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Blackout by Connie Willis
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2,2381612,868 (3.85)364
Authors:Connie Willis
Info:New York : Spectra Ballantine Books, 2010.
Collections:Your library
Tags:READ2011, Time Travel, Oxford, London, World War II, The Blitz, Dunkirk, Historians in Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Work details

Blackout by Connie Willis

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» See also 364 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 159 (next | show all)
I'm going to review both Blackout and All Clear as one review, since they are the same story merely separated by the physical constraints of how big a book can be printed in one binding.

Connie Willis drives me crazy. She writes books that by the end of them you're hanging on every word and caring about the characters and situations they're in, within a very cool historical construct that just enhances the drama.

On the other hand, her characters fret and worry about every freaking detail, and her cliffhangers chapter to chapter are invariably false, assumptions that the characters make that are just that. After a while the fatigue of listening to banal thought after banal thought just drives me crazy.

But, somehow, it sucks you in, until you forget the parts that drive you crazy, until somehow, it all works, and the story is told and you sit down and say, "whew". And you think about the book for about two weeks, and think, man it would be a classic if she just had an editor that kept her focused on moving the plot forward.

( )
  bhuesers | Mar 29, 2017 |
In Blackout, Connie Willis brings the same quality storytelling and grasp of history to the London Blitz that she previously applied to the black death in her Hugo and Nebula Award winning novel Doomsday Book. In Willis' novel, historians Michael Davies, Merope Ward, and Polly Churchill travel from 2060 Oxford to 1940 London, Dover, and Backbury. Events collude to prevent all three from returning to their own time when they should and Michael and Merope converge on London to seek Polly's help. Willis' historical background and use of detail help to recreate the long-past world of 1940 England and infuse a sense of tension into the story as characters try to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Additionally, while Willis' version of time travel supposedly precludes the ability to change history, her characters begin to fear that their actions are altering events. As an historian myself, I find the premise fascinating and tempting. Willis writes of the technology and those who use it, "Which is why historians must do on-site research, Polly thought. There were simply too many errors in the historical record" (pg. 100). The ability to verify the historical record would offer a nice advantage, though Willis makes it clear that traditional research would continue to play a role. Her writing blends the best of science- and historical-fiction. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Jan 20, 2017 |
While this is a time travel story it is largely about how people coped on the home front in WWII England. I stayed up much too late at night while reading Blackout. However, it was a good thing that I knew it was just half of the story. I'll be ordering All Clear from the library as soon as I return some others.
  hailelib | Jan 16, 2017 |
***warning: Blackout and All Clear are really one book spilt into two due to length. Be sure you have access to All Clear when you finish Blackout or you will be frustrated! I’m reviewing both books as one due to that fact***

Blackout and All Clear alternate between 2060 Oxford, England, where time travel has been invented and is used by historians to explore the past, and the 1940s England where historians are living through key bits of the London Blitz to get the civilian perspective. Of course, because this is a story, at some point things start to go wrong….
I loved these books. The characters are engaging and likeable. The time travel is reasonable – the rules are fleshed out enough for you to understand the guidelines without being bogged down in excessive details, and it hangs together well enough for the purposes of the story. The problems that the characters must overcome are really more of an excuse to explore the historical time period in more depth, but I did not find them overly contrived or annoying. I genuinely liked the characters, so I cared about their wellbeing and continued fate. There are some points in the middle of the book where I got tired of series of endless coincidences or characters whining about their fates, but it didn’t slow me down and in the end I thoroughly enjoyed the story.
The details of civilian life in the blitz were very interesting to me – it is a perspective on the war that I have not learned much about, and this book has inspired me to go learn more. I don’t know enough about the time period to comment on its historical accuracy, but it seems to be historical fiction with emphasis on the historical rather than the fiction (time travel aside, of course).
Despite being a pair of fairly long books, they were very engaging, kept me up past my bedtime several nights, and were a fast read. Part of this is because the book alternates between several different perspectives, and would often end a chapter on a cliffhanger with one character and then jump to a new character. This can be annoying when you really need to go to sleep, but does keep you turning the pages. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys well written time travel fiction, or who enjoys WWII historical fiction, particularly the civilian side rather than the military battles.
All Clear picks up immediately where Blackout leaves off – no recap, no refresher. Blackout ends in the middle of the story – no mid plot closure. So it really is best to read both books back to back. ( )
1 vote mazlynn | Jan 4, 2017 |
Blackout, by Connie Willis

First Impressions:

I love time travel stories and so when I found out about Connie Willis writing one, I had to pick this up. One of my favorite books of hers was “Doomsday Book”, about historians of the late 21st century journeying back to the Black Plague and how they coped. In that story, Connie weaved a tale of a historian who got a first-hand glimpse of how hard life was, and the people she became attached to slowly died from the Plague – which she, thankfully, was inoculated from.

But I digress! The same Oxford 21st Century professor, Mr. Dunworthy from “Doomsday Book” reprises his role as various characters mingle with him and our heroes gather up their scholarly wits and go off to England during the Blitz (a horrific time, with Hitler bombing England to soften it up for invasion – which invasion thankfully never happened).

The usual format is for the historians to make their observations and return to Oxford, except something is very wrong. The portals that are supposed to open are not opening. And the retrieval team who is supposed to be coming to help in case a historian is trapped or delayed is not coming. What’s going on?

Style & Plot:

Connie writes in a way where we as readers ask the same questions as the historians in the novel – how much longer can I endure this? Why is the portal not opening? Kind of like being trapped on an island with no way off – literally.

Connie breaks the book down into three episodic narratives – Polly (her last name is Churchill, so she changes it for obvious reasons since she’s jumping into 1940), Mike and Merope (who takes the name Eileen) – and jumps to each person’s tale every other chapter. This style is new to me and took some getting used to. For example, just as Mike was shanghaied on a barely navigable boat to pick up British soldiers at Dunkirk we jump to Eileen’s problems with a measles epidemic and then I have to wait three or so chapters to get back to Mike and see what happens. I had to flip a few chapters over to catch what happened! As I said, this style of writing took some getting used to.

Time Travel Trouble:

Time travel is interesting where the historians talk of it, as being unchanging. Yet Mike saved a man who saved 500 soldiers who would have died otherwise – did this change history? Could this be why Oxford never came to retrieve them? That England had lost the war?! Nonsense, thinks Polly. Meantime, Eileen is developing shell-shock!

Exciting scenes include saving men from Dunkirk, as Mike struggles with his conscience – if he helps in the rescue, will he change history? Eileen as she deals with Alf and Binnie, two brats who cause much confusion and trouble – what is their connection in the future? And Polly, who comes across as a bit arrogant in her time-travel knowledge (example: A person will mention a place getting blown up and Polly will think “Oh, yes it will.” Willis does this several times rather than on occasion which comes across pedantic and annoying).

Bottom Line:

Despite its flaws, Blackout develops three characters that we really care about and as the three historians meet and confer and involve their 1940s friends in their lives, I get the same kind of feeling I got on “Doomsday Book” – these people of the past are not just pictures on paper or facts in a history book, but living, breathing humans. Is foreknowledge an advantage or a curse when you’re a 21st century historian?

“All Clear” which is essentially Part II of this series, not actually a sequel, follows right after “Blackout.” You can’t have one without the other, so buy both!

( )
  James_Mourgos | Dec 22, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 159 (next | show all)
Science fiction and the historical novel only seem to be utter opposites. I mean, future vs. past, right? In fact, the two genres are closely related. Both transport the reader to strange, disorienting worlds, where the people, beliefs and social norms are often distinctly alien to a present-day sensibility.

In certain kinds of time-travel stories, it's often difficult to tell the two genres apart. Is "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" historical fiction or proto science fiction? Certainly, Connie Willis's new novel, her first since "Passage" (2001), about near-death experiences, is as vivid an evocation of England during World War II as anyone has ever written. It's also indisputably science fiction. . . .

If you're a science-fiction fan, you'll want to read this book by one of the most honored writers in the field (10 Hugos, six Nebulas); if you're interested in World War II, you should pick up "Blackout" for its you-are-there authenticity; and if you just like to read, you'll find here a novelist who can plot like Agatha Christie and whose books possess a bounce and stylishness that Preston Sturges might envy.

That said, "Blackout" does end with a cliffhanger, which may leave some readers dissatisfied: The whole story won't be completely resolved till October when Ballantine/Spectra publishes a second and concluding volume titled "All-Clear." Still, this is Connie Willis, my friends, which means she's worth reading now, and she's worth reading in the future.
What she's also able to do is to play her reader like a newly tuned piano. Scenes that could be milked for every last mawkish drop somehow get around your defenses and wring out your heart.

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Connie Willisprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brock, ChalresCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brook, CharlesCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kellgren, KatherineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kennedy, SteveText Designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Omori, N.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Potter, J.K.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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History is now and England. - T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
To Courtney and Cordelia, who always do far more than their bit.
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Colin tried the door, but it was locked.
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Book description
In Oxford, 2060, time-traveling historians are sent into the past so they can learn more about the events that have shaped world history, and as a new group of historians, including Merope, Michael, and Polly, travel back to World War II, they find that instead of being simple observers, their assignments are causing history to spin out of control.
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When a time-travel lab suddenly cancels assignments for no apparent reason and switches around everyone's schedules, time-travelling historians Michael, Merope, and Polly find themselves in World War II, facing air raids, blackouts, unexploded bombs, rationing, and two of the most incorrigible children in all of history.… (more)

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