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Blackout Paperback – September 14, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
With her trademark understated, eloquent style, Willis expands the conceit of her Hugo and Nebula winning 1982 story Fire Watch into a page-turning thriller, her first novel since 2001's Passage. Three young historians travel from 2060 to early 1940s Britain for firsthand research. As Eileen handles a measles outbreak during the children's evacuation and Polly struggles to work as a London shopgirl, hints of trouble with the time-travel equipment barely register on their radar. Historians aren't supposed to be able to change the course of history, but Mike's actions at Dunkirk may disrupt both the past and the future. Willis uses detail and period language exquisitely well, creating an engaging, exciting tale that cuts off abruptly on the last page. Readers allergic to cliffhangers may want to wait until the second volume comes out in November 2010. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Reviewers were delighted to see any new book by Connie Willis, but particularly one that returns to the time-travel premise she explored so deftly in classics such as Doomsday Book. Most critics felt that she expanded further on that premise here, balancing more interesting characters with a wealth of historical detail while also complicating the assumptions of the universe she creates. A few critics felt a little overwhelmed by the amount of information on World War II-era London yielded by the characters' (and Willis's) research. But the more common frustration was the way in which Willis split the story into two volumes: the next part, All Clear, will not be out until fall 2010. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I suspect that all of the threads will be tied up in the sequel, All Clear, and Willis's subtle genius will be revealed - I love her way of dropping clues in the midst of the overwhelming, often hilarious, red tape of ordinary life.
I have always thought that Willis's stories are intentionally circular and frustrating - to demonstrate the sheer absurdity of the situations the characters are in, and to shine a light on the Dilbert-esque qualities of bureaucracy. However, the ending to this one does not seem the least bit intentional. I felt as if someone had sawed my book in half.
Short summary of 'Blackout':
Historians from the year 2060 use time travel to go back in time and visit the time/location of which they want to study.
Several historians have chosen to go to Word War II London during the time of the Blitz bombings, Dunkirk evacuations, and VE day celebrations as their theses.
In 'Blackout', these historians become lost and stranded as their time portal ceases to open for them and, worse, it slowly begins to appear as if they have somehow altered time as there begins to creep into the record inaccuracies in the events that they are there to witness.
I won't spoil anything so you'll have to read the books to see the outcome.
I have a soft heart for time travel stories so I automatically like this book. The author has done what appears to be a great job at researching the events of World War II London such that the reader learns what it must have been like to be a civilian living in London and be bombed and attacked by Nazi Germany for 5 years. The historical, social, and cultural details seem accurate and plentiful enough that the reader should become very informed about life in World War II London.
Some, but not all, of the characters are detailed enough that you should be able to form an attachment to one or more of them and focus on their story. I liked the character of Merope Ward (Eileen) whose job it was to care for children evacuated from London for safekeeping.
The author does a reasonable job of building some suspense into the narrative as the characters gradually learn that they are, indeed, stranded in time and are unsure how they will get back to their own time, or even survive in the time they are in.
Too many characters and waaaay too much repetitive detail.
The book was written in this fashion: 10-15 pages of character x and their events. 10-15 pages of character y and their events. 10-15 pages of character z and their events. 10-15 pages of character xyz and their events. 10-15 pages of character zxy and their events. Then back to character z for 10-15 pages, and then to character x for 10-15 pages, and then on to another set of characters you never heard of. It grew tiresome such that by the end of the story I was skipping pages to get back to what I considered the "main" trunk of the story. Having to constantly go back 40-50 pages to figure out where you last saw a character and what they were doing got old.
There were entirely too many characters with almost no introduction to them and what place they had in the story. One other thing that makes this confusing is that each time traveller has two identities - their "real" identity from their "real" time of 2060 and their assumed identity they used to travel to World War II London. With dozens of characters, each having two identities, and no introduction to most of them, I found it easy to become confused.
In addition to this complaint, the repetitive detail may have you skimming pages also. For example, in one section one of the characters is convinced he did something to alter history. Another character is not as sure of this and is silently trying to determine what to tell him and what not to tell him that may make him believe the worst. After 5 pages of reading her character silently saying things like "...if I tell him there were 5 casualties instead of 3 he'll know he changed history, but if I tell him 3 casualties and not 5 he'll find out I lied, and if he finds out I lied he'll be mad, and I don't want him mad, but I can't tell him the truth or he'll go bonkers, but if I lie I'll go bonkers, or if I do this and say that and he says that and does this, then what will I do........". Three pages of this. And then in another section the same thing repeated for another three pages when some other event triggers the possibility of changed history. I got real tired of it.
Ultimately I rated this book a 3 out of 5 stars because I do like time travel stories and because I did like two of the characters and their story very well. But the publisher should have forced the author to cut the story in half and whittle 1200 pages down to 500 or so.
I think she is a terrific writer that got off track and stayed off track through these 2 stodgy publications. Read them as some insightful illustrations of how people got through the carnage of England during WW2, but be prepared to grit your teeth.
I look forward to the next novel that will restore my faith in her.
Actually I read the Kindle editions even though it says paperback...my bad.