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Passage Mass Market Paperback – January 2, 2002
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This is the first paperback printing. The novel won the Locus Award for Best Novel in 2002, was shortlisted for the Nebula Award in 2001, and received nominations for the Hugo, Campbell, and Clarke Awards in 2002.
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The main plot wasn't compelling - there just didn't turn out to be enough of a solution to justify so many pages of what ultimately turned out to be descriptions of nothing more than "dream" type sequences. And the ending of it was disturbing without any justification for it.
While on the surface that's true, I would argue that the repetitiveness shows signs of desperation--Joanna is becoming more emotionally distraught as the tale continues, and the author means the repetitiveness to emphasize this. In addition, when the viewpoint switches from Joanna to the far less distraught Richard, things become more precise. From Joanna's POV, for example, the cafeteria's never open; from Richard's POV we learn that it's open 11-1, but apparently not Fridays.
Nor was I concerned about the book's length. It's quite readable, and I've read books half its length that exhausted me and left me with a "glad that's over" feeling. Not this one.
Then too it's amazing how fast the book, with a 2001 copyright date--and and meant to be set in the near future from then--seems quaint in parts only nine years after publication: the characters rent video cassettes, and the young woman Kit, who cares for her ailing uncle, has to be told about cell phones. And indeed, I suspect the author tacked that on as she was getting to the end after she'd submitted the ms. to her editor.
For such a long book, it took very little time for me to ramp up and become involved with the characters and plot. I loved all the characters, even Mr. Mandrake the NDEvangelist. Well, I loved the way he sent Richard and Joanna scurrying away into stairwells, elevators, etc. There may not be anything likable about Mr. Mandrake, but he is beautifully crafted and I love the way his character contributes to the plot.
The hospital itself seemed like a character, with its ever changing construction zones and mish-mash construction. I worked in a hospital for 2 summers when I was a student and it was also constructed from several separate buildings all connected together. Some elevators only went to certain floors, then you'd have to take a walkway over to another elevator bank to get to the next floor up. Mercy General is even worse, but it seemed familiar and I got a few chuckles out of Richard getting lost. Even more chuckles from the complicated instructions he got whenever he asked how to get somewhere.
I do think that Part II dragged on a bit much. I found myself skimming through much of Part II even though I knew I was missing important clues.
Part III / overall
This book was painful to read at times. Willis doesn't let anything come easily. Not just for the characters, but for the reader! But even so, I felt surprisingly satisfied by the ending.
In this novel, a team of doctors have discovered a way to safely simulate the "near death experiences" (NDE's) of patients who have been revived.
They look for volunteers to undergo the simulation while having their brains scanned. The doctors are trying to find a scientific explanation for the phenomenon of "near-death-experiences" and try to discourage volunteers who believe it is a spiritual experience. For various reasons, volunteers drop out one by one, unwilling or unable to come for their sessions. Finally one of the doctors volunteers to have the testing performed on herself. After several "visits" she begins to recognize the place she is going to on her NDE's is familiar...it is the RMS Titanic.
A fascinating examination of the nature of death, the possibility of an afterlife, a compelling revisitation of the Titanic disaster, a medical
mystery...this is Connie Willis at her absolute best...intelligent, funny,
tragic and absorbing, with a stunning, powerful ending.