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)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am a blind lawyer and aspiring writer, trying to read a little bit of everything but partial to sci-fi and military fiction.
I was constantly of two minds while reading this book. The segments set in the 14th Century were engrossing, vibrant, explorations into a wonderful if harsh world, looked forward to and cherished. The portion set in the 21st Century however, dragged, full of comparatively mundane detail and an improbably bumbling cast of characters. Some mild spoilers follow.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that there are essentially two stories going on; a science fiction tale in which Mr. Dunworthy tries to overcome numerous obstacles to rescue a lost time traveler, not least being a "modern" epidemic, and a historical recounting of one village's fate during the Black Death, as observed by the young Kivrin. Being two very distinct settings, I can say they appear to have aged differently. I find it odd now to read contemporary sci-fi stories that include things like blogging, but here find that I'm equally conscious of snags that date a work including a near future world that fails to include developments like ubiquitous wireless communication. I always try to put such nitpicks out of my mind, but can you imagine someone like a major university head completely disappearing from the grid for weeks at a time in the present day? There is also the series of unfortunate events that leads the book's major crisis to occur in the first place, but your suspension of disbelief may vary on these points.
I really did not find anything overly remarkable about the narration; it was very good overall, but could be slow, leading me to increase playback speed.
With all of that said, the reason why I enthusiastically recommend this book can be summed up in one word, Kivrin. While Dunworthy's tale is largely mired in overcoming bureaucratic resistance and a telephone system designed by Satan, Kivrin is discovering the reality of Medieval England, how much harder it was in ways neglected by those who made it their business to "study" it, but more importantly, that it was a time in which real people lived, worked, hoped, and died. The modern influenza epidemic provides contrast. While trained medical personnel in the 2050s stop showing up to work, a priest in a 1348 English village tirelessly tends the dying and rings the bell to ensure the salvation of the dead. While those quarantined in 2054 bicker and grumble, the female head of a noble family seeking refuge in the country takes in Kivrin who appears to her to be a sick girl with no memory of her past. It's easy to see Dunworthy taking a shine to being Kivrin's tutor; both have keen minds, a need to do what's right, as well as almost too much fatalism balanced by an ability to quickly adapt. And both wield a delightful gift for sarcasm. I felt true sympathy for her as she struggled to cope with the underlying assumptions of her world suddenly unraveling, reshaping, and perhaps leaving her stranded in a world not her own, and when the girl Dunworthy thought looked too young to cross a street on her own was able to live up to a poor priest's prayers for divine assistance.
Like other reviewers, I was sad for Kivrin in the end, and that my time with her, Dunworthy too I suppose, had come to a close.
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 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.
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