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Review: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

>>Monday, May 2, 2011

Title: Doomsday Book
Author: Connie Willis
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Pages: 578
Genre: Science Fiction, Time Travel
Publication Date: August 1st, 1993
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Rating: B+

This book is part of the 2011 Women of Science Fiction book club hosted by Dreams and Speculation.

From Goodreads: For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin — barely of age herself — finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history's darkest hours.

Five years in the writing by one of science fiction's most honored authors, Doomsday Book is a storytelling triumph. Connie Willis draws upon her understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering and the indomitable will of the human spirit.

My first experience with Connie Willis' time travel adventures was with To Say Nothing of the Dog (review) which I enjoyed very much. Doomsday Book is quite different in that the plot is a lot heavier, but there are still a lot of the qualities that I loved in Dog. For example, Willis never fails to amuse me with her clever and discreet humor and her always smart time travel plots.

Doomsday Book is split between the stories of Kivrin, who is visiting the middle ages, and Mr. Dunworthy, who's back at Oxford dealing with a virus outbreak. From the beginning I always enjoyed Kivrin's story more, probably because I love history and the idea of a young woman going back to that time always interested me. What didn't help Mr. Dunworthy's story was that I found it spent too much time having him run around trying to figure out if Kivrin was all right while simultaneously dealing with an outbreak that went on for an extreme amount of pages to the point I felt like it was redundant. Also, perhaps to make Mr. Dunworthy's story interesting or hilarious, a lot of the events in the present day were preventing him from finding out or helping Kivrin and I felt that these events were exhasperating and sometimes convoluted. For example, whenever he had to call someone important he couldn't get ahold of them because they weren't by the phone. Doesn't anyone have cell phones or interenet in 2050-something? I know this book was written in 1992, but I felt this was a bit of a stretch.

While you can probably tell I was annoyed with some parts of the book, I really liked it overall. Willis' time travel is just so fascinating and so well done I can't help but be absorbed into the story. I wanted to see the Middle Ages as envisioned by Willis and she doesn't let you down. Kivrin is shocked to see that the time period is not exactly what she pictured, to say the least. The time is not glorified but gritty, real and populated with very human characters such as young Agnes or Father Roche.

Overall I recommend this book to anyone interested in time travel, history or just great science fiction. This wasn't my first Connie Willis book and it certainly won't be my last. B+

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