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202 of 227 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT - but not for everyone
_The Doomsday Book_ is one of the most unusual pieces of science fiction I think I've ever read. It's not what you'd typically expect in a science fiction novel - most of the action takes place in the very low-tech world of England's Middle Ages. It's also not really historical fiction. While well researched, the book doesn't flesh out the details enough to qualify...
Published on August 22, 2000 by PDXReader

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267 of 304 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Are we there yet?
I wanted to like Doomsday Book. I respected the five years of work that went into it, the Hugo and Nebula awards it earned, and the recommendation by friends. I expected something rich and detailed, something that would draw me in and not want to let go. What I got was a "whole lotta nothing." Had this book been a third of its near 600-page length it might...
Published on August 13, 2001 by Anna Keaney


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202 of 227 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT - but not for everyone, August 22, 2000
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This review is from: Doomsday Book (Mass Market Paperback)
_The Doomsday Book_ is one of the most unusual pieces of science fiction I think I've ever read. It's not what you'd typically expect in a science fiction novel - most of the action takes place in the very low-tech world of England's Middle Ages. It's also not really historical fiction. While well researched, the book doesn't flesh out the details enough to qualify in that category either. I guess this book is really just about people and how they react in a crisis. I don't think I've ever been as moved by fictional characters as I have by Ms. Booth's in this novel. No, there's not a lot of adventure here. If that's what you like, you'll hate this book. If you enjoy rich characterization & a moving story, though, you'll love it, even if you don't usually enjoy sci-fi. I read this book perhaps four years ago, and it still sticks out in my mind as one of the best I've ever read. I've bought four copies over the years, because I'll loan it to a friend who will love it so much they'll loan it to someone else, who in turn loans it out...
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267 of 304 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Are we there yet?, August 13, 2001
By 
This review is from: Doomsday Book (Mass Market Paperback)
I wanted to like Doomsday Book. I respected the five years of work that went into it, the Hugo and Nebula awards it earned, and the recommendation by friends. I expected something rich and detailed, something that would draw me in and not want to let go. What I got was a "whole lotta nothing." Had this book been a third of its near 600-page length it might have been a tight, moving story. As it is, the characters have seemingly eons of time to wander through, both forwards and backwards.
The book contains two stories running in parallel. In the 'modern' one (actually several decades from now) Kivrin, a young Oxford historian, is sent back in time to 1320 despite great misgivings by her professor, James Dunworthy. Dunworthy spends the next several weeks trying to make sure she's all right and can return home, a formidable task due to an epidemic that has broken out at the college and a hopelessly ignorant department head who organized the 'drop.' The second story deals with Kivrin's experiences in the past, and her own battles against ignorance and illness. The ever-present questions are, "will Kivrin get home?" "will she die in the past?" "will everyone die in the future?" and "can any of this be stopped?"
When I say "ever-present" that's exactly (unfortunately) what I mean. 200 pages into Doomsday Book I thought that I'd never read so much of so little. 400 pages in, when then modern folks learn an important (and obvious since about page 20) fact about Kivrin's trip back in time, I thought that at last we could move forward. And we did, a little, but not much, and not enough.
So what fills 600 pages? The same questions, over and over again. The same characters, exhibiting the same behavior that they did in their first appearance. The same technical information, repeated constantly. And a minimal story, about two separate epidemics. Even these are reported more as casualty lists than personal reactions to illness and death. Ms. Willis gives us little opportunity to truly inhabit either world, holding us at a distance with endlessly repeated facts. The large group of characters never seem more than one-dimensional props, conveniently there to manipulate the story when needed. The biggest question mark is Dunworthy and his obsession with Kivrin. His colleagues and friends are dying around him and he thinks only of a student, not even his personal student. Why? He doesn't develop this feeling over the course of time; he's plopped in that way and stays so until the end. Nothing changes, the other deaths barely touch him; it's Kivrin start to finish. And we're never told why. I thought at least that we'd be treated to some kind of love story, but no. It just is what it is, another fact we're to accept.
What is perhaps most aggravating about Doomsday Book is that some of the facts it loves are manipulated so as to make little or no sense. For instance, a large part of the book deals with the difficulty of getting someone on the phone, leaving a message, or even finding a phone to use. Dunworthy resorts to having characters wait in his room to take messages for him while he's out. This would seem absurd even today, and I would imagine that in an age where time travel is possible people would not have discontinued the use of cell phones, voice mail, or even answering machines. The Medieval world has incongruities as well, as when Willis describes a landscape after a fresh snowfall, where roads show up as black lines. How is this possible? A) it just snowed. B) Everyone is dead, so no one has traveled lately. C) presumably the plow hasn't just gone through. These roads would be covered in white snow, just like everything else. It's obvious to us, but it's crucial to the story that they be black, so they're black.
The late film critic Gene Siskel had a wonderful question when reviewing a movie; "Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?" I'd apply that here in this form; "Is this book more interesting than the author's research materials?" I'd have to say no; I did learn things about Medieval life, but found myself wanting to read the original sources in order to complete the sketchy picture. Kivrin arrives in the past in a haze of illness, but the fog never seems to clear, and we see little of how this life actually affects her beyond a historical-document feeling. The most ridiculous element is perhaps that she's supposed to be viewed as a saint sent by God to help the locals through this time. This is not shown to us by anything the characters do or say; it's simply stated to us. Without backing it up with actions or reactions it means nothing. It's just another fact, weak and debatable.
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155 of 175 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TERRIFIC TIME TRAVEL TALE..., August 8, 2004
This review is from: Doomsday Book (Mass Market Paperback)
Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for science fiction, this book is a tour de force that is sure to captivate all those who love time travel themes, as well as those who have a deep appreciation for medieval history. The author masterfully melds these two genres, creating a novel that is riveting and highly entertaining.

The year is 2048 A.D., and a young history student named Kivrin is preparing to do an on site study of the turbulent fourteenth century. Her mission has placed two of the University's professors at cross purposes, as the proponent for this study, Mr. Gilchrist, finds himself pitted against Mr. Dunworthy, Kivrin's mentor, who believes that this trip in time is far too dangerous. Mr. Gilchrist, however, is in the position to have the final say on the project.

Kivrin is scheduled to land in the rural English countryside of the fourteenth century some twenty years before the Black Death savages England. Armed with the knowledge of fourteenth century customs, dress, languages, religious practices, and history, Kivrin is raring to go back in time. When she travels back, however, an unforeseen crisis in the present places Kivrin in a potentially deadly situation upon her arrival in the past.

The book alternates between what is happening in the present and what is happening in the past, as those in the present work to unravel the mystery of what went wrong. Meanwhile, Kivrin struggles to overcome the anomalous situations she encounters that run contra to her expectations. Believing herself stranded in the past, Kivrin artfully maneuvers around the precarious situations in which she finds herself, never losing her humanity despite the horror of her situation, given what went wrong.

Steeped in well-researched medieval life, it is the story of Kivrin's sojourn in the past that captures the imagination of the reader. This is a stunning book that is totally gripping. The spellbound reader will definitely keep turning the pages of this wonderful book, which is clearly written by a master storyteller. Bravo!
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54 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This story follows you even after you put it down, August 6, 2000
This review is from: Doomsday Book (Mass Market Paperback)
"The Doomsday Book" is an astonishing, gripping, stunning intertwining of time travel with two possible doomsday scenarios, one in the mid-21st century, the other the real Black Death of 1348-49 in England. The student historian Kivrin Engle wants to go to the Middle Ages, and she's supported by a thwarted medievalist, Gilchrist, who finally gets his hands on the power to send her there. Willis kills off quite a few sympathetic characters, in the remorseless fashion of Renaissance tragedy. Others survive, though changed by the action, in the best tradition of comedy. In some ways it's frustrating to read, because almost all the "good" characters are themselves terribly frustrated, but after the first hundred pages this thing is almost impossible to put down. On the 21st century side there are a lot of light, even farcical, touches (for example, the pressing need for "lavatory paper,' and William Gaddson's ability to attract any number of young women) that relieve some of the inevitable grimness enjoined by the circumstances. I read this book, despite its length, in a 24-hour period, and cannot get it out of my mind. The detail is wonderful, the plots are wonderful, the morals strike deeply. What a book!
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40 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not your average SF, thank God. (Warning, some spoilers.), March 11, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Doomsday Book (Mass Market Paperback)
"Doomsday Book" is probably the best book I've ever read. It occasionally still drives me nuts waiting for the real action to start, but every time I re-read it I discover something I missed. The writing alone is worth reading just to be enjoyed, even during the slow beginning.
I read an incredible amount of historical fiction, and Doomsday Book is one of the only books I've ever read that sounded authentic. For once the medieval characters really seemed medieval, not just 20th century people in costumes. Also about the characters, the reviewers who say they seemed flat must not have been paying enough attention! Sure, a lot of the characters (Gilchrist and Latimer especially) were archetypal. But they all still had enough personality of their own to be very real people. Gilchrist and Latimer almost became sympathetic characters at the end when you realize that they were vulnerable too, which is quite a feat considering how they start out. Several, like Father Roche and Eliwys, are not easily categorized at all. Father Roche was a typical saint-like figure but still was human enough to have carnal thoughts about Kivrin and shout at Imeyne. Eliwys was a loving mother but, firstly, never resolved her feelings about Gawyn (notice the scene where she sends him to Bath to get Guillame) and, secondly, had her own problems and priorities and could sometimes be snobbish or cruel, unlike most stereotypical good mothers. You can also see the family resemblance between her and Rosemund just clearly enough to make it interesting. Connie Willis's people are *human*. They do make dumb mistakes and have personality flaws, just like the rest of us.
But what really makes the book great isn't the characters or the story, but the writing. Anybody can write a book about a bunch of medieval villagers, but only Connie Willis could have written the scene where Rosemund dies. It just rips me apart every time. Also the scene where Father Roche quotes Romans to Kivrin after they bury Agnes, when he tries to help her stop being angry at God. And who can read "You are here in place of the friends I love" without crying?
What a great book. Everyone should read it. It really does a great job of showing how much all people have in common. It's a nice change to read a SF book with real people and themes in it, not just stereotypes of good and evil and everybody getting exactly what they deserve in the end.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Most disappointing Hugo/Nebula winner I've ever read, October 22, 2011
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This review is from: Doomsday Book (Mass Market Paperback)
I love sci-fi and fantasy. I love time travel novels, even though it's the least likely thing in pseudo-science. This novel won a Hugo and a Nebula, and had mostly positive reviews on Amazon. But I was totally disappointed. In fact, I only made myself finish the book so I could give it this review without possibly missing something at the end that would redeem the entire thing. Alas, there wasn't anything like that. If you are a discerning sci-fi reader, then go read some other author like David Brin (one of my favorites) or Peter F. Hamilton. Now, to be fair this is the only Connie Willis book I've read. But I doubt I'll bother to give any of her other books a chance. That's how unimpressed I was with Doomsday Book. If you want some more details, read on...

First, the novel feels very dated. Yes, this happens with sci-fi all of the time, and this *is* copyright 1992. But often a story is so good you can ignore the few minor things in it that might feel dated. But in my opinion Willis showed a much greater than average lack of imagination when writing this than I would've ever suspected. This felt like a mainstream writer *trying* to write sci-fi, not a science fiction author who knows her craft. Okay... Somehow by 2053 we have time travel, and it's been around for years. But there's scant explanation of how it came about or the pseudo-science behind it, only that paradoxes prevent travel to some places/times. But beyond that, Willis only adds in a couple of unimaginative concessions to technological advancement to her world of 2053. But it feels like the story was set in late 70's or early 80's England. I lived in England from '87-92 myself, and I don't remember it being as primitive as she describes 2053 England being! One of the characters spends most of his time running around trying to find telephones to use and getting busy signals left and right. I mean, features like call waiting or caller ID weren't commonplace when she wrote this book, but they were starting to be offered more and more in the US and DID exist in the UK - if what I found in my research was correct. Star Trek which was created in the 60's had Communicators for goodness sakes! Anyway, thats one example. But there were other similar things like that in Doomsday Book, and they completely detracted and distracted from the story such as it was. NOTE: Contrast this book to something like David Brin's Startide Rising, which won the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1983, and doesn't feel very dated at all.

Next, Willis' foreshadowing feels like Chinese water torture - it goes on and on and on. Only someone under the age of 8 could fail to realize exactly what's going to happen at almost every turn. So zero surprises in this entire novel - ZERO. It could've used some too, because the plot was pretty thin and weak. Then we have the people. Most of them seem like bland cardboard cut-outs. I barely cared what happened to any of them, even the main two characters. The only thing I think Willis did well in this entire novel was to describe the suffering of the 1300's in fairly vivid detail. Yet it wasn't good enough in the story department for it to even be a good Historical fiction piece.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Frustration, July 26, 2012
This review is from: Doomsday Book (Mass Market Paperback)
I feel obliged to write this review because of the average rating of 4 stars. The pacing of this book is very slow. I can skip entire sections, and still find the characters mulling on the same questions over and over again.

It's a book of frustrations, none of the characters get any where, same questions are asked again, and again, and again, the same action sequences happen again, and again, and again... There are so many scenes of examining gobstoppers so as to induce involuntary snoring (I wonder if it's the same gobstopper! Hmmm...).

Two questions really go through the entire book, 1. what time was Kivrin in the past, and 2. what caused the epidemic.

Really, if this book is 1/3 of its size, it would be a much better read.
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Agelessness of Man (and Woman)., June 7, 2000
This review is from: Doomsday Book (Mass Market Paperback)
I should start by saying science fiction is not my usual genre. I have recently been reading historical fiction, and the reference to the Middle Ages in The Doomsday Book is what drew me in. After reading the book, what strikes me most are the parallels I believe the author was attempting to draw between the 14th and 21st century. Not only does she lay the story lines side by side in alternating chapters, but the literary imagery of the ringing bells and ever-present weather in both centuries unifies the opposing times. It might seem that the 21st century, with its technology, in time travel and communication, it's virtual eradication of most diseases, would have little in common with the superstition and ignorance of the 14th century. Her characters, however, in both centuries, display many similar characteristics. There is lust, passion, jealousy, greed, and thirst for power. Listening to Lady Imeyne, I found myself saying, "That's Mrs. Gaddison." And when both centuries are beset with mysterious and terrifying diseases, reactions of fear, panic and misunderstanding are common. The protesting students with placards of the 21st century are the doomsayers of the 14th. What makes us fully human, our wealth of emotion, is ageless. But within ourselves is also hope, love, compassion and bravery, the Father Roches and Mr. Dunworthy's of the world. There is the innocence and wonder of Agnes and Colin. The human spirit has a remarkable ability to survive devastation, and that is for me, the message of The Doomsday Book.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting idea, but frustrating, February 2, 2001
By 
"mythix" (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Doomsday Book (Mass Market Paperback)
As someone interested in both Sci Fi and the cultural affects of the Black Death, I was excited to hear about the existence of this book - especially because it won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. I was surprised to be so disappointed. I've read Connie Willis' book Bellwether as well and while I like that novel better it suffers from the same two problems.
The first problem is that Connie Willis seems to rely on tensions between the protagonist and the "Irritating Others" to drive a lot of the events in the book - people whose only purposes for existence are to throw trivial obstacles in the protagonists' paths. The Irritating Others are 2-dimensional caricatures of annoying people - the Officious Administrator of the competing school who won't let one character into the time travel room; the Overbearing Mother who keeps demanding that her son get special treatment because he's so delicate; the Demanding Americans who are more concerned with their scheduled performance than the crisis going on around them; the Disapproving Stepmother who suspects everyone. These caricatures are not funny but instantly grating, and they appear again and again and again...
Which is very frustrating because of the second problem; the plot just doesn't move forward very quickly. Most of the novel takes place in two locations and progress towards resolution is slow. This is fine if there is an interesting buildup with in-depth character development and interactions, but tedious when the Irritating Others are in those stagnant locations driving the plot with paperwork and scowls.
If you're drawn to the plot ideas of Connie Willis' books, I would recommend Bellwether. Although the Irritating Others exist there as well, they are part of the plot rather than a tool-kit's worth of wrenches in the works.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth a Read, July 21, 2000
By 
This review is from: Doomsday Book (Mass Market Paperback)
I rarely read fiction for historical accuracy. If the errors are glaring and remove me from the story then it affects my enjoyment of the book. But I found none of that in "The Doomsday Book". Connie Willis brought the Middle Ages to life for me and made me feel the difficulty in living during this dark time. Kivrin, the time-traveling historian, is the perfect go-between, explaining for us, living for us, observing for us.
On the other side of the time tunnel is Mr. Dunworthy, her instructor. He, too, is an observor, guiding us through a 2048 not so distant from our present time. In fact, I was surprised at how similar this future was to the one envisioned by Terry Gilliam in the film "Brazil" - futuristic, yet archaic at the same time. They can travel through time, but they are still gulping down pills to treat illness. They have videophones, but the concept of a cell phone seems foreign.
I finished this book this morning, as I walked to work and I found myself weeping at the hopelessness of life during the Plague. I got to know the characters, to feel for them, to root for their survival, but Willis knows better than to give us a false happy ending. It's not a completely depressing ending, but the happy is mitigated, as it should be.
Willis takes a long time to get going, keeping us in suspense through artificial means, but they payoff is great. Enjoy.
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Doomsday Book
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (Mass Market Paperback - August 1, 1993)
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