Connie Willis: Blackout / All Clear [Mild Spoilers]
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Author:  PeterScott [ Sun May 08, 2011 5:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Connie Willis: Blackout / All Clear [Mild Spoilers]

I actually get to review some science fiction for once. This is a single 1800 page novel that was split in two due to the physical limitations of book binding. In 2060 historians travel to the past to observe events from a more intimate perspective. These novels are concerned with the adventures of several such historians in World War 2 in England, mainly Dunkirk and the Blitz.

These books sparked in me an appreciation for understanding what daily life was like back then, in which respect they delivered in spades. I am motivated by the fact that my father was in the army and helped liberate Europe (in some role he did not elaborate on, but we know he was on Churchill's staff and went to France), and my mother was evacuated.

Connie's books gave me a new appreciation for what those people went through. Brief documentaries are inadequate, as were the numerous museums, exhibits, and artifacts my parents dragged me through as a child. These books helped. But I do not know whether anyone without that motivation would sit still through these books while numerous chapter endings suggest a dramatic plot turn that is swiftly demolished a few pages later. It got annoying. The fact that eventually a perfect rationale for the demolitions emerged did not retroactively cure the annoyance.

The ending is poignant and memorable because by that point I had real empathy for and identification with the main characters, and there was much bittersweetness in the last thirty pages. Until that point I was content to treat it as a "you are there" journey to the past, a time and place we could all learn more from. The books also contain two of the most appealing urchins in literature. Connie must have a real soft spot for them.

The verisimilitude is perfect - I caught about four tiny errors (the one that comes to mind is when a character refers to a price as so many "p" - that term didn't come about until decimalization in 1970, and no one used it as an abbreviation for "penny" before then; neither did they say "d" out loud even though prices were written that way, it would have been "nine pence"). There was far more there that I wasn't aware of, the kind of detail that requires painstaking boots-on-the-ground research.

And Connie is of course the newest Heinlein Society director. So I hope she doesn't mind some of the negative aspects of this review, because her books achieved far more positive results, and gave me a new topic of interest to pursue and affect change in my philosophy. Much more than one can say for your average novel.

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