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Blackout by Connie Willis
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2,0041453,349 (3.84)333
Member:Othemts
Title:Blackout
Authors:Connie Willis
Info:New York : Spectra Ballantine Books, 2010.
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:READ2011, Time Travel, Oxford, London, World War II, The Blitz, Dunkirk, Historians in Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Work details

Blackout by Connie Willis

  1. 160
    Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (loriephillips)
  2. 130
    To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (pwaites)
  3. 50
    Fire Watch by Connie Willis (clee67)
  4. 30
    Farthing by Jo Walton (SusannainSC)
  5. 20
    Ha'penny by Jo Walton (sturlington)
    sturlington: Both set in World War II-era London, one an alternate history and the other incorporating time travel.
  6. 01
    The Little Book by Selden Edwards (becksdakex)
    becksdakex: Time travel, WWII, Change history?
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» See also 333 mentions

English (143)  Polish (1)  German (1)  All languages (145)
Showing 1-5 of 143 (next | show all)
This was a bit of a struggle to get through and I didn't really take to the various story lines for the longest time. Did not enjoy it as much as To Say Nothing of the Dog, set in the same time travelling universe.
There are 3 stories to follow about various people who go back near the beginning of WWII and then find that they are experiencing a great deal of difficulty making their way home again.
I have the next book in the series, but I'm going to take a break from the series for now.
It was 2 stars for me for the longest time and just made it up to 3--but only just. ( )
  quiBee | Jan 21, 2016 |
So Connie Willis has now got the time-travel bug really badly, and has returned to sending her Oxford history students back to World War II. In the time since 'To say nothing of the dog', it seems there's been some re-thinking of the risk rating of different eras, as the university is now quite happy to send individuals back to the Blitz, or to the south coast of England at the time of Dunkirk, because if they stay away from places that the historical records shows gets bombed or attacked, they should be OK.

Except things have a habit of going wrong, and our three historians back in 1940 (plus one in 1944 to observe the V-1 attacks of that year) suddenly find that they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, either because their cover stories land them in sticky situations, or because, well, just stuff happening. And suddenly they are stuck because the time-travel device seems to have stopped working...

Well, that sounds like an ideal scenario for a novel. But Ms.Willis has done a vast amount of research into World War II and London and the Londoners, and it all has to go in. And to get it in, her characters start to live lives of intense mundanity whilst trying to survive, avoid being taken for spies, earn a living and mix in with the contemps. And the author gives us all that as well - page after page of "if I go there, the retrieval team will have to come here to find me, so I'd better go back and leave a message with X and possibly one with Y as well so that they know where to come and find me......" and so on and so forth in ever-increasing levels of detail. It was quite a relief when, towards the end of the book, the three historians in 1940 manage to meet up and begin to figure out that something's gone wrong; but even then, one of them is obsessing almost maniacally over whether he has changed the past by ending up on a small boat to Dunkirk and causing the rescue of one man who then goes back to rescue five hundred more...

I stuck with this because I want to know what happens. But the tiny detail that it happens in defintely began to get wearing towards the end of the book (which is only the middle of the story, to be continued in the second half, 'All Clear'). And that's not all.

The contemps are rather stock characters - doughty Londoners with cheerful demeanors in the face of adversity, apart from the kids. The kids are chirpy Cockney caricatures straight out of Richmal Crompton's 'Just William' books, and for me removed any sense of verisimilitude the story might have. But there's another verisimilitude problem. Willis makes a lot out of all the research she did in the Imperial War Museum and by talking to Londoners who came through the Blitz. But there are wild inaccuracies about Britain and British life that keep cropping up which show that her research is actually very sadly lacking - basic stuff, like having people in 'hospital gowns' in 1940, or British trains having end platforms on the coaches (no, that's only in Western films or, oddly, in Germany), the idea that you'd drive from Surrey over to Bethnal Green in half an hour, or that it's necessary to invent places in rural Warwickshire instead of using actual villages and manor houses (there's enough of those to go around), or that there were hire car companies in 1940, or that someone researching WW2 wouldn't know about air raid sirens or the British putting return addresses on envelopes (THIS NEVER HAPPENS! Just because we put return addresses on letters that get to the USA, it doesn't mean that we do it for everything. We put it on letters to America because we know that Americans do it differently. But I am beginning to get very tired indeed about Americans who assume that everybody else does what they do.)

(I gather that in early versions, Willis included the London Underground's Jubilee Line, despite that having only been created in 1977! There was such a howl of derision from UK readers that this got corrected in later printings, though if she'd kept it in, that would have indicated an alternate history; King George V's Silver Jubilee of 1935 was the signal for two British railway companies separately to create named trains and/or classes of locomotives marking the Jubilee, so a similar commemorative re-naming of an Underground line would have been quite possible! But I digress.)

Even where the author did do her research, she doesn't interpret it correctly. The worst example of that is the V-1 campaign itself. Willis writes about "ten thousand V-1s" falling on London; but she is confusing (and rounding up) the number launched with the number that actually hit their targets, which was more like 25% of the total - the rest falling prey to anti-aircraft fire, fighter attacks, deception measures (digging fire pits along the course of the V-1 tracks to the south of London, suggesting to Luftwaffe reconnaissance that they had undershot, so that they increased the fuel load in subsequent firings, making them accordingly overshoot), and just plain mechanical failures. Any historian would have known that, yet the student in 1944 London is cowering in expectation of an onslaught of V-1s when it failed to materialise.

You'll gather that I have problems with this book. I'm so disappointed that, after the triumph that was 'Doomsday Book', the whole premise of time-travelling historians has gone very rapidly downhill for Connie Willis, in part because of this obsession with World War 2 and an appalling belief that writing about any society you are not a part of doesn't need any broader research. ( )
2 vote RobertDay | Jan 5, 2016 |
Very disappointing. Repetition of the same questions, the same answers, for 450 pages! There's no way I'm going to slog through the next book to see how the story ends. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. ( )
  BooksOn23rd | Nov 25, 2015 |
This was such a disappointing book. I knew that it was the first part of a two parter, but I was still caught off guard when there just stopped being words rather than even a hint of an ending.

I strongly dislike books and film that do this, but I'd have been willing to go on and read [b:All Clear|7519231|All Clear (All Clear, #2)|Connie Willis|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1320549311s/7519231.jpg|9735628] if the story in Blackout was at all interesting. The characters were annoying at best (seriously, WWII "historians" who don't know anything about the war beyond their own small area of interest? really?), and utterly innocuous at worst. Their individual perils were real enough, but it was hard to care much about them when all the peripheral characters were in more danger. The overarching mystery didn't really grab me either.

I just didn't care in 512 pages - it seems improbable that another 600 pages are going to do the job. ( )
  darushawehm | Oct 24, 2015 |
okay, so...I read the Doomsday Book a couple of years ago for a class in grad school and was, no joke, head over heels in love with it. even as someone who doesn't love historical fiction and doesn't read a ton of Sci fi, I couldn't get enough of it. so, since then, I was like "I really need to read more Connie Willis," and Blackout kept crossing my path. I finally gave in....

unfortunately, it did not blow me away. Of the 3 main characters, I really only liked one of them a whole lot-Merope/Eileen. I could have done without michael completely, and I really just found myself confused most of the time.

Granted, part of my trouble with this audiobook could be due in large part with me. my mind has been on other things, and so my attention would drift in and out (and when michael was around, it was out a lot of the time).

the attention to historical detail was amazing, the narration was brilliant...there was just something lacking for me. I didn't feel invested in the characters or the story in the way I would have liked to be. this was just an overall miss for me :-( ( )
  klack128 | Oct 11, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 143 (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 (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Connie Willisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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
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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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