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)
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.
I didn't do much for the first twenty years of my life, spent the next twenty in the military, and the twenty after that in college. Then, I mostly retired.
Some audio books require a period of time to catch the difference in the voices of the character. With these narrators, all the voices are similar, and I could not follow the story line even after an hour or more. Some books make for a really good read, some for a good listen, and some for both. Maybe this one would be a good read.
Well... I had downloaded this book some time ago, in spite of the bad reviews, and because of those reviews didn't listen to it for months. Now that I have listened to it, I feel silly for waiting. Perhaps the people who didn't like it hadn't listened to her other books? I thought it was great. I was totally into the characters and couldn't stop listening. Granted, I knew going in that it was a first part of two books and since I just finished it, the second part is already available and I am starting to listen to All Clear right away. I think Connie Willis is a great writer and I want to go back and listen to her other books again. If you liked Doomsday and To Say Nothing About the Dog, you will like this book too. Don't put too much stock into the bad reviews.
Throughly enjoyed the listen. The story captures and holds your attention and the narrator was great. Am jumping straight into All Clear.
I'm just not sure still if I liked this one or not. To say I was disappointed at the ending is an understatement, but at least I knew that going in. But dang. Slam bam and you better get the next book if you want to learn what happens. There is no reason why this book could not have stood on it's own - at least a little, with a continuing story. But hey, like I said I knew that going in.
It took me a bit to figure out what was going on here, I think partly because of the narrator. I'm not one for English accents so it took some getting used to for me. But an interesting plot started to develop and I got pulled in. Nothing overly complex and the author tells a good yarn, but, and this is a pretty big but, she does not know when to move on. Way to many mini crescendos that went no where. "He should be there at 9am, but he was not, but maybe at 4pm, nope not then either, well maybe tomorrow"....guess again. Gee I wonder why, let me analyze it, and analyze it again, and again and maybe one more time for good measure. A few times I almost screamed out my window. The title of the book might be better called "Beat a Dead Horse".
So why did I give it 3 stars then? Well that's the odd thing. There was a good story here and at times it moved along well and I enjoyed listening.
Enough to listen to the next book? Well that's the big question. I do want to hear what happens, but I just don't know if I can invent the time. The reviews lead me to believe I will again be frustrated. So for now I am taking a break to shake the cobwebs out of my head, but I think I will one day come back because as much as I hate to admit it. I liked the story and want to know how it ends.
So this review might not help you all that much, but it's pretty dang accurate - I think.
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