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Impossible Things by Connie Willis

Impossible Things (edition 1994)

by Connie Willis

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Title:Impossible Things
Authors:Connie Willis
Info:New York: Bantam Books # 56436 1st Printing 1994 (1994), Edition: 1st THUS, Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:science fiction

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Impossible Things by Connie Willis



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Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
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 |
I think I'm forced to finally conclude that there are only so many Connie Willis books one can read before the repeated themes make all the rest kind of redundant. They are still great stories, but they start feeling like all the same story with the names changed: the female lead, battling bureaucracy and political correctness, joins forces with the male lead and, after many amusing complications and misunderstandings caused by the ineptitude and illiteracy of those around them, not to mention some annoying children, together make an astounding discovery about the way the world works, and another astounding discovery about the fact that they've fallen in love.

That said, the World War II story in this collection had a new twist, and “Winter's Tale" was different from her usual; “Chance", too, was abnormally dark (though thankfully not as dark as “All My Darling Daughters" from another collection). And of course "Even The Queen" (though I'd read that one before). ( )
  zeborah | Jun 5, 2013 |
This book has eleven stories, three of which were Hugo and/or Nebula award winners. But, if you ask me, these stories are all winners.

Every one of these stories drew me in. They are all well-crafted and I enjoyed the broad range of subjects that she presented -- from quantum physics to menstruation. "Jack" was probably my favorite story to read as it was set during the Blitz and I think she just does a fantastic job every time she writes in that time period. The story didn't get a five though because I thought one tiny aspect of it was a bit cheesy. (If anyone is familiar with the story, I would love to chat about it!) "Ado" and "Spice Pogrom" were comedies and I thought they were hilarious. "Spice Pogrom" was probably really a 4/4+ story but I had so much fun reading it that I gave it full marks. Some of the reviewers on LT really didn't like her sense of humor (and yet they claimed to have loved To Say Nothing of the Dog -- go figure!) but I really enjoyed it. I think I do best with science fiction when there's an element of humor involved, like with Douglas Adams and Jasper Fforde.

http://webereading.com/2013/02/eleven-impossible-to-ignore-stories.html ( )
  klpm | Mar 1, 2013 |
What I learned from this book: I either love or hate Connie Willis short stories. Despite being a big fan of To Say Nothing of the Dog, I am going to have to pass on Willis doing comedy in the future.

I'm not sure what aspect of her humorous writing is the most annoying. Candidates are 1. it feels like there is a (pause) at the end of each zinger (and they are very self-consciously zingers) for the benefit of the reader to schedule time to guffaw; 2. her targets are often one of these knee-slapping topics: doddering professors, red tape (gosh, isn't it silly?), and Idiot Manchild Husbands (did she have a bad divorce or something?); and 3. the relentless stupidity and obtuseness of others, which makes me sad that she has to go through life thinking so many other people are stupid and obtuse.

On the plus side, I very much enjoy her stories that aren't trying to be screwball comedies. In this collection, there was a terrific one about Shakespeare conspiracies and a really good one about the London bombings (although, interestingly, not exactly a Firewatch story).

Grade: Meh. C+? B-?
Recommended: if I had this to do over, I would have ditched the stories I wasn't enjoying and skipped ahead to find ones I liked better. ( )
  delphica | May 4, 2012 |
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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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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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