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Doomsday Book Mass Market Paperback – August 1, 1993
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Connie Willis labored five years on this story of a history student in 2048 who is transported to an English village in the 14th century. The student arrives mistakenly on the eve of the onset of the Black Plague. Her dealings with a family of "contemps" in 1348 and with her historian cohorts lead to complications as the book unfolds into a surprisingly dark, deep conclusion. The book, which won Hugo and Nebula Awards, draws upon Willis' understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering and the indomitable will of the human spirit.
From Publishers Weekly
This new book by Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning author Willis ( Lincoln's Dreams ) is an intelligent and satisfying blend of classic science fiction and historical reconstruction. Kivrin, a history student at Oxford in 2048, travels back in time to a 14th-century English village, despite a host of misgivings on the part of her unofficial tutor. When the technician responsible for the procedure falls prey to a 21st-century epidemic, he accidentally sends Kivrin back not to 1320 but to 1348--right into the path of the Black Death. Unaware at first of the error, Kivrin becomes deeply involved in the life of the family that takes her in. But before long she learns the truth and comes face to face with the horrible, unending suffering of the plague that would wipe out half the population of Europe. Meanwhile, back in the future, modern science shows itself infinitely superior in its response to epidemics, but human nature evidences no similar evolution, and scapegoating is still alive and well in a campaign against "infected foreigners."p. 204 This book finds villains and heroes in all ages, and love, too, which Kivrin hears in the revealing and quietly touching deathbed confession of a village priest.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The novel is science-fiction in the sense that those 21st century Brits have the technology to place historians back in time via a sophisticated version of Mr. Peabody’s WAYBAC machine (recall the 1960s cartoon where Mr. Peabody, a bespectacled intellectual dog, and his adopted human son Sherman travel back through time and meet such historical figures as Cleopatra and Nero). Take my word for it here, Doomsday Book’s time-travel and parallel dramas will keep you turning the pages.
And there are a lot of pages to turn, which prompts me to offer a couple of observations about reading longer novels. Really make the commitment by taking notes, creating outlines and sketching maps; a longer novel is a world unto itself and usually requires years for the author to complete. You will be honoring the integrity of the art form by devoting the needed energy to keep up with the details. The payoff is great: you’ll have the enjoyment of living for many hours in a vivid, fictional reality. Also, try listening to the audiobook as listening will open an additional dimension on the world created by the author, especially the various voices of the characters.
Anyway, back on Doomsday Book. I wouldn’t want to say too much about the storylines and thus spoil for readers because this novel is simply too good and has too many unexpected surprises. Briefly, the time-traveler is an medieval historian, a young woman by the name of Kivrin, who has a thirst for first-hand experience of the 14th century. Her wish is granted and we join Kivrin as she travels to a small medieval village and develops a deep emotional connection with a number of the villagers, including 12 year old Rosemond, 6 year old Agnes, and Father Roche, the village priest. Kivrin is given a very real and direct experience as the villagers face challenges and live the cycle of their days and nights in a harsh, hostile, rustic world. By the time I finished the book, I had the feeling I also spent time living with these medieval men, women and children. The novel is that powerful.
Meanwhile, back in 21th century Oxford, Kivrin’s mentor, a scholar by the name of Mr. Dunworthy, has his own problems with the time-travel technology and unfolding events at his school and in his town. He has to deal with an entire range of people, such as Mrs. Gaddson, an overbearing mother of one of the students, Mr. Gilchrist, a power-hungry academic, Colin, a precocious 12 year obsessed with the extremes of medieval history, Badri, a key technician for the time-travel machine, Montoya, an American Archeologist., not to mention a chorus of bell-ringers from America, including their headstrong leader. Again, I really got to know these people via the magic of Ms. Willis’s fiction.
Like all first-rate literature, Doomsday Book provides insight into what makes us all human, our dealing with love and hate, with hope and despair, with the beauty of life and those ugly and disgusting parts of life. However, there is an added component in this novel: Kivrin, our main-character and heroine, lives in a medieval world with the knowledge and historical vision of the 21st century, which adds a real spice. What a fictional world; what a reading and listening experience (I also listened to the audiobook). My modest understanding of what it must have been like to live in the 14th century has been much enriched.
While many of the 1- and 2-star reviews dinged the book on the constant worrying exhibited by some of the characters, I found their actions believable, and true to what I believe people would be doing in similar situations. Stylistically, the book contained enough historical references to be interesting without bogging the reader down in pages of useless trivia. The action begins immediately and never slows down until the last page is read. Did I guess a major plot twist before it happened? Yes, but I believe the readers were meant to do this, even as we witness the characters struggle to discover the truth.
Definitely worth your time and money to read this one.
In the meantime, her mentor who is dealing with the influenza outbreak in modern life, is worried, because the first person to become sick with the flu was the technician who sent the young woman historian back in time. And that man makes it clear that something went wrong. The mentor is desperate to find a way to retrieve her before it is too late.
I was a little surprised to read this book won so many awards after I read it. Though the concepts were great, the writing was not as well done as I thought it could have been. At times the book was repetitious and there were periods where the story just dragged along. Too much emphasis was placed on the young woman's need to find the 'drop'...after you've paid attention to it three times, it doesn't need to be repeated again. And one of my big complaints was the lack of research on some things, like the author said someone in the 1348 used scissors...scissors were invented by Leonardo Da Vinci, so that could not possibly have happened. They would have used a knife then.