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All Clear by Connie Willis

All Clear

by Connie Willis

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Oxford Time Travel series (4), All Clear (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,3951005,444 (4.08)255
  1. 20
    Farthing by Jo Walton (ryvre)
  2. 00
    The Little Book by Selden Edwards (becksdakex)
    becksdakex: Time travel, WWII, change history?
  3. 02
    The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie (sturlington)
    sturlington: Referenced several times in All Clear.

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» See also 255 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
Blackout/All Clear.

The two books are really one novel (thanks, publishers, for getting me to pay double!) so there's no reason to talk about them separately.
They're also part of Willis' time travel series, although they're not advertised as such. I really wouldn't recommend starting with these books; I feel that a lot of the questions and criticism of these books that I see in other reviews stems from the likelihood that readers haven't read the other books in the series: The Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Fire Watch. At the very least, you have GOT to read Fire Watch before reading these books.

That said, the books are excellent. Blackout starts slowly, but Willis does a great job of gradually but surely building the tension and intensity of the story, working from trivial humor up to tragedy... (and the tragedy that can spring from the trivial) although it never gets as intense as The Doomsday Book. The pacing is the main reason why I feel that the book should not have been split in two. The end revelations also came dangerously close to getting too sentimental/religious for me... but I think they fall on the OK side of that line...

I found the representation of London during the Blitz to be completely convincing and memorable - I found myself saying, "wow, I didn't know...." And I've also decided that it is virtually incomprehensible that I've been to London over a dozen times, and I don't think that I've ever been inside St. Paul's cathedral. I'm sure Willis would think that was sad and horrifically neglectful.

For another depiction of the Blitz, which also focuses on its effect on ordinary individuals, I'd highly recommend Sarah Waters' The Night Watch. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
So now we are into the second half of the single novel that is 'Blackout/All Clear' and things don’t improve much. There is still much emoting over who goes where, whether or not a message should be left, and how one can get here and there in time to do this or that or to see if someone is there. A lot of readers have turned off by now, but I persevered. And from about half-way through, we actually got some plot movement, at last!

Ms.Willis’ research still has to be shown in detail, though; and the lack thereof. Again, there are all manner of fundamental errors which spring from not doing any research outside of the Blitz, but some surprising ones creep in about the wartime period as well. For example, the difference between the V-1 and V-2 is quite important when it comes to working out countermeasures, but the author has assumed that deceptions by setting false V-1 impact sites to make the Germans mis-calibrate the V-1’s fuel cutoff mechanisms so that they fall short of London would work for the V-2s, when they would not, the V-2 being a ballistic missile. More fundamentally – and this is more a question of the author working through her own invention – why do the time travellers have to do their National Service? Only late in the novel is the suggestion given that they volunteered; earlier, the impression is quite firmly given that they had been called up. But they have false papers and would not be on any official records, so their callups just wouldn’t happen.

The fundamental errors carry on coming; perhaps the most egregious for me was the regular mention of the Agatha Christie novel 'Murder on the Calais Coach'. This book would never have been seen in wartime London, because the book they are talking about was actually 'Murder on the Orient Express', and the 'Calais Coach' title was the American edition. And one of her characters goes off to Bletchley (which Ms Willis thinks they have to travel to via Oxford) to look for a fellow time traveller at Bletchley Park, and when they get there, everyone knows about “the Park” and the people who work there, casually dropping names like Alan Turing’s, even if they don’t know what goes on there. That certainly wasn’t the case in the real world; later, another character talks about sending messages to ‘Station X’, which was code for Bletchley Park – or actually, for the radio receiving station at the Park, which would not have been the receiving destination for other intercepts, and wouldn’t have even been mentioned by other military personnel anyway.

There are plenty of other ongoing mistakes, including some which actually relate to the UK in the 1980s and 1990s but which impact on the knowledge that a historian working in the 2060s ought to have. And again, all the historians who have supposedly specialised in World War 2 have gaps in their knowledge of some of the most basic facts about the conflict, such as it starting in 1939 (I know Americans have a blind spot over this, but these are supposed to be British students), or the date of the invasion of Europe (6th June 1944).

There’s one mistake I can forgive Ms Willis for, and that’s the mis-spelling of the nickname of the character in the 1944 segments called ‘Cecil’, which she spells as ‘Cess’ (as in ‘pit’?). That’s the phonetic spelling of the shortened form of Cecil; the actual spelling, which I recollect from books of the period, should be “Cec” (with the second ‘c’ being a soft one), but I doubt there’s many English people now that would know that, let alone Americans, so although the variant spelling made me smile every time I came across it, I excused the author that.

But after struggling through all this, things do begin to work out and explanations do eventually follow. Personally, I’d worked out the reason why the drops weren’t working long before the reveal in the book – it can hardly be a spoiler if you consider that Oxford has been sending historians back in time in large numbers for twenty-odd years, and they have been interacting with the contemps and the contemporary worlds; with so much interaction with people and consumption of resources, the butterfly effect was bound to step in sooner or later – and the answers to the interpersonal situations are satisfying if a bit self-important. The contemps continue to be rather caricaturistic, but I eventually got used to the chirpy Cockney children (despite their having a tragic and quite likely story, they never become more likeable) and I rather warmed to the old Shakespearean actor.

But the fact remains that this is a badly-researched book, based on an overseas view of Britain that is badly skewed through being based on incomplete information. Ms Willis had a career in the film industry before becoming a writer, and worked on a number of British films, and I suspect that this is where she developed the misapprehension that she Knew Britain. But I suspect that she flew into Heathrow, was taken to a hotel, taken to the studio, taken on location, and then taken back to the airport. You don’t get to know another country that way; you have to travel on public transport, get out on the streets, go to the places the locals go to, shop in their shops, read their newspapers and watch their television; and do this often enough that you begin to get some idea about what makes that country and the people tick, and what it is like to actually live there. (I speak from experience here.) Instead, Ms Willis has relied on her own observations, done her research on the Blitz in a limited bout of admittedly hands-on research in libraries (in the States) and the Imperial War Museum, and filled in what she doesn’t know with the belief that Britain is like America. This is both wrong, and insufficient; and matters are made worse by the way in which she tries her best to put every single item of research into the book. 'To say nothing of the dog' was bad enough in this respect; 'Blackout/All clear' is much, much worse.

This could have been a good book – perhaps the equal of 'Doomsday Book' – if the last two-thirds of 'Blackout' and the first third – or even half – of 'All Clear' had been edited out, and then the manuscript gone over by one or more UK readers who could have pointed out the mistakes. But as it stands, I cannot recommend either novel. Read some actual histories and first-hand recollections of the Blitz instead. ( )
  RobertDay | Feb 5, 2016 |
The second book in a series finishing the WWII time travel story by Connie Willis. A satisfying adventure, as the group of lost time travelers tries to find their way back to the future--or have their actions changed their future beyond recognition and have they lost the war? ( )
  quiBee | Jan 21, 2016 |
The initial piquancy of my contempt for this book has faded (couldn't even sustain my contempt) and I can't be arsed to tear it a new one (arse, that is), but do let me solemnly affirm that it has all the discouraging flaws of its predecessor, Blackout (tabulated in my review of that book, if you care), and that none of the stuff you hope is on a slow burn ever pays off, and the thing where it's like "she had a bad feeling he had been on that bus--and he had! but no! that was another dude who looked like him! but wait, he was right behind that dude! but it's okay, he was okay! but no he has internal injuries but the doctor will make him better but he will take a turn for the worse and die but we will save him because time travel but oh it was all a dream, that thing is absolutely compulsive and on every page (basically, whatever she says, it's the opposite, for 700 pages). Um, and her view of history is like, WWII-->9/11-->"the terrorists blow up St. Paul's with future tech"-->???-->undergrad time travel utopia. And but worst of all, though, the book almost came up with a novel take on timestream physics: we know about the time travel where you can kill Hitler as a baby and change the world, and the one where you can't because it is ordained, and the one where you create an alternate universe and so on, but Willis stood perched on the edge of a really good idea, where we can go back and change things but then the timestream weaves us into its fibres and mends the tear we made, uses us to get everything back on the track it was on, keeping us from going home. Kinda cool, right? Only her take is not fixing the tapestry, not things go the way they go because they are threads and have trajectories and the warp and weft guide the perpetual production of the fabric of things; no, instead things go the way they go because that's how it was "meant to be" because God said so. Germany can't win because the moral universe will prevent it. I wish I could go back in time and not read this book. ( )
3 vote MeditationesMartini | Jun 27, 2015 |
Wow! Such a rich tapestry of a story. I couldn't put it down because I wanted to find out how the story turned out, but in my hurry I missed so much. I look forward to rereading it to more fully unpack and savor the book.

"All Clear" is the second half of the story begun in Connie Willis' book, "Blackout." I've read somewhere that Willis considers this one book/story and not two and it is essential for the reader to begin with Blackout.

This book earned five stars because it is well-written, entertaining and thought-provoking. ( )
  pmackey | May 21, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
For this reviewer, it’s not every day these days that a book arrives that makes you want to jump in the minute it lands at the doorstep. However, after my review of Black Out (the first part of this duology, reviewed HERE) this is one for me. Like many other Connie Willis fans, this book’s been a long time a-waiting for.

After the cliff-hanger ending of the first part, we get straight back into the tale. There’s a little bit of reminding of what went before (note: do read the first book first!) but pretty soon we’re back into the WW2 dilemma of Polly, Mary, and Mike. This can be a little confusing if it’s been a while since you read Black Out: you really do need to read this as one continuous novel.

The complexities of the time travel element become a little more involved here as the apparent changes in Black Out have their effect. We now find that there is a great deal of slippage: over four years, when the longest previously was about six months. Mr Dunworthy finds himself entering the fray from 2060, Mary finds herself involved with an RAF officer, whilst Mike, in his search for Gerald Phipps, finds himself at Bletchley Park and intermixing with the mathematicians involved in the ultra-secret Enigma code-breaking project. There’s also the welcome return of a character from the beginning of Black Out who has a pivotal part to play in this tale.

So we’re combining Enigma or Cryptonomicon with our previous tale. This gives Connie a chance to get away from the seemingly endless bombing of London and the London Underground shelters and tell of the quiet war, with Alan Turing and his team working in intense secret, on devising a computer/machine to be able to break the German’s unbreakable codes.

This is great fun. We also switch between times, as Phipps is in 1944 looking at the Normandy invasions and setting up false trails for the Germans.

However, by this stage it’s not easy to keep all those plot threads going. The Enigma tale is soon forgotten as we look to wider issues and the future. Managing that great balance between telling a tale in a historical context and giving readers a feel of what the place was like in the 1940’s is not easy. To say that Willis manages this is a great achievement.

On the negative side there’s a lot more running from place to place and an increasingly frustrating inability to get to drop zones. This is explained as the tale progresses - it’s all part of the book’s plan – but at times, whilst entertaining, it all seems (until the end) as a little unnecessary.

I’m also not sure that all this running around during bombing raids, and leaving messages for people about V1 and V2 attacks could have been got away with without someone becoming suspicious.

Nevertheless, by that end, the reader may feel, as I did, that they have been through a lot. There is love, death, sacrifice and complications within complications, and yet, in the end, the overall feeling is one of optimism and hope. The difficulties of the war in 1940’s England may have been replaced by bombings and global change in 2060, yet the endurance of the human condition comes through. This is a book that not only appreciates the sacrifices of the past but is a testament to endurance against crushing difficulties. What this book celebrates is that heroism comes in many ways, and not just the big heroic acts but the many minor actions often overlooked.

Whilst it is rather long – clearly a tale that grew in the telling – it is still a wonderfully worthwhile read. Most fans of Connie Willis will not be disappointed. This is a pleasure, from a formidable writer whose storytelling skills are still a treat. I’m very pleased to write that this book sustains its tale for over 1000 pages and it is a wonderfully thrilling and compelling immersive story with characters you care about.

Please don’t leave it so long before the next tale, Connie.

added by PLReader | editSFF World, Mark Yon (Dec 2, 2010)

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Connie Willisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brock, ChalresCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kellgren, KatherineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kennedy, SteveDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Omori, N.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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You will make all kinds of mistakes; but as long as you are generous and true, and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her. --Winston Churchill
To all the ambulance drivers, firewatchers, air-raid wardens, nurses, canteen workers, airplane spotters, rescue workere, mathematicians, vicars, vergers, shopgirls, chorus girls, librarians, debutantes, spinsters, fishermen, retired sailors, servants, evacuees, Shakespearean actors, and mystery novelists who won the war.
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By noon Michael and Merope still hadn't returned from Stepney, and Polly was beginning to get really worried.
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When three Oxford historians become unexpectedly trapped in 1940, they struggle not only to find their way home but to survive as Hitler's bombers attempt to pummel London into submission. Meanwhile, in 2060 Oxford, the historians' supervisor and seventeen-year-old Colin Templer are engaged in a frantic and seemingly impossible struggle to find them.… (more)

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