Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review: Blackout & All Clear by Connie Willis

I have long been a fan of Connie Willis. I've read The Doomsday Book, Passages, Lincoln's Dreams, and To Say Nothing About the Dog. The first and last both concern a group Oxford historians who travel into the past as observers, as do Black Out and All Clear.


Black Out begins in a future Oxford where the Director is suddenly moving everyone's assignments around and no one knows why. The main characters are Merope, who goes by Eileen, Mike, and Polly, all traveling separately back to WWII, England. Eileen to observe war orphans, Polly to observe shelters and tubes, and Mike to Dunkirk.  Once they get there, however, they discover that their drops (their way back home) are no longer functioning. This leads them to find one another to try to discover what's gone wrong, because the history they thought they knew is not exactly the one they're experiencing. This causes Polly and Mike in particular to believe that in addition to not being able to get home, somehow they may have changed history.

All Clear is Black Out's sequel.






I'll start with my single criticism. It's one I often have for 'big' authors (Stephen King I'm looking at you). Too many words! Both of these books are fairly long by today's standards, and I feel pretty certain the story could've been condensed, which probably would've upped the tension.

However. I enjoyed every single word. Connie Willis won the Nebula, Locus, and Hugo awards for these novels and there's good reason for that. First, she knows how to write well. Like, really well. Second, I can only imagine the sort of chart she must've employed to keep all the time lines straight but she did a masterful job. Third and last is the research that went into these two stories, which primarily take place during WWII.

Sure, I knew the Brits had a tough time of it during the war, I'd heard of children being sent away to the country side (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe come to mind), and I'd seen some movies depicting the London blitz. But really, I had no clue. Connie Willis immersed me in that time period more than anything I've seen or read. Her attention to all those details that make a place feel real is on full display, and the dialogue is some of the best I've seen. As someone who majored in history, I adored these books, and they gave me a new appreciation of what the Brits went through and how much everyone sacrificed, rich and poor alike.

Finally, I have to mention the orphans, Binnie and Alf, the most awful children you could imagine, who have an interesting part to play. They were horrible and I loved them!
                                                    

23 comments:

  1. Sounds like a fun series: the seemingly inescapable WWII narratives, but with time travel!

    Horrible orphans sounds like fun, too.

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    1. Loved both books and I learned A LOT about London during the blitz.

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  2. These books sound terrific, especially for a history nerd like me. One thing you said made me think... I wonder: if we could travel back in time, how surprised would we be at what the historical periods were actually like versus what we THINK they were like... I suspect our interpretation of history may not be as close to reality as we think it is.

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    1. If you're a history nerd, I think you'd like them :)

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  3. Oooh. I have read (and loved) the Doomsday Book but hadn't come across these. They sound right up my very broad alley.
    My English mother told me some tales of her country in WW11. Fascinating and awful. She herself was buried under a bombed house for nearly two days.

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    1. If you read the Doomsday Book then I am certain you'll love Black Out and All Clear :) I'd love to hear what you think if you do read them.

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  4. These books sound so good! I'm adding them to my "to read" list! I have a thing for anything WW2 related.

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    1. I'd love to hear your thoughts after you read them.

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  5. As a translator I've noticed that they always make sequels longer than the first books and they also usually forget the style from the first one that made them original. I'm guessing it is the same with raising second child. The first one always gets more focus, tender, love and care than the second one :)

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    1. I think this was just a case of too many great words and not wanting to cut any when it might've the story better. But I'm not an editor so...

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  6. Thanks for the reviews - they do sound like great books. I will have to add them to my TBR :)

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  7. "They were horrible and I loved them." Laughing. They certainly made an impression.

    This is right up my alley. I must check them out.

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    1. I hope you do! And let me know what you think!

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  8. I do like WW2 alternate history, sounds very interesting!

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    1. Very detailed and complex and fascinating!

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  9. I don’t know her, but the books sound interesting.

    www.thepulpitandthepen.com

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  10. Can't believe I didn't comment earlier. ~shakes head~ But I'm with Sage. It's amazing how many authors and books I *don't* know! Be well.

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  11. You've piqued my interest. When time travel is involved then I'm on board especially if the story has been well researched.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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  12. I'm going to admit, I struggle with the WWII setting, but it doesn't mean there isn't a book out there that I'd love in the time period.

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