Connie Willis is a rotten, terrible person. She’s so mean to her readers, among which I count myself as one of the most fervent, that it’s almost unforgivable. Willis writes science fiction like no one else does: I don’t mean only that the stories are uniquely Willis-esque, but how she tells them is more akin to Jane Austen than to Isaac Asimov. The background of her tales are crammed with big, provocative SFnal ideas, but the foreground is always full of real people living real lives: she tells her stories through what appears to be the most banal of everyday details, while all around those details the most extraordinary things are happening.
As in Blackout, her latest book (and her first since Passage in 2001, and let me tell you that I have never sobbed so hard reading a book; my friend bronxbee interrupted me at one critical point in Passage and figured someone in my family must have died, I looked so torn up). Willis returns to her universe of 2060, which she introduced in her short story “Fire Watch” and then expanded into novel form with Doomsday Book, in which time travel exists but is used only by academics from Oxford University to do field research. Here, three historians are observing World War II in England — one at the Battle of Dunkirk, one amidst the London Blitz, and one with evacuated children in the countryside — and Willis builds up the most extraordinary tapestry of their experiences through such seemingly mundane details as the dark skirt Polly Churchill must acquire in order to work as a shopgirl in London, or the outbreak of the measles that Merope Ward is coping with among the evacuees, or how Michael Davies has to walk all over a small seaside town to find someone who might know someone who has a car that can take him to–
Well, you get the idea. Bubbling behind all the daily living of the historians living and working 120 years in their past are hints that something somewhere has changed from what they know about how the war is supposed to go. Which is bad: the theory of time travel they work under absolutely precludes travelers from making any alterations to the past. And worse, the historians appear to have lost their means of contact with home, which is catastrophic…
Oh, so: Willis’s rotten terrible meanness? I’m busily reading along in this book, hoping for it never to be over but also desperate to find out how it ends, and there got to be not many pages left yet no sense that things were wrapping up… and then it just ends.
The book just ends at a chapter break.
Connie Willis, from her Web site:
For anybody who hasn’t read BLACKOUT yet, BLACKOUT-ALL CLEAR is one novel which was too long to be published in one volume and so was split in two by the publishers. I apologize in advance to anybody who reads the book without knowing that–I tried to tell everybody I could–and hope you aren’t so mad you don’t read the second. I solemnly promise it’s ONLY two volumes, not the teaser beginning to a fifteen-volume series or something, and that the book reaches an actual and complete ending in ALL CLEAR.
Now she tells me…