In her first novel since 2002, Nebula and Hugo award-winning author Connie Willis returns with a stunning, enormously entertaining novel of time travel, war, and the deeds - great and small - of ordinary people who shape history.
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 17-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 everyones 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.
BONUS AUDIO: In an exclusive introduction, author Connie Willis discusses her fascination with WWII and the historic context of Blackout.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Blackout is the first volume of a two-part novel. To find out what happens to the time-traveling historians from Oxford, we invite you to download the concluding volume, All Clear.
©2010 Connie Willis (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
“If you're a science-fiction fan, you'll want to read this book by one of the most honored writers in the field; if you're interested in World War II, you should pick up Blackout for its you-are-there authenticity; and if you just like to read, you'll find here a novelist who can plot like Agatha Christie and whose books possess a bounce and stylishness that Preston Sturges might envy.” (The Washington Post)
I know that by writing this I am a shame to English majors everywhere, but I couldn't stand this novel. I listened to seven hours before I finally flung my headphones across the room and screamed, "What in the world is going on? What is this book even about?"
So, if you are already a Connie Willis fan, jump in. You'll find more of the same. If you were on the fence with other Willis novels, this one is not going to please you. Her prose is fantastic, but, like always, her plots are mysterious and/or nonexistent.
The book has a good concept but gets very tired - almost annoying. It would seem that every system fails and each time traveller (historian) is a fool and when things go wrong these "trained" historians act irrationally and foolish. It begins to gets hard to believe that the technology for time travel is available but simple systems to survive in the past are not part of the training.
Willy Wonka of it
I'll start by saying I've never read or listened to any of Connie's books. Her intro (which I believe she read) actually started to turn me off to the book. The voice was annoying (to me) and the way she was describing her own book sounded pretty boring. I ended up listening to another title and then coming back to this one. Glad I did.
The concept here isn't original (time travel), but it's presented in a unique way. I appreciated that the intricacies of the laws and workings of time travel in this world weren't just spouted out, but divulged in conversation or thoughts from the characters over time. The book also presents a mystery that is the most intriguing part in my opinion. You're constantly wondering "why is this happening", while the characters struggle with the situations they're in.
Seeing the characters experience the war during the Blitz was actually pretty interesting... but it got to be a bit much. There's so much tedious exposition here with predictable scenarios (i.e. one person goes to look for someone somewhere while they're doing the same and they just miss each other) that get drawn out to the point of being annoyingly trite.
The ending (as others have stated) was also pretty abrupt. You're in the story, then BAM, a guy's voice tells you to buy the second book for the rest. Felt a bit cheap, especially considering how much time was wasted on very slow and tedious points of the tale. Cut much of that out and surely the story would have made it into one book?
I wanted to love this as much as TSNOTD. I stuck with it to the middle of the 3rd download, then put it aside in exasperation (the 2nd time I've done that in over 10 years & a couple hundred Audible downloads). I know it's the fault of my excess expectations- I have rarely enjoyed a character as much as Cyril. Nothing in this sequel grabbed me. Some interesting historical bits, but the repetetive tedious mistakes & unending premature incorrect assumptions of the inept & obviously ill-trained "historians" left me wishing they were wiped out by a bomb. That's when I knew it was time to quit.
This book just drones on with senseless boring dialog. I listen to a lot of books and this is the first time I may not even listen to the entire book. 6-7 hours in and nothing of any redeeming value has come out.
As others have said, the narrator (Kellgren) is wonderful -- able to voice a number of different characters (both women and men) that almost makes them interesting. Unfortunately, the characters are one dimensional with little or no passion for their vocation (time-traveling historians) and no apparent interest in the people ("contemps") they are supposedly there to to learn about. Instead, we hear over and over again "when will the retrieval team get there?" and variations of the butterfly effect. At least Kellgren is able to evoke some hand-wringing in their constant refrain.
Perhaps what was most disappointing was the lack of insight the author gave into the lives and feelings of Londoner's during the Blitz. Any daily goings on or feelings these people had is only a background to the constant refrain, "when will the retrieval team .....". The book was tedious enough that I seriously considered tossing it into the did not finish bin (which is empty to date). Will not be downloading the 2nd part of the book.
If fiction writers have one mantra, it's this: Show, don't tell. Somehow, nobody seems to have shared this with Connie Willis. And as a result, Blackout is full of wooden exposition of character thoughts, motivation, and action. Worst of all, the book is absolutely riddled with jarring two word sentences: "It wasn't." "She didn't." "He was." that kill any inference or subtlety in this book.
It's sad that our standards for science fiction are lower than they are for literary fiction, but if this was one of the best sci-fi/fantasy novels of 2010, that's a sad statement. I really kept hoping Blackout would get better as the story evolved, but as Connie herself would say: It didn't.
I should start by saying that I quite enjoyed this book. That said, however, the litany of complaints made by others about this novel and its sequel "All Clear" are largely justified, so it's really a matter of how interested you are in the war, or how much of a Connie Willis fan you are as to whether you'll stick with it.
As has been said before:Blackout/All Clear is a very flawed book. Sadly, the issues are largely editorial, ie avoidable. One overlong novel has been divided into two, whereas in fact the author should have been told to cut it by about two hundred pages. I can't remember when I last read a book that had so much redundancy. There are also stupid errors good editing should have picked up, such as Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" being called by its original American title of "Murder in the Calais Coach" (it was never called this in the UK); and constant mistakes concerning the differences between English and American usage. By the way, I am not even English but Australian; if I can pick up that a supposedly English character is talking like an American, then heaven help people in the UK. Nor does Connie Willis really grasp the subtleties of the British class system. One example will suffice: the character of Merope, pretending to be a servant, develops a romantic friendship with a young local clergyman. With due respect to the clergy, it is almost inconceivable that in 1940 a university educated Anglican priest would have become friends with an Irish maid, or had anything more than a strictly pastoral relationship with such a person. People just did not cross those sort of educational and class boundaries with the ease that they do now--even in wartime.
With regards to the narration, Katherine Kellgren is adequate. She has some very annoying vocal mannerisms, including some tortuous dipthongs and a rising inflection that nearly drove me crazy. But I did listen to it all the way through, so it was not quite a washout in the end.
I don't need no stink in' badges
...Author's class - cutting speech at the beginning. If you have something to say, say it in the book. If you have a voice that sounds like a Coke bottle in a garbage disposal, then have someone else make your intro.
What was the point of this story? It seems like the first half of the book is entirely an exercise in scheduling, and complaining about the schedule, oh and complaining about the available wardrobe. I never could get into this story as much as I tried.
The voice actors were great though and the accents seemed spot on.
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