Monday, March 28, 2011

Blackout - Connie Wilis

I've been a Connie Willis fan for years, ever since someone whose advice I trust told me that I absolutely had to read Doomsday Book. Blackout has been out for a while, but I hadn't really been paying attention until I saw Jo Walton's post which started with this very relevant piece of information

Blackout and All Clear are one book, conveniently bound in two volumes. Don’t read them out of order, don’t read one without the other.

So I waited until they were both available at the library, and put them on hold. Of course Blackout showed up first (which I guess is a good thing), but it has a reasonably long waiting list, and All Clear won't arrive for a while. So now I've read the first half of this story and am waiting very impatiently for the second. I'm so glad that I knew this one would end without a real resolution, because otherwise I would have been incredibly disappointed. Which isn't to say the ending is terrible. When you know that the next bit is coming soon, it is a totally reasonable point to leave off the story - the immediate source of tension has been relieved, and it is apparent that the folks back home are aware that there is a problem. But there's still a giant problem which has yet to be resolved.

To get back to the story. This is set in the same world as Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. Not too far in the future, time travel has been discovered, and it is possible to go back in time (although not forward), and observe historic events. Although it is impossible to bring most objects back, and there are some self correcting mechanisms in the continuum itself which prevent things like the murder of Hitler which would affect the course of history. This story revolves around three different time travellers - Polly Churchill (Polly Sebastian), Merope ? (Eileen O'Reilly), and Mike Davis who have travelled back in time to WWII in order to observe various different things. Like every Connie Willis book I've ever read, the style is fairly confusing. People are rushing around looking for something or someone, hiding from someone else. Nothing is going quite according to schedule and no one is ever totally prepared. The first few chapters wind up being fairly confusing - each chapter is from a different POV, and there are four different POV characters, and it takes a few paragraphs before it is entirely clear who you're following. Also, there's timetravel, so you not only have to figure out who is talking, but where & when they are. Which is additionally confounded by the fact that time travel isn't precise, so often the character in question is trying to figure out when exactly they are - and they can't just walk up to someone and ask the date & time without seeming incredibly suspicious, there's a war going on after all! Surprisingly it doesn't take long to become completely absorbed in the story - the sense of confusion you have as the reader is similar to the sense of confusion the characters are experiencing which seems to make it easier to empathize with them, which I'm sure is the point to this writing style. Real life is often confusing and only forms itself into a coherent narrative in retrospect. Still, things are confusing enough that I think this book will benefit enormously from being re-read. And I really can't wait until the next one shows up!

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