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Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book (original 1992; edition 1993)

by Connie Willis

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5,755273737 (4.11)1 / 692
Title:Doomsday Book
Authors:Connie Willis
Info:Spectra (1993), Mass Market Paperback, 592 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1992)

  1. 244
    To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (amberwitch, Othemts, Patangel)
    amberwitch: A much lighter story set in the same universe.
    Othemts: To Say Nothing of the Dog is a more light-hearted time travel adventure which is sort of a sequel to Doomsday Book. Both are excellent, enjoyable novels.
  2. 152
    Blackout by Connie Willis (bell7, loriephillips)
    bell7: Some characters return in this story, set in 1944 England, and involving similar themes of how people react in a crisis.
  3. 111
    Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (labfs39)
  4. 102
    Eifelheim by Michael Flynn (Ape)
    Ape: Far from identical stories, but both are sci-fi takes on the black death (Eifelheim: Aliens, Doomsday Book: Time Travel.) There are numerous similarities, and I think if you like one the other might be worth looking into.
  5. 70
    The Door into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein (Kichererbse)
  6. 50
    The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer (Sakerfalcon)
    Sakerfalcon: A non-fiction book about everyday life in C14th England, written as though you the reader are there. Kivrin would have found this essential reading to prepare for her journey into the past.
  7. 50
    Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Rubbah)
    Rubbah: Both amazing books featuring dangerous flu like viruses and how people cope in emergency situations
  8. 40
    Replay by Ken Grimwood (Kichererbse)
  9. 10
    The Annals of Ireland by Friar John Clyn (the_awesome_opossum)
    the_awesome_opossum: The Annals of Ireland was referenced and quoted a few times in Doomsday Book
  10. 76
    The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (JGolomb)
  11. 11
    Company of Liars by Karen Maitland (Othemts)
  12. 00
    The Plague by Albert Camus (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Two books that depict how communities deal with plagues.
  13. 02
    Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: This is another book that really brings a period of history to life around you.
  14. 02
    The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter (JGolomb)
  15. 24
    Timeline by Michael Crichton (labrick)
  16. 47
    World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks (cmbohn)

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Showing 1-5 of 268 (next | show all)
The story was a little slow in the beginning, but gathered steam in the middle and ended well. At first I got a little tired of the older professor running around here and there trying to gather information and calling people on the phone who were unavailable. The parts set in the past were written better, and were more interesting. As many characters as there were in this book, they were all interesting and you cared what happened to them. I ended up enjoying this book a lot.

One specific thing bothered me. Badri kept insisting everything went well with the drop, and there was no significant slippage. I know he was ill, but he had a few lucid moments and still insisted these things. I was annoyed when he finally got better and was surprised the team had not pulled Kivrin out. He had many chances to tell them exactly what the problem was, but chose not to. This plot point was unnecessary, as Gilchrist could still have acted as an impediment to their retrieving Kivrin. ( )
  dorie.craig | Jun 22, 2017 |
Some books I review because I just generally like to keep track of what I read, some I review because I love or hate them, and others I must review because they disrupt my thinking and compel me to work through the worldview they present. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis is a book that fits in the last category—certainly not what I expected when I picked it up on a whim.

It's been on my shelf for years, after I enjoyed Willis's more lighthearted To Say Nothing of the Dog. Like that title, it's set in a future time where time travel has been discovered and is used academically for purposes of historical research. Side note: it's brilliant how Willis makes this future world so believable by mentioning its innovations just in passing, all accepted and slanged and business as usual for the characters. It makes for an immersive experience and is so well done.

Anyways, this story is about a visit to the Middle Ages, which had been off limits (rated "a ten") until the historical department Head at Oxford takes a fishing trip over the hols and the Acting Head lowers the rating and rushes a historian into this dangerous age. Not that Kivrin didn't want to go. Idealistic and young, she had entered the college with no other aim. Dunworthy, her favorite professor, did everything he could to stop the drop (as it's called) but she was determined and so was everyone else. But as soon as she's through the net, there's trouble. The technician, Badri, falls deathly ill and with the Christmas holiday, no one else is there to manage things. Kivrin has troubles of her own as soon as she arrives, coming down with the same dangerous influenza as Badri (in the Middle Ages, where standard medical practice was pretty much bloodletting and not much else).

Somehow Kivrin survives and finds herself in the house of a minor noble family. They fled to this tiny village for unspecified reasons that Kivrin thinks are political. Her mission is to observe, to fit in as much as possible, and to be at the rendezvous location the day Badri is supposed to reopen the net and pull her out. But with her sickness she doesn't remember where it was, and there are other complications.

Back in the contemporary world, Badri's influenza has spread to many others, causing an epidemic and quarantine of the college. People are trapped there and it's not long before several begin to die, and the virus source can't be traced. Dunworthy is frantic to pull Kivrin out of the net but there is no one to do it. And that's before he falls ill himself.

All through the novel the characters keep talking about the horrifying plague, the Black Death, that hit England on Christmas 1348 (and reassuring themselves that Kivrin was sent to 1320 with no chance of the slippage that would land her even close to the fateful year of 1348). Spoilers ahead... she did get sent to 1348 by mistake and the story takes a terrifying turn when the bubonic plague reaches their village.

This is where it gets awful. Kivrin herself has been immunized against it, just as an extra precaution, but of course no one else is and these characters you've come to care about, just as Kivrin does, fall one by one into its clutches. The descriptions of its effects are very detailed and very dreadful.

In the midst of all this is the question of God. Where is He when the unthinkable is happening? Why does He allow such extreme suffering? Kivrin battles to save her friends' lives and screams defiance at the God who could watch all this happen and do nothing. And you feel her pain and rage when Agnes dies. When Rosemund passes, after seemingly coming through it. When Eliwys passes, when the church clerk who brought the disease finally dies in a rictus of agony. When Father Roche, that humble, honorable priest, finally succumbs after selflessly tending the many ill. The entire village is swept away and the steward, who dug everyone's graves including that of his wife and six children, digs one for himself and lies down in it to die.

This is the sort of book you stay up late to finish and then dream about, it's so intense. It's not just the action and events that are intense, but the moral and philosophical questions raised by such unthinkable and widespread suffering. I read a description of a mother and baby, both dead, skin blackened by the disease, and think of the horror if I had lived then and watched my children die like this. Or died this way myself, leaving them to die alone. Would I be able to hang on to my faith that "all things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose"? Would I still believe God is good when He did not intervene to save my family from lingering and truly appalling deaths? Even simple, steadfast Roche is shaken by the suffering of the little girl Agnes.

The people of the time believed that Satan had defeated God somehow and was ruling the world, that God was powerless to rescue them. The plague wiped out 50 million people—half of Europe. It's the age-old question; if God is good and sovereign, why do bad things happen? How can He be both?

I don't have a perfect answer to this. There have been many other horrors in our human history that God did not stop. I think of the Holocaust (and, incidentally, the Christians like Corrie Ten Boom who held on to their faith in God even in the death camps). I think of all the horrible things I've never even heard about, the million trillion miseries that fill our planet. I think it's the immensity and severity of the plague years that fix the eye so irresistibly on the question of God's goodness in suffering. In death. Time has softened our perception of plague and it takes a good brave novelist to make us see it in all its horror and ask the questions those people asked.

And yet the Bible is not silent on pestilence. It wasn't confined to the Middle Ages; Scripture speaks of it and I'm sure it's been horrifying no matter when or where it has happened. According to Romans 8, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that includes disease, sickness, and death. I just don't know how that can be experientially true in the moment of seeming abandonment. I don't know how I would respond. I guess I don't have to face it before the moment of testing comes (if it ever does on that scale). I also think, we don't have the widespread plague of the Black Death but we all die, some of us in great pain despite everything modern medicine can do for us. It's easier to smooth over when it's just one person at a time dying rather than entire villages, but death comes for us all. God doesn't intervene to stop that experience either and it happens every day.

And yet, He did intervene. He sent His Son. He did not remove the physical experience of our death but He did remove its permanence. Dunworthy also fights through these questions and concludes that God must not have known what they would do to His Son, and when it started happening He was powerless to stop it. But Scripture tells a different story. That's the one I have to believe. Somehow God is both good and sovereign, even when it seems hell is unleashed on earth.

Yes, I'm still working through this. It is good to be disrupted in my comfortable beliefs and explore the God who is not predictable, not safe—and not afraid of my questions. ( )
  wisewoman | Feb 20, 2017 |

A quote from courageous young Kivrin, the medievalist who travels back in time where she lives among villagers in 14th century English: “I wanted to come, and if I hadn’t, they would have been all alone, and nobody would have ever known how frightened and brave and irreplaceable they were.”
― Connie Willis, Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book by the American author Connie Willis is an amazing, unique, captivating 600 page novel taking place in two times concurrently: near-future Oxford, England and a 14th Century medieval English village. Historian and Great Courses lecturer Teofilo Ruiz recommended this work to me and I’m glad he did – Doomsday Book is a terrific read.

The novel is science-fiction in the sense that those 21st century Brits have the technology to place historians back in time via a sophisticated version of Mr. Peabody’s WAYBAC machine (recall the 1960s cartoon where Mr. Peabody, a bespectacled intellectual dog, and his adopted human son Sherman travel back through time and meet such historical figures as Cleopatra and Nero). Take my word for it here, Doomsday Book time-travel and parallel dramas will keep you turning the pages.

And there are a lot of pages to turn, which prompts me to offer a couple of observations about reading longer novels. Really make the commitment by taking notes, creating outlines and sketching maps; a longer novel is a world unto itself and usually requires years for the author to complete. You will be honoring the integrity of the art form by devoting the needed energy to keep up with the details. The payoff is great: you’ll have the enjoyment of living for many hours in a vivid, fictional reality. Also, try listening to the audiobook as listening will open an additional dimension on the world created by the author, especially the various voices of the characters.

Anyway, back on Doomsday Book. I wouldn’t want to say too much about the storylines and thus spoil for readers because this novel is simply too good and has too many unexpected surprises. Briefly, the time-traveler is an medieval historian, a young woman by the name of Kivrin, who has a thirst for first-hand experience of the 14th century. Her wish is granted and we join Kivrin as she travels to a small medieval village and develops a deep emotional connection with a number of the villagers, including 12 year old Rosemond, 6 year old Agnes, and Father Roche, the village priest. Kivrin is given a very real and direct experience as the villagers face challenges and live the cycle of their days and nights in a harsh, hostile, rustic world. By the time I finished the book, I had the feeling I also spent time living with these medieval men, women and children. The novel is that powerful.

Meanwhile, back in 21th century Oxford, Kivrin’s mentor, a scholar by the name of Mr. Dunworthy, has his own problems with the time-travel technology and unfolding events at his school and in his town. He has to deal with an entire range of people, such as Mrs. Gaddson, an overbearing mother of one of the students, Mr. Gilchrist, a power-hungry academic, Colin, a precocious 12 year obsessed with the extremes of medieval history, Badri, a key technician for the time-travel machine, Montoya, an American Archeologist, not to mention a chorus of bell-ringers from America, including their headstrong leader. Again, I really got to know these people via the magic of Ms. Willis’s fiction.

Like all first-rate literature, Doomsday Book provides insight into what makes us all human, our dealing with love and hate, with hope and despair, with the beauty of life and those ugly and disgusting parts of life. However, there is an added component in this novel: Kivrin, our main-character and heroine, lives in a medieval world with the knowledge and historical vision of the 21st century, which adds a real spice. What a fictional world; what a reading and listening experience (I also listened to the audiobook). My modest understanding of what it must have been like to live in the 14th century has been much enriched.

( )
2 vote GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
Riveting. Very dark. ( )
  jeddak | Jan 27, 2017 |
I had a hard time rating this book. I really liked the historical (Kivrin's) part of the story, but I didn't care much for the present day (Mr. Dunworthy's) part. I realize that the present day part of the story can't be removed entirely, but it's boring and could be pared down. The characters are great, the world building is interesting in a way that only historical fictions can pull off, and the ending is satisfactory. I'll read the next book in the series, but I hope it is a little more condensed. ( )
  ladonna37 | Jan 24, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Connie Willisprimary authorall editionscalculated
Carella, MariaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jacobus, TimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kuittinen, TeroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marín Trechera, RafaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, AdamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sterlin, JennyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
van Son, TomTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vanderstelt, JerryIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Youll, Jamie S. WarrenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"And lest things which should be remembered perish with time and vanish from the memory of those who are to come after us, I, seeing so many evils and the whole world, as it were, placed within the grasp of the Evil One, being myself as if among the dead, I, waiting for death, have put into writing all the things that I have witnessed.
    And, lest the writing should perish with the writer and the work fail with the laborer, I leave parchment to continue this work, if perchance any man and any of the race of Adam escape this pestilence and carry on the work which I have begun . . . " Brother John Clyn, 1349
To Laura and Cordelia - my Kivrins
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Mr. Dunworthy opened the door to the laboratory and his spectacles promptly steamed up.
I'm in a lot of trouble, Mr. Dunworthy. I don't know where I am, and I can't speak the language. Something's gone wrong with the interpreter. I can understand some of what the contemps say, but they can't understand me at all. And that's not the worst of it. I've caught some sort of disease. I don't know what it is.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553562738, Mass Market Paperback)

Connie Willis labored five years on this story of a history student in 2048 who is transported to an English village in the 14th century. The student arrives mistakenly on the eve of the onset of the Black Plague. Her dealings with a family of "contemps" in 1348 and with her historian cohorts lead to complications as the book unfolds into a surprisingly dark, deep conclusion. The book, which won Hugo and Nebula Awards, draws upon Willis' understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering and the indomitable will of the human spirit.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:05 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A grim story of a 21st century academic marooned in a 14th century English village being ravaged by the Black Death. Willis' story is the greatest post-modern time travel story of them all, a novel that combines a genre work with all the required components and a tour de force piece of storytelling.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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