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
"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)
retired litigation lawyer; I read history; historical fiction; literary fiction. Narrator ++ important. Story equally so
previous reviews seem to either love this book, or find it to be overwritten. I fall closer to the latter.
There were elements that were very good. The narrator is excellent, superb. The amount of detail that Willis gives for the preparation of time travel was, at first, intriguing and unique. The story does have imagination.BUT, a big but, the length of the book, ( and I mean how long she takes to tell the story, not the length per se) and the unnecessary ( often boring) detail, and meanderings off the main trail, made it very tedious to get to the end. I finished it only because of two reasons. One, well, I'm OCD about these things. Two, the latter portion of the book got considerably more interesting than the former.
I recommended only if you have lots [and lots] of patience with the developing story. Otherwise, a pass.
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.
I really enjoyed this book. Although it started a little slowly, I became totally absorbed in the two worlds, staying in my car once I reached home after work, not wanting to stop listening. The characters -especially Colin, Kivrin, Dunworthy, Agnes and Father Roche were well thought out, and the relationship between Kivrin and Agnes was very special. Christmas Eve, with the beautiful night, and the feasting: the suspense kept on building. The book ended almost too suddenly, and I was left wanting to know more. A good sign perhaps. I enjoyed the narration - Jenny Sterlin. Well worth listening to.
I was spellbound for the whole 20 some odd hours of listening to this book. At first I thought I was going to have a problem with the British accent, but after a few hours I marveled at the talent of the narrator to make me believe it was different characters. This was just so interesting and well written I couldn't wait to listen to it each day on my morning commute. It was a very sad day when it was finished and I didn't have it to look forward to any more.
You can't go wrong with this book! Amazing!!!
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
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.
Science writer in America's heartland
I really struggled with how to rate this title, because the basic elements of the story are truly spectacular. I'm not giving anything away by saying that the book tells two parallel stories, one set in the Middle Ages and one set in modern times. Both stories connect very well, and every subplot is there for a reason, so it's clear that Connie Willis thought this book through carefully before she wrote it.
That said, I have two problems with the book. First, it could have been about one third shorter. Certain conversations happen again and again, and little plot development results from them. And Willis offers a little too much detail about the daily activities of people working in a modern hospital and a Medieval household.
Second, about half of the characters are intensely annoying. I suppose that lends an element of realism to the story, but so many of the characters are so annoying that I felt myself getting frustrated with the story.
A somewhat related word about the narrator: Jenny Sterlin was very good at conveying just how annoying those annoying characters were. She also does men's voices quite well. But she struggles with speaking in an American accent.
In sum, I've liked other of Connie Willis' books, and I didn't dislike this one enough to stop reading her work.
Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.
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...
This is an incredible book, capable of bringing smiles and tears (often within the same few pages). It is not for everyone since the story it tells is horrific but the humanity of the characters and the gentle bits of humor ameliorate the horror of the black death and the epidemic in the future plot. I read it two months ago and it still haunts me. I can feel the warm breath of the characters breathing down my neck and they are never far from my thoughts. She is a masterful writer. The awards for this book are well-deserved. Just don't read it while depressed.
After reading a whole slew of exited, glowing reviews, I optimistically downloaded this book. Sadly, as I slogged through the narrators bland reading, I came to realize this was not nearly the book I had hoped it would be. The time spent in the 'present' is a particular snooze, with me wishing for a switch back to the middle ages, where I at least felt I could learn something new. Indeed, this was the book's only redeeming feature--Connie Willis must have either quite an imagination or is a very thorough researcher. I was very interested in her descriptions of middle age life and customs, and the statistics of the plague she cited were also very interesting, humbling, and downright scary. For this reason alone I gave the book 2 stars and not one. As another reviewer stated, this book is also rather a downer...I'm not the fluffy feathers and floating hearts type but man...I was a little depressed at the end of this story. If you really want a wonderful time travel book, download Stephen King's "11/22/63". The reader is LIGHT YEARS better and so is the story. Don't waste your time on this downer/snoozer.
I listened to Blackout and All Clear from this series a couple of years ago, and I guess in that time I forgot how just how wordy Willis can be.
I liked the story well enough, but once again there were times when I simply couldn't bear the repetition, the description of each and every action taken by the characters (whether or not it had any connection to plot), and then the extensive agonizing of the characters over those actions. And too much time is given to the annoying prattlings of bell-ringers, smothering mothers and religious zealots. Ugh.
And why are these "experts" so completely unprepared for time travel?
My final complaint is that for a writer of science fiction, Willis has remarkably little vision. I know it was written more than 20 years ago, but things are so low-tech here I laughed out loud several times, especially when one character took the phone off the hook. Ha! Where are the cell phones and GPS or whatever Willis imagines might come next?
Again, it was a good story. I wanted to like it. The final several hours were quite effective and touching. But I can't overlook all the rest of it.
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