2010: 94. Blackout

“Colin tried the door, but it was locked.”

Blackout, Connie Willis

       Connie Willis has created a world, set in the reasonably near future, in which time-travel is possible, and historians (hers are all from Oxford), are going back in time and having all sorts of adventures - some light hearted and comic (To Say Nothing of the Dog), some devastatingly real (Doomsday Book).  I’ve read a number of them, but evidently haven’t blogged about any, so you’ll just have to take my word when I tell you that they’re pretty great, especially if you enjoy speculative fiction that isn’t too sci-fyish.  Blackout is set in that same world.  A number of historians (who tend to be about grad-school aged) are being sent back to the Second World War, and things start going wrong.  Like, one of the “rules” that’s been established in the books is that historians can’t change history - the “net” won’t send you back to places where your presence could change things.  And yet, one historian lands at Dunkirk - and is able to go out and rescue someone! And people’s drop-offs and pick ups are turning up wrong - and, eventually not showing up at all.  As things get more and more frenetic, our historians start to worry that they’ll never get back.  And then it all ends on a big cliffhanger, because the book got so long, the publishers broke it into two parts.  Which is frustrating to say the least. 

        So that’s the plot.  What makes the book great, though, is the way that Willis captures the Homefront in World War II Britain.  By having her characters be time travelers, she’s able to both recreate the world of the Blitz, and evacuations, and Dunkirk, and still relay to us, the reader how hard and strange and difficult that world was. It’s a neat trick - she did something similar in Domesday Book (there it was the Middle Ages), but here her obvious admiration for the people and the times really shines through, and that is, by far, my favorite thing about Blackout.  What I don’t like, quite so much (and this is a problem I’ve had with her other books), is the way that everything in Oxford (i.e. the non-time travel bits) is running a million miles an hour and is super confusing and complicated.  I get that it must be necessary for her plot, and perhaps when I’ve read the whole book (and I have part two waiting for me at the library today), I’ll forgive it, but it seems a little forced to have everyone running around like crazy without a reason for the rush.  I mean, this is time travel, so presumably there is all the time in the world.  Maybe we’ll find out why in part two, but as it stands it seemed like it was just written like that to get the story rolling, and thus annoyed me - like sitcoms where things happen only because people can’t act like normal human beings and just explain things to each other!

Categories: Fiction

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017