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Impossible Things by Connie Willis
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Impossible Things

by Connie Willis

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Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
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 |
Overall Summary and Review: Impossible Things is Connie Willis's second short story collection (her first was Fire Watch), and it was amazing. Some of the stories spoke to me more than others, of course, but they were all beautifully crafted, and not one of them was unenjoyable or out of place. The stories cover a pretty wide array of tones - from madcap comedy to wistful nostalgia, from historical to dystopian, and everywhere in between and back again. The only thing that bothered me about this book was how many of the stories seemed to feature extremely self-involved, assholish, and emotionally unavailable boyfriends/husbands, to the point where I started to wonder about Willis's relationships, or whether she was just returning to that well of drama for convenience's sake. But even there, she manages to flip my expectations in one of the later stories, proving that she can write about stable significant others and happy couples after all. Overall, this was one of the best collections I've read, with a good mix of sci-fi and fantasy and contemporary and historical and future, and not a bad story in the bunch. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Individual Stories:
- "The Last of the Winnebagos" is a story set in a future USA, where non-commercial highway travel has largely become a thing of the past, and killing an animal is punishable by law, involving a photojournalist who is on assignment to photograph a couple who have, as the title says, the last Winnebago still running. This story won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, and I can certainly see why, although it wasn't one of my favorites in the book. I thought the photographer's musings on the nature of people and portraits and their camera faces was interesting (and accurate), and I appreciated the fact that even though this story's 15 years old, it's not showing its age at all. (Actually, that's true of the book as a whole.)

- "Even the Queen" is a story at the intersection of biology and technology, so you know it's going to make me happy. It involves the cultural reaction - and maybe even backlash - to a world where women no longer have to deal with monthly menstruation. Seeing as I have personally had some of the arguments between mother and daughter in this story, almost verbatim, about whether or not taking continuous cycles of birth control (and thereby not having periods) is healthy or not, I think Willis hit the nail pretty squarely on the head, but she manages to do it with much more wit than I could.

- The Schwarzschild radius is the radius at which light can no longer escape a black hole, and "Schwarzschild Radius" is a story set during World War I, which is when Schwarzchild did his calculations, and involving the gravitation pull of not of black holes, but of events. This was one of the more complex stories in the collection, and I'm not sure that I entirely got it; I think it would benefit from a second reading.

- "Ado" is a tale of political correctness gone haywire, and what happens if you try to Bowdlerize Hamlet so that it doesn't offend *anyone*. This was a cute little story, although not particularly subtle, and I feel like I've seen its main point made elsewhere.

- "Spice Pogrom" was probably my favorite story in this collection. It's the tale of first contact with an alien species, and our protagonist has one of the alien delegates staying in her bedroom, since there's nowhere else to put him in the incredibly crowded colony. She's under strict instructions from her boyfriend not to offend the alien, but there's somewhat of a communication barrier, and he keeps bringing home all kinds of stuff that they don't have space for... including, one day, a handsome stranger. This story shows off Willis's flair for comedy - and the zany, madcap, farcical style of comedy, with people tripping over each other on the stairs, and hilarious misunderstandings abounding. It's a ton of fun, but it's also got a really sweet heart at its core as well.

- "Winter's Tale" takes on the "Did Shakespeare really write all of Shakespeare?" debate from a unique point of view: that of his wife, Anne Hathaway (and also manages to address the issue of the "second-best bed" line in Shakespeare's will). I am a huge sucker for all things Shakespeare, so of course I loved this story... and bonus points for Willis's theory actually being both plausible, and one I hadn't heard before.

- "Chance" is the story of a woman who moves back to her college town as an adult, and begins seeing visions of the events between her and her college friends that led her life to where it is now. This is the darkest story in the collection, I think. I'd even call it bleak, although some of that might be its placement so soon after "Spice Pogrom". It's devestatingly effective, though, because there are so many opportunities for the story to go a different way, and it just tragically never does.

- "In the Late Cretaceous" is a story about a paleontology department facing some restructuring. As someone entrenched in academia (and therefore university politics) myself, a lot of this hit hilariously if disturbingly close to home. The ending didn't have quite the oomph I wanted, but it fit the story quite nicely. (This may be one story that shows its age, though, if only by the fact that one character is complaining about the super-expensive $80-per-semester parking pass. If only.)

- "Time Out" was my second-favorite story; a close second behind "Spice Pogrom". It's also madcap comedy with a solid beating heart to it; it involves a scientist who has chosen an elementary school as the perfect location to test his theories about chronodisplacement (also known as time travel), and the effects his research has on the otherwise ordinary people he enlists to help him. Willis has this amazing gift for throwing a ton of random-seeming elements into her stories and having them seem like they're all over the place, only for everything to slot together perfectly by the end.

- "Jack" confused me at first. It's set in a Fire Marshall's station during the London Blitz, so it was immediately reminiscent of "Fire Watch" (and presumably also Blackout, which I've not yet read). But the time-travel historians were missing, so I wasn't getting the appropriate sci-fi twist on straight historical fiction... at first. But then it came, and it was a good one, one which I will not spoil here, but one which - like that in "A Winter's Tale" - makes total sense and is sort of surprising that I'd really never seen it done before.

- "At the Rialto" is another story of academics, physicists this time, who are at a conference on quantum physics in Hollywood, of all places, where nothing seems to be going according to plan. My knowledge of quantum physics is mostly based on The Tao of Physics, a decades-old book that I read over a decade ago, but it was enough to make this story very funny, albeit in a more subtle way than some of the other funny stories in this collection.

Recommendation: Definitely recommended. This collection is solid enough to stand alongside Willis's novels for her existing fans, and would be a fine introduction to both her style and her range for someone new to her work. And even though Willis can get kind of "techy" in her sci-fi, with the big (albeit usually fake) words that could scare non-SFF readers away, I think there's a sensibility to her work that makes it more approachable than it might seem at first to someone new to the genre. ( )
  fyrefly98 | Jul 11, 2013 |
"Ado" is a super short story about an English teacher trying to get her class to study Shakespeare. The problem is this, every play is contested by some watchdog group. Mortician International takes offense to the word, "casket" in Act III, Students Against Suicide protest Ophelia's drowning, and so on. Even the students are allowed to refuse to learn a subject. Willis prefaced the story with an explanation, "political correctness is getting out of hand" (p 115).

"At the Rialto" had me laughing from the very first pages. Dr. Ruth Baringer is a quantum physicist attending a chaos conference in Hollywood, California. Only she can't even check into her room because her name isn't in the registry. In fact, nothing is where it's supposed to be. Rooms where lectures are supposed to be occurring either have talks on channeling or stand empty. To make matters worse there is a colleague who is hell bent on trying to distract Dr. Baringer from attending a single lecture even if it is the wrong one. The chaos is just trying to attend the conference on chaos. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jun 10, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Connie Willisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dozois, GardnerIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Palencar, John JudeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pugi, Jean-PierreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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
Dedication
Dedicated with love and gratitude to Mrs. Jones and Lenora Mattingly Weber
First words
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
Ado
Spice Progrom
At the Rialto
A Winter's Tale
Schwarzchild Radius
Winter's Tale
Chance
In the Late Cretacious
Time Out
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