Let me preface this by saying that I love history, and if Connie Willis has done anything right with this book, it is to compact an absolutely amazing amount of detail about the Blitz into a fictional book about time travel.
But if you don't like history, you probably won't like this book, because that's its most redeeming factor.
Essentially, this book is a classic example of what happens when you have a good setting but a poor plot. The setting is fantastic - a bunch of time travelers lost in WWII with bombs falling all around them, but the plot is absolute rubbish. Take the following two lines, copy and paste them until you run out of space in one book, and then continue through the end of a second book:
"Gasp! We might have changed the space-time continuum!"
"Oops, oh, no. Everything is fine."
Intersperse with too many repeated cliffhangers involving chapter ends with historians nearly dying (Will They SURVIVE?) and some slapstick involving nobody being able to get ahold of each other, ever, and you've basically got Blackout and All Clear.
The first time this device is used, it's interesting and tense. The 47th time the historians wonder if they altered events (and they didn't) you just sort of roll your eyes and hope for more details about parachute bombs or V1 wrangling.
This book shouldn't have been split in twain - it should have been ruthlessly edited down to half its size (by cutting out all the redundant redundant plot points) and put into one, tighter, novel. I love Willis' books, but this really needed someone to take a +5 Axe of Editing to it with a vengeance.
I have a lot of respect for Connie Willis, who has written many excellent books. But for Blackout and All Clear, her editor was clearly on vacation.
In both books, I found myself wanting to scream at the repetitiveness of the action. The nth time Polly changes her plans in order to go look for the recovery team, you'll wonder if you read that page already. You didn't, it's just another repetition of Polly's same thought process and activity. How many times did we need to read about:
* Eileen being called back to work to take care of the Hodbins
* Polly working through all of the possibilities
* Polly and Eileen waiting for Mike to call
* Everyone working their way through dozens of London locales, name by bloody name
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the story, which kept me reading until the end. I learned more about the Blitz from All Clear than from watching hours of History Channel documentaries, and a lot more about its impact on everyday citizens. But much of the magic was ruined by all of the repetitive running around. An editor should have put their foot down and demanded that 20% or more of these two books be cut.
When Heinlein first turned in the manuscript for Stranger in a Strange Land, his editor told him to cut 60,000 words. Although Heinlein objected, he made the cuts. The book became a major success. Many years later, Heinlein published the Original Uncut Version. Although the cut material was mildly interesting, it didn't move the plot forward. It was then that I understood the value of a good editor.
Five stars for a good plot and especially for the fascinating details on what Londoners went through during the Blitz. Minus two stars for disruptive repetition that will drive you crazy.
on December 5, 2010
I reviewed Blackout when it first came out and it seemed only right to return to review All Clear as they are, essentially, the SAME book.
Looking at the other reviews I'm wondering what book the others were reading that resulted in such positive (5 stars!?) praise. In my opinion if this book had been written by any author other than Connie Willis there is no way I would have finished it. I am a fan of time travel fiction and Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog are staples on my bookshelf that I continuously re-read. I had to force myself to finish this book.
Here are my issues with it:
1. There is nothing resembling an introduction or a brief review of important characters and events in this book. Blackout ends abruptly at a cliffhanger (I'm using that term loosely here) and after several months hiatus we abruptly dive back into the narrative at the beginning of All Clear. It really does feel like the book was chopped into two pieces and I had trouble enough keeping the characters straight in Blackout. Which brings me to..
2. The characters and characterization are under-developed (I tried to come up with a word other than 'sucky' or 'horrible'). There are many characters but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that most of them are so thinly drawn it's hard to a) get involved in their story, and b) tell them apart. The three main characters in particular are just plain annoying and I spent a good portion of the book wondering if time travel historians are screened for mental health and problem solving ability prior to being sent into the chaotic past (apparently not). I understand that being trapped in the past could be initially upsetting, but seriously if you were a time travel historian trapped in your era of choice wouldn't you start planning a really great longitudinal study and figuring out a way to preserve it for the future?
3. The plot really does suck (can't find a word to sugercoat it, sorry). My only critique of Ms. Willis' other work is that she tends to rely on a lack of communciation between characters to drive up the tension (remember how in Doomsday Book nobody in 2060 has a cell phone? yeah). So in Blackout/All Clear you have a soap opera plot of characters concealing information and lying to each other for no discernible reason, and I really really wanted the main characters to sit down and have a 5 minute heart-to-heart so the book could be about 1/3 shorter and the plot could (finally) get moving. Alas, no luck!
My main issue with the plot is that there really isn't much of one. I feel that Ms. Willis really wanted to write about several aspects of WWII in Britain but paid so much attention to the little stories that there is no well-developed larger story to weave the little bits into. I really liked the Kent sections dealing with the intelligence efforts- they were hysterical- but how did they figure into the overall? I think this book would have worked better as a collection of short stories or better yet, as a non-fiction book where the course of WWII is actually the plot.
4. Mr Dunworthy. Enough said.
Short version: If you like WWII stuff you will probably like this book for it's historical detail. If you like time travel sci-fi avoid this book as you will be frustrated. Time travel fiction has the incredible ability to examine history through a modern narrative with some cool speculative bits thrown in- that's what I love about it and that's what's missing here. If you like books with plot or compelling characters check out something else.
IMPORTANT: you MUST have read "Blackout" before reading "All Clear" the latest novel by Connie Willis. It is not a sequel with explanations of what went on before, it's PART 2; it picks up right where the other left off. In fact, I'd just read "Blackout" a few months ago and it still took me a while to get back into the swing. Some reviewers rated it down because it was "confusing" even though they admittedly hadn't read Part 1 ("Blackout"). That's like starting a book in the middle and then complaining that you didn't know what was going on.
"All Clear" is the conclusion to Hugo Award Winning Willis' latest novel of time travel. These books wonderfully combine my love of time travel stories with historical fiction about WWII. In "Blackout" Willis set up for us three Oxford historians from 2060 who have gone back to different parts of WWII to do research. One to Dunkirk, one to the countryside to which Londoners had evacuated their children and one to London during the Blitz. Other characters, such as a reporter sent to 1944 to blow up inflatable tanks, and a woman ambulance driver, may or may not be related or the same time travelers. Willis expertly weaves history with suspense as each historian confronts a situation where he/she may or may not have affected history. What if Mike saved a man at Dunkirk who was supposed to die? How would that affect the course of the war? Or even of mankind?
The cliff-hanger at the end of "Blackout" has three of the historians finding each other and also discovering that the portals through which they are able to return to 2060 aren't functioning. Will they ever get back? Are they trapped together until the end of the war? Will Oxford send a team to rescue them?
"All Clear" picks up the suspense and the fascinating details of history. The books are bursting full of interesting WWII history and little-known data points. Many times the story would mention something that I was unfamiliar with (e.g., Ultra, Anderson shelters, V1 and V2 "tipping") causing me to do independent research on the topics; THAT is historical fiction at its best!
If you enjoy "Blackout" and "All Clear" as I have, you will want to go back and read Willis' other Oxford historian time-travel novels; "Doomsday Book" and "To Say Nothing of the Dog".
Connie Willis's latest novel picks up exactly where the last one, Blackout, left off, with the young 21st century historians Polly Churchill, Merope Ward, and Michael Ward trapped in England during the Blitz. Having finally located each other, the three struggle to survive in war-ravaged London, desperately attempting to locate other time travelers and trying to contact the future to alert them to their plight. Adding to their urgency is a deadline Polly faces, when she must depart before her presence on an earlier trip jeopardizes her existence. And preying upon all of them is the growing fear that their actions may have changed the past and undone the future to which there are trying to return.
As she does in her previous novel, Willis interweaves the narratives of multiple characters amidst a vivid portrait of wartime England and the perils her characters face. This often can be confusing, but her richly detailed plot rewards the reader, gradually revealing its secrets as developments unfold. In this respect, it is unfortunate that the two volumes were published separately, as both are required to fully appreciate her success in developing such a carefully layered narrative. Together they combine to create a suspenseful work of the first caliber, one in which many of the themes characteristic of her work - single-minded characters whose agendas interfere with the plans of the protagonists, the impact of technology on personal lives, the effort to cope with tragedy and loss - are on full display. Fans of well-written science fiction or historical works will enjoy her gripping and intricate novel, one that is sure to become one of the classics of the genre.
on November 29, 2010
This is a review for Blackout and All Clear as a novel. I never give up on books, especially audiobooks, but I just had to stop listening to All Clear after the first third of the book. The historical setting is truly well-drawn, but that's about all I can recommend from it.
The characters are unsympathetic and often whiny - especially in Blackout. All of them whine a lot about their circumstances and Willis gives us far, far, FAR too much of their "what if" thinking. It seems every speculative thought about every possible situation that could have happened or might happen makes its way into the inner dialog of these characters and onto the pages of the book. Characters are speculating about what has happened to other characters while these characters are *briefly* out of the scene. No, this wouldn't be worth mentioning if it happened once, or twice. But it happens constantly, relentlessly, exhaustingly. (I should go on for 3 pages on this topic to give you an idea of what I mean, but I'll spare you.) All this whinging and wondering is truly exhausting.
Characters chase their tails, running in circles, getting nowhere, missing connections, missing each other, and spending far too much time not advancing plot or characterization. Characters travel hundreds of miles when they could have easily sent a letter. Willis follows them at every stop, every siding, for every passing troop train. They say "retrieval team" hundreds of times, so much that the phrase itself began to grate on my ears. Characters lie to each other for no obvious reason then go to great lengths to perpetuate these unimportant lies; they try to "lose" one another in the tube after having spent the whole book looking for each other.
On the whole, I think Willis's problem was a very thin plot. I have no idea why she stretched such a miserly plot over 1100 pages. After many hours of listening, I'm just tired of the book. I don't really care what happens to the characters, and I can't endure any more pages-long detailed accounts of railway delays, comparisons of actual bomb times with recorded bomb times, and other such boring minutia.
I am confident Willis could have written a tight story in the length of the first book. I wish she had.
With Blackout and All Clear, which together comprise a single fluid story, Connie Willis returns to the time travel universe that was home to her acclaimed early novel Doomsday Book. If anything, she has only gotten better with, ahem, time.
In the late 21st century, time travel is a tool employed by historians to observe and even take part in historic events, though it appears that something inherent about the travel precludes them from being sent to extremely pivotal points and settings so as to ensure they do not change history. In Blackout and All Clear, the time travel setting is WWII England, as Merope Ward is sent to observe the children's evacuation to the countryside, Mike Davies ends up at the Dunkirk evacuation, and Polly Churchill is going to be a shop girl in London during the Blitz.
The story starts at the beginning of Blackout with a sense of chaotic foreboding as time travel assignments are being switched on the fly, the head of the dept., Professor Dunworthy, is clearly nervous about something, and there is talk of a scientist who has some theories about the dangers of time travel. When the students arrive, more seems to have gone wrong as they either end up at the wrong place (Mike, for instance, wasn't to be at Dunkirk-one of those pivot points supposedly off-limits) or the wrong time by a weeks or months. Then, their "drops", where they're supposed to check in or return to the 21st century, are either non-existent or somehow damaged or worse, something has happened back in the 21st century to prevent their return. Soon, they find themselves living real lives in an unfamiliar time and affecting events they weren't supposed to affect. Mike, for instance, saves a single soldier in the evacuation and thinks perhaps that wasn't so bad, until he learns that single soldier went on to save another 500. Is it possible, then, that the theory they can't change the past, and thus the future, isn't correct?
At first we move between stories as characters desperately try to return home and avoid changing the past, then eventually events and characters converge and we watch their homeward attempts begin to blend with resignation that perhaps they are stuck in the past forever.
The characterization is top notch, not only with the three major characters, but those they come in contact with as well, from two hellion children that Merope must deal with to a famous English actor Polly shares a shelter with to an aged ship captain (both the man and his ship are aged) whom Mike meets at Dunkirk. The characterization is full and sharp from the smallest character to those we spend hundreds of pages with.
The same sharpness and vividness is seen in the setting as well, as Blitz WWII is brought completely to life: its sights and sounds and smells, its terrors and absurdities and mundanities. And as with the characterization, this attention to detail and richness of presentation is layered with equal love on the "big" events such as the V2 attacks to even the tiniest moments: a new dress unpacked, a dog in a street, a scrawled phrase on a wall.
It's a wholly immersive historical novel whose urgency and poignancy of plot and character is enhanced by the time travel framework: the suspense over whether they'll find a way home, the anxiety over the past and future being changed utterly. But the key is that this element enhances the story's underlying strengths; without the sci fi trappings, the reader would still be compelled to read and moved by the events. Keep All Clear by your side, as when you speed through Blackout, you won't want to waste any time picking up the rest of the story, which concludes in powerfully bittersweet fashion.
Is it flawless? No. Personally, I could see dropping a hundred pages or so (thought that's small over two relatively large books) and sometimes events work out a bit coincidental, but this eventually is subsumed within the logical underpinning of the story's premise and so while it distracts at first, it eventually becomes a "oh, never mind" kind of reaction.
In the end, the single story comprised of Blackout and All Clear is a wonderful reading experience that draws you in fully to both time and place and character. One of my favorite reads of the year and thus, highly recommended.
on July 30, 2011
The second part of the series. This review will contain some spoilers, so beware!
I was hoping that this continuation would have better that the first part, but I had to be disappointed. The same faults were evident. A lot of space is spent on constant worrying and going from one place to another while accomplishing nothing. Also, the characters seem as stupid as earlier - they often withhold crucial information from each others for no good or sane reason. "Oh, I can't tell that, they would worry".
They are constantly forgetting that they are time travelers and what the sequence of events in future Oxford was doesn't really matter; for example they remember at last possible time that another historian visited the same time period years before in the "oxford time". Doh.
There are some really stupid small subplots. Pages are spent on worrying one characters lost jacket. "Oh, you'll get a cold without it". No wonder that the character who lost his jacket faked his own death later on, apparently to rid himself of those two whining women - at least no other good reason was stated.
The characters are constantly worrying that they'll change the world, but they are constantly making decisions which certainly would change the path of history without any concern at all.
There are anachronisms, apparently they are traveling on subway lines which built thirty years after the war (at least according to some British reviews). And I cringed every time they talked about V-1 and V-2 bombs. I really don't believe that they were called that during the war in Britain, especially why anyone would call V-1s V-ONEs before there even were any V-2 type of rockets?
And I am still wondering what is the point of time tourism? The characters were supposed to be historians, but they don't seem to have any kind of research plan whatsoever beyond "I'll go to see what the blitz looked like".
The ending, especially the reason why the "drops" weren't working was extremely stupid and illogical. The time space continuum apparently has a conscious mind?
I find this even worse book that the first part, probably because I was expecting that the story would have gone in a better direction.
Note: this review covers both ALL CLEAR and its predecessor, Blackout, for reasons I hope are clear below.
These are not two novels. BLACKOUT and ALL CLEAR together are not even one novel, as you may have heard. Instead, Connie Willis's two-decker edifice is a different kind of fiction, a galloping, unruly metaphor for war: big, confusing, frustrating, unwieldy, and, finally, unable to be comprehended as a single thing. At its best, this messy, overlong, and incredibly frustrating object is a screwball tragedy, a contradictory thing that Willis tries to will into existence, and, at its worst, this is the story in which all of Willis's worst tendencies (and a few of her best) take over her work and run it all into the ground. It does have a more-or-less straightforward narrative, told very linearly for a time-travel story, but that story is so overstuffed and sprawling that any attempt to take it as a whole will fail: this is a work of parts, and criticism of it will inevitably fall into parts as well.
Connie Willis is our last surviving Victorian novelist: her books privilege feeling over thought to a degree unusual even in the wilder reaches of genre fantasy, let along the more straitlaced confines of science fiction, and she never tells us something once if she can tell it to us thirty-six times. Her cast here, despite outward differences and though supposedly of all ages and both sexes, really all boil down to a single type: the forgetful, word-stumbling, bumbling, good-natured teetotal spinster, everyone's tedious and least favorite maiden aunt. She also has the 19th century writer's weakness for old-fashioned religion: in her case, it's a only mildly science-fictionized version of predestination, with long explications of what the continuum -- the science-fictional Maguffin, but really Willis's very thinly-veiled stand-in for the God she's sure a SF audience would never accept -- wants, or might want, or what it obviously is trying to make happen. Sometimes Willis's characters are sinners in the hand of an angry god, and sometimes the beloved sheep of a benevolent shepherd, but they never are creatures with their own power to act and their own motives and aims: they're purely observers, historians without a point of view or a theory, mere camera eyes sent to provide yet more eyewitness accounts of things already exhaustively documented.
BLACKOUT begins with a thicket of storylines, from different points of view, but they will all come together eventually, and the reader soon realizes that nothing at all new will be introduced in this story past the first hundred pages: BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR is the extended working out of an initial set of circumstances that Willis has very carefully stage-managed to march her characters through the parts of the WWII Blitz that she finds most interesting, with stops along the way for every one of the note-cards Willis made during her research. Three young -- well, she says they're young, but they act like middle-aged vicars -- researchers from the time-travel research center in 2060 Oxford are all on separate missions to 1939: Polly Churchill, Merope "Eileen" Ward, and Michael Davies. Two minor characters are left back in Oxford: Mr. Dunworthy, the distant but avuncular head of the program, and Colin Templar, a teenager with a crush on Polly. Every other character -- and there are lots of them, in the thousand-plus pages of these two volumes -- are all background figures of 1939, whom our protagonists interact with but always consider as already dead in their "real" time. So only Polly, Eileen, and Michael are "real" -- only their actions matter.
But they're terrified of acting at all -- their entire function is to observe and record, not to touch a single thing, with an odd "Sound of Thunder" hysteria unlikely in a time-travel program that has been running for a generation.  They spend their time endlessly remembering what they've done -- or should have done, or could have done, or might yet do -- like a Catholic running the rosary, and equally frantically trying to avoid doing anything that might have an effect on anything. This novel is a blizzard of "what if"s, all constructed by characters who could never conceive of actually doing anything, instead of endlessly ruminating about what other people might have done, or might be doing, or could still yet do in the future, or what the ramifications of the things that they didn't want to do might possibly have, in every possible permutation of probability.
So they all land in 1939, more or less in accordance with their research plans, and then things begin to go bad, in the usual Willis way: everyone is insanely busy, due to their easily-imposed-upon good natures and can-do attitudes, and so they have to procrastinate checking in with 2060. They all discover, before too long, that they are each stuck in 1939, that the time-travel "drops" meant to retrieve them and provide quick communication back to 2060 are failing to open at all. They then each run around frantically -- but quietly, still trying not to affect any butterflies that might kill dinosaurs -- and finally, after endless tedious complications, meet up in London. And then eight hundred more pages of complications -- mostly involving end-of-chapter cliffhangers in which someone seems to be dead, but later turns out to be fine -- ensue.
Each chapter is fine, taken alone; Willis may have a limited set of characters that she can write about believably, but she sticks entirely within her comfort zone here, so all of her people are, individually, understandable. But as chapter piles upon chapter like brick upon brick, and the reader keeps checking to see how much more of this there will be, the lurking realization that this is all the plot Willis is going to provide gets stronger and stronger. BLACKOUT and ALL CLEAR are an epic of historical minutia, in which the finest details of which buildings were bombed on which days, and which bombs were incendiaries and which were HE are the only topics of conversation and internal monologue for tens of pages at a time. Her characters don't grow, they only change in the slightest, most basic ways suitable to a pull-up-your-socks propaganda film from the actual 1940s, and they never stop thinking about the same boring details over and over and over. It's like spending 1,132 pages in the company of a provincial minister's wife who won't stop wondering if she turned the gas over off or not.
Willis has never been an erotic writer, or one whose characters exhibit much sensation below the belly-button, but here she takes the old saying "No sex please, we're British" to a new height, as a small group of young people marooned in the middle of a huge war never even think about sex, as if the thousand-plus pages of these two volumes was a single long letter home to Mother, filled with teas with vicars and charity jumble sales. There are love interests, in a very distant manner, but no one in either of these volumes ever seems to have even heard a rumor that such a thing as sex ever existed. Readers may differ on the believability of particular reactions to danger, but it is remarkable that all of Willis's characters behave identically in this matter.
Willis's characters are so well-meaning and good-hearted, like so many overeager puppies, that it takes a while for the reader to sour on them. (Some readers may make it all the way to the end of ALL CLEAR without reaching the point of sourness; those are the lucky ones.) But, once that sourness sets in, it is all-encroaching -- Willis's people are so relentlessly Willisian, so limited and befuddled and lost, that they provide no moment of rest from their puppyish caprices. And that essential confusion and befuddlement can make the reader furious when her characters finally become actually befuddled, by bomb-blast or trauma or all of the other shocks that flesh in wartime is heir to, as one realizes that Willis has vast new heights of incomprehension and panic available that she's barely touched in the previous seven hundred pages.
Perhaps because of my day-job, I also found myself wondering about -- well, let me be more honest: complaining bitterly and repeatedly about -- the internal governance and organizational control of this unnamed "Oxford" time-travel organization. It's clearly not ISO 9000 compliant, nor is it compliant with any type of internal-control scheme, hitherto invented or yet to be born: it's an utter mess, run by one man out of his own head with no backups, no written procedures, no organization, and not a lick of sense. There are start-ups run by thirteen-year-olds and their dogs in a garage in San Mateo that have a clearer governance structure and lines of communication than Willis's supposedly world-class research and technology facility. That speaks to the screwball end of the screwball tragedy: Willis has spent the last two decades mostly writing about frenzied people, at their wits' end and working just as quickly as they can, sinking slowly beneath the weight of their (usually comical) problems. (Her last novel, Passage, tried to turn this into more serious territory, with similar problems with tone and scope as in these books.) This time, Willis wants to muster the weight and majesty of tragedy to stand behind that farce -- to have a more Shakespearean undertone to her characters' many frantic actions, to have their scatterbrained-ness be sad rather than funny. But she writes in the same tone, with the same cadence, and the same style as her many comedies -- the screwball is entirely there, but the essential tragic tone is not. (And, as I hinted above, the Victorian novelist in Willis isn't happy with tragedy for more central reasons.)
BLACKOUT and ALL CLEAR are frustrating books because of their good parts. If they were merely tedious and overlong, a reader could easily give up on them, but they're not. Willis is a master storyteller, and, even when she only gives herself these scraps of narrative to run out to epic proportions, she makes her sentences and pages and scenes full of brilliant moments, thoughtful ruminations, and flashing insights. This two-volumed object is a massive disappointment as a sequel to Willis's excellent Doomsday Book, but perhaps this is the story we should have expected after the similarly overlong and frantic PASSAGE. Willis is a slow writer, and doesn't have many more novels in her, but I'm sure she has several that are much better than this mess, and possibly even one better than DOOMSDAY BOOK, if she can only curb her own worst instincts, learn to write about different kinds of people, and save the screwball for comedies.
 And these are, frankly, lousy historians: the time-travel program seems to be given over entirely to Oxford graduate students, who have thin theses (if any) and whose mission appears to be merely to add to the already-huge bulk of eyewitness accounts of famous events without providing any insight or interpretation to bald facts. If one compares this to how access to expensive scientific machinery is doled out in the real world -- mostly in accordance with hierarchies of importance, or of the importance of a person's research, with a strong tropism towards the important and powerful -- one realizes how utterly ridiculous the premise is. (And that's not even mentioning the fact that Oxford -- the time-travel research facility doesn't seem to actually have a name of its own -- runs itself like a fire department staffed by the Three Stooges.)
on October 11, 2010
In "All Clear," Connie Willis completes the story she began in "Blackout." The basic plot involves three British historians from mid twenty-first century Oxford who travel back to World War II. The three initially are sent to different places in Britain, but complications arise when their way back to Oxford and their own timeline is blocked. Suddenly, none of the drops, their way of transport, will open. Eventually all three are in London together, trying to figure out a way to get back and worrying about the possibility of being permanently stranded.
The major part of the novel takes place in London and focuses on the Blitz. Willis creates a detailed and vivid portrait of life during the Blitz. It's almost inconceivable to me how people could spend night after night in a bomb shelter and make it to work every day, or leave the bomb shelter and discover their entire neighborhood has been reduced to rubble. The suspense builds as life in London seems increasingly dangerous and the historians, while they keep trying, seem to be no closer to finding a way back.
One main drawback of "All Clear" to me was the repetition. There seemed to be endless speculation as to why the drops weren't opening and what could be done to rectify the situation. Also. the characters, especially Polly, frequently jump to conclusions that are later found to be wrong. I decided to quit trusting most of what the characters said and instead trust the narrative to reveal the truth of things. As much as I liked the premise of the story, I do wish it could have been tightened up somewhat. "All Clear" and its companion novel "Blackout" combine for over 1150 pages. For me, the repetition of events and thoughts and dead ends was the biggest weakness of both the novels.
So, why, ultimately did I give "All Clear" four stars? Because once I felt like something was actually happening, that some progress was finally being made, I didn't want to put the book down. It's not easy to write a good time-travel novel, and I felt that Connie Willis tied together everything beautifully at the end. When I read the last sentence and closed the book, I felt uplifted and deeply satisfied. I ended up feeling Willis had created something quite lovely. It's not the easiest journey getting there, but the ending made it well worth it.
Anyone thinking of reading "All Clear" should read "Blackout" first. I think everything will make much more sense that way. Be warned, it can be a bit of a chore, but I thought it was worth it. I would recommend these books to those who like time travel and those who appreciate detailed historical fiction.