Connie Willis
Blackout Cover



Connie Willis is one of my favorite science fiction authors, having written the incredible Doomsday Book (see my A+ review). Last year she returned to the time-travelling universe of Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing Of The Dog with the duology Blackout/All-Clear.

The diptych Blackout/All-Clear was immediately critically acclaimed and became Willis' second book to win both of the top awards in science fiction, the 2011 Nebula award and the 2011 Hugo award.

The books use the assumption that by 2060 time-travel is possible, although due to the chance of changing the future by changing the past, it is mainly only used by academics. The books are set in Oxford University and generally involved graduate students who need to go back in time as part of their "field research" for their studies on particular historical events.

The first thing to realize about Blackout/All-Clear is that it is really not two books, it is one book split into two parts, so you should not expect a conclusion at the end of Blackout. In fact, I would strongly recommend that however you procure Blackout to read it, you should save yourself the anxiety and just get the second half of the book as well, All-Clear.

The main characters are Michael Davies, Polly Churchill and Merope Ward who are sent back into World War II Britain as Mike Davis, Polly Sebastian and Eileen O'Reilly, respectively.

One of the most interesting things Connie Willis does is depict what life really was like to live through the Blitz, one of the most important and harrowing time periods in history, for any civilization. She does this through the seemingly insignificant details of how The War affected everyday, unknown people every day. Of course, what is also amusing and entertaining for the reader is that she also includes people who are famous now but who were not necessarily so famous then (Agatha Christie comes to mind).

Another important feature of the book to me was its depiction of gender. The fact that two of the main characters are women (really barely more than teenagers) in the mid-1940s decades before the equal rights movement allows Willis to really reveal the contours of sexism behind the veneer of polite British society.

One thing all time-travel stories have in common is that they have rules, generally the rule is that the time travelers can not produce a paradox (like going back in time and killing your own father or grandfather before you were born because then how could you be alive to go back in time in the first place?). Willis plays on this fact, and the idea tat no author would ever kill of one of her three central major characters to raise the level of suspense to heart-pounding levels.

In the end, the books end on something of an emotionally manipulative note, but that decision really ensures that readers of Blackout/All-Clearwill not forget the experience any time soon.

Title: Blackout
Author: Connie Willis
Length: 512 pages
Publisher: Spectra
Published: February 2, 2010


OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.83/4.0)

Title: All Clear
Author: Connie Willis
Length: 656 pages
Publisher: Spectra
Published: October 19, 2010


OVERALL GRADE: A- (4.0/4.0)