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Impossible Things by Connie Willis

Impossible Things

by Connie Willis

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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This rather thick story collection from Connie Willis plays primarily with the ideas she explores in more depth in work I've already read by her (comedies of errors, English literature, time travel, university settings, lighthearted exasperation with paperwork, bleakness of war). To my excitement, however, it also engages a few more ideas that are new to me (a world without dogs? alien extra terrestrials? linguistics?).

"The Last of the Winnebagos" is my favorite piece of the collection, probably because it's serious and multilayered in its themes. The first few pages set us up for a rollicking and complex mystery as follows: On his way to a photoshoot of a zoo and the last Winnebago, our protagonist sees a jackal dead on the side of the road and is thrown into a flashback of the death of his dog in similar fashion; he reports the roadkill, and governmental wheels start to churn.... ★★★★½

"Even the Queen" is humorous fiction on 1992 "women's issues": when Perdita decides to become a Cyclist, the women in her family come together to talk her out of it. I'll admit to laughing a number of times here. ★★★★

"Schwarzschild Radius" says "war is bad". It is a bit excessive in hitting that theme for my taste, but it is a well-written and quite atmospheric story. ★★★★

"Ado" is too heavy handed for me. It's a satire of political correctness in education, and culminates with Hamlet being distilled to about 5 lines that could never get someone sued. ★★

"Spice Pogrom" is a whimsical tale of first alien contact, mistaken romance, and linguistic misunderstanding. I quite liked this one. It seemed different from what I've previously read by Willis, though still clearly hers. ★★★★

"Winter's Tale" is Connie Willis's fictional take on the mystery of Shakespearean authorship. It's a nice story, and for me I suspect it would have stood better without trying to tie into history -- but I was never an English major. I like her interpretation quite a lot, but I'd have liked it better in non-fiction or humorous blog form, I suspect.... ★★★


"In the Late Cretaceous"

"Time Out"


"At the Rialto" ( )
  pammab | Dec 25, 2016 |
she writes some really weird things. Some cool weird, but others just depressing. A very mixed bag. ( )
  BookstoogeLT | Dec 10, 2016 |
Excellent set of short stories; I'm reminded again why Connie Willis is one of my favorite authors! ( )
  GeetuM | Jun 3, 2016 |
There are so many good short stories in this book, I hardly know where to begin. "Even the Queen" is the most hilarious answer to `The Feminist Question' ever. I don't think anyone could ever top it. "In the Late Cretacious" is the funniest and most accurate portrayal of university politics I have ever read. "Ado" is a funny look at political correctness taken to its most extreme absurd conclusion. I can't recommend this book enough. ( )
  memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |
An excellent collection of Willis' short fiction, this book gathers together 11 of Willis' short stories, all previously published, however.

"The Last of the Winnebagos" – Willis' intro says that she has been criticized for this story by people who find it too "sentimental." However, it also won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, so not everyone agreed with that criticism! The book gives us a future scenario that is similar to that of Bradbury's ‘Fahrenheit 451' in some ways - the highways are super-fast, walled off from the scenery around them. A photojournalist on his way to an assignment to document a minor tourist attraction, an old couple who claim to be driving the very last Winnebago motor home around the country, sees a jackal run over in the road. This causes him to remember his dog, one of the last of the species, which was wiped out by a deadly virus – but his dog was killed in a car accident. In a case of too much, too late, the Secret-Service-type ‘humane society' investigates, putting both the journalist and the woman who accidentally ran over his dog years before under dire suspicion. Willis does a superb job here talking about the various kinds of extinction, different kinds of rights and freedoms, and the priorities and values that people assign, and why. Excellent story.

"Even the Queen" – A humorous story, which pokes a bit of fun at extremist feminism. The women of a family are up in arms because their teenage girl wants to join "The Cyclists." What could this group espouse that has them so horrified?
"Schwarzchild Radius" – Set in the trenches of WWI, soldiers are beset by deprivation, cold, violence and illness. In this situation, how did a brilliant physicist come up with theories regarding black holes that are respected years after his death?

"Ado" -- A comedic piece dealing with political correctness, which talks about what you have left if you try to eliminate everything that might possibly offend someone. (Answer: not much.) Not the most brilliantly earth-shattering concept, but done well.

"Spice Pogrom" – This sci-fi tale shows Willis' obsession with classic Hollywood, which I didn't go for too much in her novel ‘Remake.' However, I did really like this story of an alien ambassor visiting Earth's space station. Quarters are tight, and a NASA rep asks his girlfriend to put up one of the alien visitors in her apartment. Mr. ‘Okeefenokee' has a disconcerting love of shopping sprees and strip shows, and his comprehension of English is questionable. Mobbed by unwanted roommates, two particularly awful aspiring starlets, an unsympathetic landlord, etc, the tension grows to an almost unbelievable point... (and Willis conveys this amazingly effectively – it was stressful just to read!) But things wind up in a really cute and romantic way...

"Winter's Tale" – I agree with Willis' introduction here – she says that, in general, she finds conspiracy theories about Shakespeare's real identity annoying. However, this story, which speculates on who the Bard might have been, was really amazingly good – and almost believable! I cried.

"Chance" – An aging housewife moves back to the town where she went to college, at the urging of her self-centered husband, who only cares about the job he has waiting there. She reminisces about the choices she made in college, and reflects on how a decision doesn't necessarily have to be "evil" to ruin your entire life, and that of those around you.

"In the Late Cretaceous" – Here, Willis' wit. Again, skewers the academic milieu, when the latest disaster striking campus is the Dean bringing in an unqualified consultant to do observification and restructurification of the Paleontology department. Very funny, probably more so if you're a professor.

"Time Out" – Some similar themes here as to "Chance," but a much less hopeless take on them. Here, the housewife does get her second chance, and things work out in the end. Also brings in the academic setting, as a researcher is reluctantly recruited to work on a seemingly ridiculous experiment involving time travel.

"Jack" – Set during the Blitz of WWII, when normal British citizens organized to put out fires and rescue victims of bombings on a nightly basis. One team gets a new member who seems to have an almost preternatural sense for discovering where people might be trapped under rubble, and rescuing them. But one man suspects menace – is it just paranoia caused by war and stress.. or is there something more to his suspicions?

"At the Rialto" – Here, Willis applies ideas of quantum physics to researchers attending a conference in Hollywood. The weakest story in the lot, I found it somewhat annoying. Oh well, can't win ‘em all! ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Connie Willisprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dozois, GardnerIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Palencar, John JudeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pugi, Jean-PierreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "One can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
-Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
Nothing can save us that is possible. -W. H. Auden, For the Time Being
Dedicated with love and gratitude to Mrs. Jones and Lenora Mattingly Weber
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Connie Willis's first published story, "The Secret of Santa Titicaca," was ferreted out of a magazine slush pile by an eager, bright-eyed young slush reader named Gardner Dozois, and was published in the winter 1970 issue of Worlds of Fantasy magazine. (Foreword by Garner Dozois)
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Short story collection. Includes:

The Last of the Winnebagos
Even the Queen
Spice Progrom
At the Rialto
A Winter's Tale
Schwarzchild Radius
Winter's Tale
In the Late Cretacious
Time Out
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