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Doomsday Book | [Connie Willis]

Doomsday Book

For Oxford student Kivrin, traveling back to the 14th century is more than the culmination of her studies - it's the chance for a wonderful adventure. For Dunworthy, her mentor, it is cause for intense worry about the thousands of things that could go wrong.
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Publisher's Summary

One of the most respected and awarded of all contemporary science-fiction writers, Connie Willis repeatedly amazes her many admiring fans with her ability to create vivid characters in unusual situations. With Doomsday Book, she takes listeners on a thrilling trip through time to discover the things that make us most human.

For Oxford student Kivrin, traveling back to the 14th century is more than the culmination of her studies - it's the chance for a wonderful adventure. For Dunworthy, her mentor, it is cause for intense worry about the thousands of things that could go wrong. When an accident leaves Kivrin trapped in one of the deadliest eras in human history, the two find themselves in equally gripping - and oddly connected - struggles to survive.

Deftly juggling stories from the 14th and 21st centuries, Willis provides thrilling action - as well as an insightful examination of the things that connect human beings to each other.

©1992 Connie Willis; (P)2000 Recorded Books

What the Critics Say

  • Hugo Award, Best Novel, 1993
  • Nebula Award, Best Novel, 1992

"Ms. Willis displays impressive control of her material; virtually every detail introduced in the early chapters is made to pay off as the separate threads of the story are brought together." (The New York Times Book Review)
"A stunning novel that encompasses both suffering and hope....The best work yet from one of science fiction's best writers." (The Denver Post)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Sara USA 07-28-14
    Sara USA 07-28-14

    No plot spoilers please!

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    "A Haunting First Book in the Series"

    I mistakenly read this series out of order starting with book 2 first. That book "To Say Nothing of the Dog" was an upbeat, funny, and happy experience. The title of this book should be a warning to future readers--"Doomsday". Don't start this book thinking this will be a happy listen. Very long, repetitive, plodding and detailed. That said, I admit I still couldn't stop listening. Time travel and enthralling stories that alternate between past and future. Characters are developed into people that captivate and make the long hours of listening possible. A thoughtful look at time, perception, life, illness and epidemics. A perfect example that even a grueling book can be worth a listen.

    19 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Owl Gettysburg, PA USA 11-02-09
    Owl Gettysburg, PA USA 11-02-09 Member Since 2006
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    "Timely, beautiful, terrible and haunting"

    Now more than ever, I am recommending that everyone I know listen to this book. It is an amazing, satisfying, beautiful and terrible story mostly about a time traveler who is trapped in a small medieval village that is stricken by the plague. Meanwhile, current day Oxfordshire is also suffering from an especially virulent flu and attendant quarantine. The book was written in 1992 and much of the action takes place in a squalid, medieval village and yet it is all terribly timely. The characters and setting are beautifully written and this is one of the most moving books I've ever had the pleasure of reading or listening to.
    Three more selling points for this great book: 1) I love a good, long book from Audible and "Doomsday" is a wonderful 26 hours and 30 minuets of listening to one of my favorite narrators, Jenny Sterlin. 2) "Doomsday won a Hugo Award in 93 and Nebula Award in 92 and 3) Connie Willis has written another book with some of the same characters that is much lighter in tone yet still very worth reading and a good way to recover from the terrible, searing beauty of "The Doomsday Book". That other book is also available on Audible :"To Say Nothing of the Dog"
    Listen to "Doomsday" first, save "To Say Nothing of the Dog" to cheer you up and you can then finish off with Jerome K Jerome's sweetly funny "Three Men in a Boat". There- I've just come up with a great plan for your next 50 or hours of Audible listening. You can thank me later. After you've thoroughly enjoyed all of these amazing books.

    91 of 99 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul 08-24-09
    Paul 08-24-09 Member Since 2005
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    "Don't let the bad reviews stop you!"

    I loved this book! I listened to another Willis book "To Say Nothing of the Dog" (also an award winner) and enjoyed it immensely. Then, I debated downloading this one. The terrible reviews almost stopped me - but I'm so glad I didn't listen to them. I imagine fans of action/adventure-oriented Science Fiction would not appreciate it. However, if you like more character-oriented scifi, historical novels and British literature, you are likely to enjoy this as I did. I agree that the narration isn't especially outstanding, but I found it perfectly adequate. The characters are very well-developed and many are truly lovable. Try it!

    84 of 93 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Wyonia Perry Hall, MD, USA 10-17-08
    Wyonia Perry Hall, MD, USA 10-17-08 Member Since 2007
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    "WELL DONE...but a real bummer"

    I listened to this on vacation and the beach, and it promised to be pure, guilty-pleasure ear candy. I was not disappointed by the writing, the concept, or the reading (the narrator is fanTAStic).

    However, I would put a warning label on this that the whole second half of the book is (vague spoiler alert) sort of a sinkhole of depressing events. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone looking for a "pick-me-up" or a happily-ever-after type story.

    I guess a book about the plague wouldn't be a typical candidate for that anyway, but for history buffs like me, taking a time machine back to the Middle Ages sounds like such a "fun" idea...and this just isn't a "fun" story.

    Still, DEFINITELY worth a read...when you're in the right mood for a downer.

    40 of 44 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jefferson 10-11-12
    Jefferson 10-11-12 Member Since 2010

    I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.

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    ""He held my hand, when I was dying.""

    In Connie Willis' Hugo and Nebula winning novel Doomsday Book (1992), the Oxford University historians of 2054 use time travel to observe first hand the eras of their fields of study. Kivrin Engle is an undergraduate student keen to visit 1320 for two weeks around Christmas, despite the repeated warnings of her arthritic mentor, Mr. Dunworthy, who believes that the 14th century, what with its cutthroats, witch burnings, and diseases, is too dangerous. Ah, the reckless and ignorant enthusiasm of curious youth! Ah, the helpless and loving concern of experienced adulthood!

    From the start, strange problems plague Kivrin's "drop" into 1320, and she begins to learn that the past is vastly different than all her research prepared her for and that its inhabitants are heart-breakingly human. Meanwhile, in 2054 an apparently new and deadly flu virus strikes the technician who programmed Kivrin's drop and soon leads to a city-wide quarantine. Willis tells her story alternating between the parallel plot strands of Kivrin's point of view in the 14th century and Dunworthy's in the 21st. Intense ironies and suspense grow from the inability of student and teacher to communicate with each other and from their different experiences with contagious diseases.

    Willis draws well-rounded human beings we care for: in the past, Kivrin (intelligent, brave, sympathetic), Father Roche (devout, kind, good), and little Agnes (cute, spoiled, open), and in the "present," Mr. Dunworthy (wise, ironic, steadfast), Doctor Mary Ahrens (indefatigable, intelligent, caring), and her young nephew Colin (spunky, resourceful, resiliant). And her novel presents a great amount of apparently accurate historical detail of life in the 14th century. Although she is uninterested in "scientific" explanations of time travel, her depiction of infectious diseases is terrifying, reminding us of how difficult it is to remember that they are after all "only" diseases.

    The book could be shorter, for sometimes characters repeat things that have earlier been narrated. And perhaps Willis relies too much on convenient narrative contrivances like the disruptions in the landline telephone system (in 2054?!), or the technician's delirium, or the History Department Head's fishing trip to Scotland. Despite its few flaws, however, its vivid historical setting, parallel contagion plots, great characters, and poignant relationships between them make Doomsday Book interesting, suspenseful, and moving. And the way in which "You are here in place of the friend I love" changes from being a revolting motto in the middle of the novel to a haunting phrase during the harrowing climax is beautiful.

    With wit, heart, and restraint, the reader Jenny Sterlin expresses the various emotions and agendas of the characters, from Agnes begging Kivrin to tell her a story and Colin telling Dunworthy that an interfering woman is "necrotic," through Kivrin praying for a miracle and Father Roche urging her to return to Heaven, whence she has been sent by God to help them in their hour of need.

    If you're interested in the 14th century, in time travel stories about the human condition more than the physics of time travel, in stories about apocalyptic diseases, or in stories about the fraught relationships between children and parents and between believers (and non-believers) and God in time of disaster, you should listen to Doomsday Book.

    15 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rita Lake Charles, LA, USA 07-16-08
    Rita Lake Charles, LA, USA 07-16-08
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    "fantastic novel"

    I'd read this book a couple times on paper already, so I knew it was long and layered...and feared slightly that an audio version might make it more confusing, but it didn't. The narrator did a great job of conveying the story and maintaining clarity.

    25 of 29 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Louise Tremblay Cole 04-09-10 Member Since 2002
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    "One of the Absolute Great Books"

    The interplay between the events in future Oxford and 14th century Oxford is beguiling and dizzying. The theme of the ringing of bell changes is a metaphor for this intricate counterpoint of events. The historical details of the past are solid and convincing, and so are the characters of both periods. Agnes, presented with all the exasperating traits that five-year-olds try adults with, is probably the most convincing and lovable portrayal of a young child I have ever encountered in literature. The account of the Black Death and all its horror and grief is not easy reading, but it shouldn't be. It is a real reminder of what life can be like for human beings in any age. The tale is, in the end, consoling and hopeful.
    Oh, and in parts, it is very funny.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tango Texas 05-19-13
    Tango Texas 05-19-13

    Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Reviews are a better read than this book"

    I hated the Doomsday Book and I totally hated that I could have been spared this 26 hour agony had I only done what I almost always do - READ THE REVIEWS. I usually read many of a book's reviews before buying and I look especially for the more critical reviews since they tend to tell me more of what I want to know. In the case of Doomsday Book there are MANY negative reviews so even though Audible doesn't make critical reviews easy to find, it would not have been hard with this book. But no - I stupidly assumed a book that won both Nebula and Hugo awards had to be good if not great. I mean really - this book is in the rarefied company of truly stellar sci-fi like Ender's Game, Left Hand of Darkness, and Dune. I read the reviews on this book AFTER slogging through this bloated pig of a book and found they were much more interesting and better written than the book itself. To those of you who might have spared me, thanks for taking the time, sorry I was too stupid to take advantage of your efforts.

    I am adding my voice to the chorus just to work out some aggravation over this one. The flaws in Doomsday Book are numerous:

    * NO Editing
    * Poor Writing - repetitive, cliched, terrible dialog, flat out boring sequences of characters' agonizing internally, cardboard characters, stupid and repeated plot devices, no suspense because the author takes 17 hours to get to the big reveal which is actually on the book's cover and you'd figure out anyway after about the first chapter, etc.
    * Unrealistic Settings - you have a time machine and there is no advanced security for the system, the head of the HISTORY dept. is making decisions about the use of the machine, there is only one tech on duty and when he falls ill there seems to be no backup whatsoever. On and on ridiculous beyond anyone's ability to suspend disbelief.
    * Terrible Narration - character voices are awful especially the children and Jenny Sterlin can't do an American accent at all. Sterlin is so slow and deliberate in delivery with a book that is already horribly slow.

    But in my mind, the cardinal sin of this book is that Connie Willis has NO excuse whatsoever for the total miss on the sci-fi side of this book. She may have researched the 14th century, but she didn't seem to have even noticed technology in her own time! Published in 1992 with futuristic part of the novel set in the 2050's:

    * There are no cell phones or any type of portable communication device except something called a "bleeper" which seems to be nothing but a 2050 version of a beeper (oooh - that's creative). C'mon, mobile communications technology has been around since the 40's and the first cell phones hit the scene in 1973! (I had a car phone in 1988.) But our doofus "hero" waits around for a "trunk" call - PUHLEAZE! Willis makes a point to mention that phone calls have video like that's a big advancement - I was installing teleconferencing units in 1984.
    * No GPS - GPS was invented in 1974
    * No Internet/email - First commercial email service was available in 1976. First host-to-host connection which launched the internet was in 1969 and this connectivity came to be called the Internet by the early 70's.
    * Little advancement in medicine or transportation between 1992 and 2050.

    Connie Willis must have been living under a rock. None of the technologies like cellular communications, the Internet/email, GPS were top secret in 1992 and a quick skim of any science/technology journal would have told her all about it. I can't understand how she or the Hugo/Nebula voters thought that a society that would have time travel technology would have lost communications technology that was invented in the 1940's!

    I don't recommend this book to anyone. I have no idea how it won awards, but it has proven to me that no awards or acclaim guarantees a good book. Live and learn...

    13 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Constance New York, NY, United States 02-18-13
    Constance New York, NY, United States 02-18-13 Member Since 2009
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    "Vivid, Emotion-Filled Time Travel Drama"
    Any additional comments?

    This is one of my all time favorite audible listens. The story takes place in a not-too-distant near future in which time travel is possible under tightly controlled conditions within a university setting. A history graduate student named Kivran has prepared intensively to travel back to the early 14th century, learning the languages and practical and social skills for the period. In the present day, elaborate immunization protocols have eliminated illness. Part of Kivran's preparation involves health enhancements to protect her from medieval illnesses of her targeted time drop.. Her time drop is scheduled for about 30 years ahead of the black death's lethal sweep through England and Europe.

    But! As it happens, a fatal flu epidemic is just getting started in Oxford as Kivran's time drop is being put in motion. The key technician for the drop is already losing cognitive focus, being (unknowingly) in the early stages of the flu. Due to decreased focus, he makes an error in the program, and Kivran ends up in 1348, just in time to be in the path of the plague.

    At the same time, the flu epidemic sweeps through the story's present-day Oxford, thus incapacitating the key personnel for correcting the mistake.

    This is not an unfamiliar plot device for a time travel narrative---a person getting "lost" in the past. What makes it a great story is the way the increasing intensity of the characters' development, in both the present and the past streams of the story. That, and the superb narrator, whose voice brings to life a 14th century priest, a future/present day 14 year old boy, an anxious middle aged don, a 7 year old medieval girl, and an initially fearful but increasingly dismayed yet unfailingly courageous Kivran--who finds herself drawn into the real human lives of the people of the little 14th c. village in which she finds herself.

    I found this a very moving, engaging, thrilling, and poignant story. Highly recommended for lovers of historical fiction and character-driving time travel.

    13 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan APO, AP, USA 04-20-09
    Susan APO, AP, USA 04-20-09 Member Since 2005
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    "Amazing book"

    I understand that some listeners find the beginning a little hard to get into, but those who stick with it will be rewarded. The characters become incredibly, heartbreakingly real, as do the worlds Willis painstakingly creates. I listened to this a year ago, and I still think of it often. Willis is one of our great writers crossing the border between sci-fi and "serious" fiction.

    13 of 15 people found this review helpful
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