best of that class.There may not be enough serious history presented here to hold fans of historical fiction. Time travel fans and lovers of science fiction should find plenty here to keep them involved. This story should also appeal to open minded adventure readers. With all this book has going for it, there is more to recommend it than to warn general fiction readers to stay away. Take a chance; you may enjoy this one.
VirginiaGill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
We recently read this in our book club and I must admit I really struggled to get through it. Usually I can easily slip inside a book and feel a part of the story. Not this one and the ending had me tossing the book on the floor in disgust.
crazybatcow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Why didn't I enjoy this book? a) nearly the entire "Dunworthy" part of the story is told via conversations between characters; I like dialogue as much as the next person but half a novel of dialogue is just too much talking.b) the Dunworthy part of the story's dialogue is among people who are not behaving "normally". i.e. someone is very very sick and Dunworthy's colleague spends several pages (of dialogue mind you) harping on and on about Dunworthy's incompetence. Sure, he might mention it, once or twice or 3 times, but not 11 times in 3 pages. This is just one example of how the author spends page after page going over the same attitude/concern/worry, all via dialogue. The part of the story set in the 1300s is actually quite good - if only the modern day part didn't harp on so much this would have been a great novel.
Raven on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Naturally, when time travel is invented, it will be invented at Balliol College, Oxford, my beloved alma mater, and once it has been invented, it will be protected and controlled not by money or barbed wire but by a large pack of dizzy academics and a heavy haze of bureaucracy. This is of course how everything ought to be, and the first reason why I loved this book (and, indeed, the series it forms part of).Doomsday Book is set in Oxford in the 2040s, where a little has changed, but not a lot, and time travel is administered by the history faculty, who send historians on controlled "drops" into the past, allowing for paradoxes and slippages and whatnot. Kivrin is young and very dedicated and wants to go the Middle Ages, the first historian to do so; her longsuffering tutor, Dunworthy, wishes she wouldn't, but knows he can't stop her. And so she goes, and Dunworthy stays behind, and the point of view alternates between them.There is a disease in modern Oxford, beginning to creep; in the past, there is a great deal afoot, which is obscured and made mysterious very effectively by how Willis writes Kivrin's disorientation. The details of both places are beautifully written, beautifully realised, and the research on the past that must have been done is palpable. Even so, I mostly prefer Dunworthy's sections with their larger, more vibrant cast - Colin, the unfortunate small boy trapped in the Oxford quarantine is an unexpexted joy, and so is Dunworthy himself, a quiet epicentre of chaos.(Note: a lot of people criticise this novel because so much of the plot could be resolved by the invention of the mobile phone, which had been invented when I came up to Oxford in 2005, so it is a great shame that Willis doesn't include it; but that said, her particular type of plotty politicking couldn't work otherwise (Passage and Lincoln's Dreams wouldn't work with mobile phones, either), and it's easy to suspend one's disbelief when the rest of the novel is so richly written.)In the end, the novel comes across as a real achievement - it balances theme, plot and character beautifully, with some oddly effective mirroring between times (the absent Head of History, Basingame, for example, ends up playing much the same role in the twenty-first century as God does in the fourteenth), and it never does anything easy, or simplistic. Not as technicaly sophisticated as To Say Nothing of the Dog, set in the same universe, but deeper.
Cauterize on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the near future, humans have figured out how to time travel back to the past. This leads to historians visiting the past to learn about time periods but the technology is new enough so they have not travelled to "dangerous" periods yet. Kivrin, a young female historian, has decided to be the first person to travel back to England in the Middle Ages, a dangerous time. Mr. Dunsworthy is her mentor, but he is constantly afraid that bad things will happen to Kivrin, but he helps prepare her, nonetheless. On the appointed day, Kivrin is sent through time successfully, but she becomes sick on her arrival. Her technician becomes sick, as well, which leads to parallel stories in time for both Kivrin and Dunsworthy (who frantically tries to get Kivrin back).For a Hugo and Nebula winner, I felt this book underperformed. In my opinion, the real genre of this book is historical fiction. Anything that had to do with the time travel, or "science" was glossed over with the barest of explanation. I still have no idea how the time machine worked, yet with any mention of a time "fix" it seem presumed that we knew what that meant. For another example, the author explains away the problems of time paradoxes by saying (paraphrasing) "Time does not allow time travellers to disrupt anything important in temporal history. If it is important, the person the machine won't allow the time fix and we can't send the person back". I'm really sorry, but that feels like a huge cop out. Don't worry about paradoxes! Time doesn't let them happen! Forget about it! As a Trekker since I was two years old, I have a massive affection to what is known as the "Temporal Prime Directive". And because of it, any book I read about time travel I expect some sort of rational explanation of how people make sure they don't accidentally kill the Lincoln's mother, or something-or-other. The fact that this book kept glossing over any "Sci-Fi", irritated me throughout the book.However, anything that had to do with history and the Middle Ages was amazing. Willis obviously did a lot of research and is able to craft a tale where I felt I learned so much about the early 1300s while this part of the story was engaging. You really feel the muck, the dirt and the disease that was prevalent at this time. The relationships between an individual, their community and how they see their place with the world was thoroughly explored. The author even uses an ingenious way of making the reader learn how Middle English evolved and was spoken. You feel for Kivrin as she tries to fit into this world even though many of her assumptions (and the history texts) were wrong.In the end, I only give could only give this book an average rating. There were a lot of plot devices and plot holes that should have been tied up at the end, but were not. There were too many instances of where I couldn't become engaged in the story because it asked to turn off the rational part of my brain (ie. Why would a newly-graduated student be allowed to time jump to a dangerous period alone? Wouldn't you send her to the 1960s first for some experience? Why do people go alone - that seems dumb?). The time travel explanations irked me and Willis didn't incorporate new and obvious technologies when she wrote this in the early 1990s such as the coming age of cellphones (everyone in the book has a land line in the mid 2050s). It seemed that the author put all her effort into researching history and none into researching time travel and science.
tundra on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found the writing style to be painfully slow, though the story was interesting. The author spent so much time discussing the limited supply of "lavatory" paper and then didn't mention whether that was solved prior to the book's abrupt end. Gasp!
pmsyyz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was expecting a lot from this novel because of the honors it received (and I love time travel stories), but it didn't live up to it.The single twist took forever to show up and wasn't that unexpected as it was heavily hinted at earlier.The two stories lines had very little connecting them and didn't meet up until the very end.This was published in 1992, but the only apparently new technology in 2054 was that video has been added to the phone system (still analog circuit switched) and a bit of immune system enhancement (that doesn't work that well).
Ambrosia4 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Again I must say, this was one of the best books I've read this year. It was entertaining and enlightening and all those other things that make novels particularly impressive. It didn't mess with history for the sake of the narrative and it didn't try to create romance in a situation where romance would be seriously out of place.Other than that it's hard to really describe this one. As I was reading other more negative reviews, I could see where most of their writers were coming from. If you are looking for a particularly fast paced novel, this probably isn't the book to pick up. It steadily works it's way towards the conclusion without cutting corners or forgetting to detail the mediaeval world that makes this book so engrossing. The modern storyline could become tedious, but I found the way Willis tied the two together engaging. Without Dunworthy's story, I'm afraid the message of historical repetition would have been lost on me. The future also let in the comic relief that was necessary to cut the high drama of the mediaeval sections for me.I can see why this was given so many awards, it was well researched and put together and allowed me to recall the power of storytelling (something I believe every good novel should do). This is highly recommended to those who like science fiction, historical fiction, or stories of good and evil.
drudmann on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fun, thought-provoking, and bittersweet.
LoriDevoti on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my all time favorite books. Great read.