Monday, July 4, 2011

Blackout by Connie Willis review- A butterfly flaps it's wings in the future causing the same butterfly to flap its wings in the past and the again in the future and again in the past and it all causes time travelers to get stuck in the blitz

Ever since cracking open “Doomsday Book” I was in love with Connie Willis’ kind of time travel. Every other book you book you read has heroic people going back to rescue lost treasures or stop assassinations-but in Willis’ world time travel is meant solely for one Exclusive group of people. The historians

You see, past events can’t be changed. Things from the past cannot be brought to the future. And people in the past would naturally be very suspicious to be someone walking around in modern garb and speaking a language they did not know (yes, even English has changed so much you wouldn’t recognize its early forms) asking all kinds of questions any idiot should know the answer too. So since the past is off limits for plunder or changing, it falls to what is left. Observation.

But you can’t go just anywhere. Times are ranked according to the danger the historian will be  in (The Black Death, for example, where a girl was accidentally sent to in “Doomsday Book, ranks a 10) and the Blitz and parts of WW2 aren’t that much safer. But three historians manage to get permission to go back to the time period. Eileen studies child evacuees in the countryside under the guise of a maid. Polly works as a Shopgirl in London just as the Blitz is starting-but she has all the targets memorized and knows where to be on what night. And Mike goes to observe the civilian response to the battle at Dunkirk-until he’s pulled into one of the civilian boats himself and injures himself horribly saving a mans life at Dunkirk-something no historian should have been able to do. Something that may have changed everything.

Meanwhile Eileen’s evacuees come down with measles and her drop to the present refuses to open, being practicle-and really named Merope Ward, she decides to go to London where she knows Polly is working in the same time zone as a Shopgirl and use her drop-only she has to take one of the child evacuees with her.

Polly’s not having any luck either. Her drop won’t open and all of a sudden bombs are being dropped and people are dying who were not listed on the rolls she so obsessively studied for her prep.

But in the future (or the present) the big wigs seem to be concerned about a scientists’ theory that the more time travel there is the more slippage there will be.

The war is raging. The historians can’t get back home. And things that never should have occurred in WW2 are happening all over the place. The only hope our time travelers have is to meet up and somehow come up with a plan-before they’re stuck in the past in long no one in the future will every know they existed.

There is a major cliffhanger here- obviously, because there’s a sequel. The other three of Willis’ book’s (“Doomsday Books”, “To Say Nothing of the Dog” and “Passage”) all had multiple narrators but this one really takes the cake. And not only are we constantly switching between viewpoints but it’s often quite unclear what is going on. Not to mention the whole conundrum of time travel not affecting the past but the fact that time travel exists must mean it affects the past somehow.

The writing here is also a little dull for Willis. There’s none of the biting sarcasm from “Doomsday” or the humor from “To say Nothing” or the hopeless joy that filled “Passage.” It’s almost like was a book that someone ordered her to a write.

It was however, majorly educational on parts of WW2, I knew nothing about.

But then again, this is one of those annoying, money grubbing publishing company tricks to make you spend more money where they split one long book into two reasonable length ones. So maybe “All Clear” (the second half) will be better.

Four stars.

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