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Blackout by Connie Willis
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1,8531343,730 (3.86)289
Member:RabidGerbil
Title:Blackout
Authors:Connie Willis
Info:Spectra (2010), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 512 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:science fiction, Hugo winner novel, Nebula winner novel

Work details

Blackout by Connie Willis

  1. 140
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    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.
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    becksdakex: Time travel, WWII, Change history?
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» See also 289 mentions

English (132)  Polish (1)  German (1)  All languages (134)
Showing 1-5 of 132 (next | show all)
The idea behind this book made me snatch it off the library shelf, but I found myself completely underwhelmed by the opening-- it seemed confused and the teen cast as the main character had motives I found really unsympathetic (I want to go into the past so I grow up and... an older woman will notice me then? What?)

I might give this book another try in the future, simply because of the premise. ( )
  eaterofwords | Nov 16, 2014 |
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!


( )
  jmourgos | Sep 12, 2014 |
My favorite category of time travel fiction sends cautious but dauntlessly curious academic types into the past to research history and Blackout, set during the Blitz of London, stands out in this group because it also includes plenty of humor, lots of period details about ordinary lives, and a large cast of intriguing characters all having different experiences. I loved the story and highly recommend it, but there were a few things that marred its perfection for me.

It’s a long book, over 500 pages, and too much of that length is taken over by the repetitive thought processes of its worried main characters. Also, I was well into the novel before I could figure out its overarching plot direction--lots of interesting things happened but I didn’t see their connections. And then there’s the fact that the story just ends, and I don’t mean in a cliffhanger it simply stops to be continued in All Clear, the second book in the duology.

But in a strange way those complaints actually helped prove to me how great a book Blackout is because even with a few minorly exasperating elements I was still totally invested in the story and characters. Blackout is suspenseful and moving and full of the courage, perseverance, cheerful defiance, and ongoing heroism of WWII Londoners amid bombs, uncertainty and destruction. Plus there’s all those fun time travel paradoxes, conundrums and embedded dangers the main characters have to cope with.

I listened to the audiobook version of Blackout with a wonderful narrator who managed to give distinct voices to each of the story’s many characters. In theory I planned to take a break and listen to another audiobook when I was finished Blackout rather than going on with its sequel All Clear, but no way that ended up happening. I started All Clear during the same car ride that I finished Blackout. The story goes on and so do I.
  Jaylia3 | Sep 12, 2014 |
Mostly enjoyed this. I was almost finished, however, when I found out that it was the first of two books and that it ends with a cliffhanger. I would have waited until the 2nd one was out to read it, if I had know this before I started. ( )
  kwbridge | Sep 6, 2014 |
(This is a review for both Blackout and All Clear, because they are really one book)

Connie Willis is one of my favorite writers, mainly because she combines history and science fiction so very well. What also helps is that her novels are sort of wish-fulfillment for me, because they have historians from the now (well, the future now) travel to the past to study it, even if the historians usually get into trouble. The first book I read by Willis was "Doomsday Book", which takes place in 1300s/2060, well in my favorite historic period, the middle ages. The second book was "To Say Nothing Of the Dog", taking place in 1800s/2060, not my favorite period, but the Victorians are still interesting and entertaining. The latest time travelling historians book(s) is/are "Blackout" and "All Clear", two novels that are one story (they cannot be read out-of-order or separately). This story takes place in 1940/45 and 2060, the Second World War in England. Definitely not my favorite period, too close to home. Because of that I was hesitant to read this story. Eventually the fact that it was by Willis won out over my non-love (not hate) for the period. And I am so glad I did, because this story was terrific.

We're back with the Oxford historians in the 2060s. Several students have trips planned to the past for their research. However, the lab is canceling trips left and right and switching schedules around. Michael, Polly and Merope try their best to have their trips to the past happen anyway, despite being less than well prepared. Merope goes to the English countryside in WWII, as a servant at a country house that has taken in evacuated children from London. Polly is in London during the Blitz, safe because she knows where the bombs will hit. And Michael is near Dover to experience the evacuation of British soldiers from France by the local fishermen.
But the lab had its reasons for being so panicky with regards to the time-travel trips. Because things don't seem to happen as they should. And our students are doing things that seem to affect the past. Could they, by saving one of their local friends or by being caught up in the moment, change the outcome of the Battle of Britain? And how will they return to Oxford, now that the drop sites seem disabled? And is Professor Dunworthy just going to leave them stuck in the past?

Because the historians in these stories are remarkably similar to us (living in relative peace, with advanced technology) their observations of the period of WWII and the people living through that time are very relatable. Even for me, someone who rather avoids any 'entertainment' to do with WWII, these two books were great. I think the fact that the story is contained in England (mostly London and surroundings) and because the people who Merope, Polly and Michael meet are just the regular people from the street, it makes it hit home. People working in a store, trying to keep their daily lives going despite nightly bombing raids. The time-travel adventure (will they return home, have they ruined the future, will they die in the past?) is very good too, and you feel the sense of urgency in the story. Simply terrific, and I really understand why this book has already won the big three awards of science fiction (Hugo, Nebula and Locus) and was nominated for one more (Campbell memorial award). For me, both parts are five out of five stars. ( )
  divinenanny | Aug 3, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 132 (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.
 

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Connie Willisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kellgren, KatherineNarratorsecondary 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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