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All Clear

by Connie Willis

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,9391406,413 (4.06)348
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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  2. 11
    11/22/63 by Stephen King (Navarone)
  3. 00
    The Little Book by Selden Edwards (becksdakex)
    becksdakex: Time travel, WWII, change history?
  4. 02
    The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie (sturlington)
    sturlington: Referenced several times in All Clear.

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English (139)  Swedish (1)  All languages (140)
Showing 1-5 of 139 (next | show all)
I want to read this series again, knowing who I will see again later. ( )
  KittyCunningham | Apr 26, 2021 |
The fourth book in the Oxford time-travel series, and I fell at this hurdle.
There are many things to like about the writing - the vivid picture of the reality of life in England during WW2 being one of the best - but the plot development moves at a glacial pace. I got about a third of the way through and found my attention drifting, and I decided life was too short to read to the end a book that was driving me nuts!
A quick visit to Wikipedia for the plot outline, and I can move on to my next read.
If only Connie Willis had an editor equipped with a big blue pencil. This could have been such a good read! ( )
  mbmackay | Apr 20, 2021 |
"… too bone-weary to sit in the pub room nursing a watered-down pint and spreading false rumours…" (pg. 524)

Given how awful, amateurish and interminable Blackout was, there would usually be no way in hell I'd choose to read its even longer follow-up, All Clear. But as it was obvious that Blackout/All Clear was one book cleaved into two, I felt obligated to 'finish' the story. Perhaps, as I wrote in my critical review of Blackout, the story would redeem itself in the end. Unfortunately, a further eight hundred (!) pages later, it turns out that definitely wasn't the case.

I don't say this lightly, but reading this book there were times where it was hard to believe Connie Willis is a professional writer. All Clear is alarmingly bad. The plot is contrived and the characterisation superficial; the book as a whole is just waffle. All the errors of Blackout return in this second volume: I suggested in my previous review that Blackout could easily be retitled Fake-Out, and the same is true here. The writer is trying to confuse the reader with cheap tricks – name changes, red herrings, melodramatic cliff-hangers, false reveals – all done with such clunkiness that the reader feels insulted and shabbily confused, rather than thrilled or intrigued.

Labouring through this 800-page book, the unlucky reader is stunned to realise that not a single character has ever been in real peril, or come to any harm. They have only been inconvenienced. Just about every chapter involves someone believing themselves trapped, or in danger, or having the sense that they've altered history for the worse (causing the Allies to lose the Second World War), only for the end result to be a complacent shrug and a pat on the head for the reader. Every 'death' is a fake-out; every plot 'reveal' proves (sometimes immediately) to have been a misunderstanding. And yet, for 800 pages (1,400 if you consider Blackout/All Clear to be one book), we're inflicted with the contrived neuroses of multiple characters and the hysterical waffling of the storyteller. It's maddening, and not in a good way.

Consider that All Clear begins by continuing a plot point from the first book: Eileen, one of our protagonists, can't remember the name of an airfield beginning with 'B' that might prove important to getting home (a fellow time-traveller is said to be on an assignment there). Now, let's leave aside the contrived remembrance gambit ("hey, I remember something I overheard, it began with 'B'"). Let's leave aside the fact that we spend the first 100 pages of All Clear resolving this (including running an errand to find an A-to-Z map). Let's leave aside the fact that after we find out the name of the place, we spend some more hundreds of pages there, and let's even leave aside that the whole charade proves to be yet another red herring (it turns out much later in the story that the fellow time-traveller was never there at all). Even leaving all that aside, consider this: Eileen eventually remembers that the place beginning with 'B' was not an airfield (another another another fake-out!), but Bletchley Park. Bletchley Park. She is an Oxford historian from the year 2060. Bletchley Park is one of the most famous place names in any WWII history. As with the 'Anderson shelter' nugget I mentioned in my review of Blackout, you have to ask: where in the hell had this 'historian' built up her working knowledge? She wouldn't pass History GCSE. It's like being trapped in Ancient Rome and saying, "I remember, it began with a 'C'," and then, one hundred pages later, saying, "Oh, I remember, it's the Colosseum." We spend *hundreds* of pages on this Bletchley Park red herring (and it's not entertaining writing, either), only for Eileen to say: "Isn't it an airfield?" (pg. 122). Imagine I could reach through your screen from this review and wave my hand in front of your face for a few moments, and then I just slapped you hard in the face. That would give you a sense of what it's like to read this book.

It's far from the only example in this tedious pantomime. We have a parrot who can imitate an air-raid siren (pg. 106), only there to provide yet another contrived cliff-hanger chapter ending as our characters think an attack is about to happen and they're in danger. We have characters going by pseudonyms, for no other reason than so that the reader doesn't find out they are alive in different times/storylines, which is such a cheap trick it makes me hate the author. We have a character who has spent two full books worrying that he is altering history, who then decides that he should tell two characters, who are at real risk of being captured by the Germans, the real date of the upcoming D-Day invasion. Why? Because he liked them and he "owed them the truth" (pg. 540). To make it worse, this character is someone working on the Fortitude intelligence operation designed to mislead the Germans about D-Day, and who later freaks out that he himself has been captured by the Germans and that because of this, they'll find out the real date of the invasion (pg. 675). If there had been a cat around when I was reading this book, I would have kicked it, and I wouldn't be sorry. You won't be surprised to learn that this 'capture' is another another another fake-out, though. I don't know what's worse; the contrived nature of the hysteria, the flip-flopping on the characterisation, or the fact that none of it makes a mouse-fart of difference to subsequent events in the plot.

I could provide dozens more examples, but suffice to say the book a ridiculous and contemptible mess. All the fake-outs and plot coincidences are amateurish, but they all pile up to such an extent that the book (and the writer) begin to seem grossly incompetent. As a reader, it's hard to pay attention to any of the turns the book makes, simply because so many of them prove to be fake-outs. After the first few hundred times, it's impossible to take the time to process a character beat, or digest a new piece of information they've learned, or listen to their theories, or even grieve their death, because you know that you only have to turn the page to learn that it's wrong; a misunderstanding, a red herring, or an amateurishly-written piece of suspense.

All of this is a continuation of Blackout's metaphorical bed-wetting, of course, but the truly unforgivable thing about All Clear is that the ending does not, after all, redeem the story. Quite the opposite: it's a clumsy and woolly piece of hand-waving. Without revealing any spoilers for those dumb enough to follow me down Connie Willis' poorly-dug rabbit-hole (particularly after the warning provided by this review), I have to say that the ending doesn't provide any catharsis, nor does it make any sense as to why certain people were saved for a purpose we still don't know, or what the time-travel force was (God?) that was manipulating the continuum and closing the drops and orchestrating events.

For any book, this would be a poor show; for such a lengthy book which insults the reader's intelligence and tests their patience on every page, it's an abominable crime. All the allusions to a 'pandemic' and to a 'pinpoint bomb' destroying St. Paul's before the year 2060 are also confusing: they prove to have no bearing on the plot. I kept thinking there would be an ingenious connection between the St. Paul's of the Blitz and the destroyed one of the future, some plot that was uncovered or some time rift healed, but it never comes up. From what I've heard, it seems to be something reflected in the author's other time-travel stories, but I'm certainly not going to read them to find out what. Blackout/All Clear isn't a good advert for any other titles Connie Willis might be offering.

This has turned into a bit of a rant, rather than a review, but it's hard to assess a piece of writing that is so far below any objective standard of storytelling, or even of comprehensibility. It's infuriating to try to figure out how a respected author could write this and be happy with it, how an editor could sign off on it, and not least how this scatter-brained piece of incoherent, self-indulgent waffle could win both the Hugo and the Nebula awards. I almost wish Connie Willis had been trolling us: "if we should happen to get separated, we can't afford to waste time running around looking for one another," one character says on page 311, in a two-book combo that spends 1,400 pages doing precisely that. Let me reach through the screen and slap you in the face again.

I've read God knows how many books, and written reviews on just under nine hundred, and this is one of the few where my confidence in the author bottomed out completely, and irretrievably. This is woeful. The fake-outs, the amateurish writing, and the lack of even simple, coherent thought all destroy the story experience. It's an appalling excuse for a novel. There may have been a passable 300-page story in here at one point, in the initial embryo of the idea, but why Connie Willis and her editor decided it should be a two-volume, 1,400-page tub of bilge is something that is not at all clear. ( )
4 vote MikeFutcher | Feb 22, 2021 |
This is a direct sequel to Blackout and if you haven’t read that you’ll have no idea what is going on here. Really they should probably have been combined into one book. This book starts off in 1940, and Polly, Mike, & Eileen are trapped in London. They are all historians. But these historians do more than research papers and artefacts. They have travelled back in time to research the actual life of their subjects. Mike was researching everyday heroes. Polly had been investigating how people coped with the Blitz, and Eileen’s assignment had involved the children evacuated from London. But none of them could get their drops to reopen and they are now trapped in 1940s London. And faced with the possibility that they are trapped because one of them has done something to introduce a discrepancy! And maybe even lost the allies the war! But historians can’t alter the past, can they?

If you remember my review of Blackout then you may recall that I said it was a bit slow to start. Well this doesn’t suffer that problem, however it did take me a chapter or two to remember exactly what had been going on. So if you are planning on reading these I’d have both to hand so there isn’t a gap between them. That way it’ll just read like one really long book, which is how I think it should be read.

And like the first there is loads of fascinating details and historical bits and pieces. If you are a fan of historical fiction you’ll enjoy this part of the story. It was certainly my favourite bit. But the whole mystery surrounding why exactly they were stranded wasn’t that great. And the characters spent too long trying to protect each other from the truth. Come on, you are supposed to be professionals at this business. Don’t be hiding crucial information from each other.

All clear has some great writing. It is very easy to read, and you don’t really want to put it down. But at the same time I felt it was overlong. And bits definitely could have been left out. For a while it felt like the characters were just going in circles, which was accurate in one respect as they tried to solve their own problem and mystery, but at the same time it was annoying to read. Of course, this far into the books you’ll just have to push on through and find out what happens everyone in the end.

The end…

I didn’t like it. For reasons I can't go into here on account of spoilers. (They are on my blog review though)

But maybe I’m just too cynical :) And despite all my complaints in this review I did enjoy this book. I just think it’d be twice as good if it and Blackout were merged and at least a quarter of each gotten rid of.
  Fence | Jan 5, 2021 |
This is the second part of a two book series about the Oxford team of time travelers. I like this idea and this series but after listening to this book I have some considerations.

I know this book won prizes and many people like it a lot but for me it fell into a trap any book could fall into: getting the plot and plot twists figured out too early. Some books recover well by telling a well spun story that would be enjoyable the fourth time as well as the first but not this one. I concede that it might be partly from the narrator's way of trying to force urgency and stress into the narration, which becomes a little too much.

So I'm sad to not be able to say I liked the book more because I wished that I had done so. Still, if you liked the first book (Blackout) you better keep on it. ( )
  bratell | Dec 25, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 139 (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

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Connie Willisprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brock, ChalresCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Crouzet, IsabelleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kellgren, KatherineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kennedy, SteveDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kern, ClaudiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Omori, N.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Potter, J. K.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wintrebert, JoëlleTranslatorsecondary 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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.

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