BLACKOUT by Connie Willis

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Werthead, Jul 6, 2011.

  1. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    EDIT: If you're going to read this, it's fun spotting how many times London tube lines are mentioned that didn't actually exist in 1940 :)
     
  2. Jennifer P

    Jennifer P Registered User

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    ...could you please source reviews when you quote them? It helps people judge them better.
     
  3. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    It's my own review. I'm not allowed to link to the original blog post as per forum rules.
     
  4. Jennifer P

    Jennifer P Registered User

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    Okay.

    Well, I'm going to take issue with it, as it's one of the best books I've read recently, I was not able to put it down until I'd finished book two. Maybe I just like historical novels better than you do, but I found this book to be compelling, well written and well worth the award nominations it's received.

    Art. So subjective.
     
  5. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    I am a huge fan of historical fiction. This book did not stack up well to a lot of historical fiction due to some sloppy research letting down the finely-researched detail elsewhere. The book's primary success was portraying the psychological shock and trauma of the Blitz on ordinary people unprepared for it. Its weakness was propogating the long-outdated Anglo-centric view of the war of ignoring or marginalising the far more important Russian contribution, and a pace which can best be described as sluggish.

    A particular weakness was that the book did not stand up to comparison with the author's earlier Doomsday Book, which had some similar problems but was contained within a single, relatively short novel.
     
  6. Jennifer P

    Jennifer P Registered User

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    But it sounds like part of your problem is the 'Anglo-centric' world view...but how could it be anything else in a book that is about the London Blitz NOT the overall picture of the war?
     
  7. phil_geo

    phil_geo Rat Thing

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    Here's a question for Wert - do you like any of Willis' books? You mention The Doomsday Book but it sounds like all you liked about that book is that it was over quickly. Do you think Doomsday should have won the Hugo?
     
  8. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    1,300 pages, Jeezus H. Christ!

    I'm not even going to think about it.

    Can't people write a decent story in under 400 pages these days?

    psik
     
  9. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    Can you explain what you found compelling about it.

    psik
     
  10. SuzieOz

    SuzieOz Registered User

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    Well, isn't it great that we are not all the same? Life would be exceedingly boring! ... :D

    I am so loving this book. I'm about 1/4 way through All Clear now, and I am so glad it is such a long book because I am enjoying myself so immensely I just don't want it to ever end!

    So there ... :p

    PS. There is some discussion about it here Werthead, if you're interested.

    http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=30950

    Cheers, S

    :)
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2011
  11. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Monthâ„¢

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    Absolutely. It gets on my nerves at times, but that's Connie Willis and that's the way she writes! The benefits outweigh the drawbacks IMO and it would be odd (if not welcome) to read a 400 page novel by her.
     
  12. phil_geo

    phil_geo Rat Thing

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    She must write a mix because I'm looking at my bookshelf and Bellwether is only 240 pages and Lincoln's Dreams is only 230. To Say Nothing of the Dog is only just over 400.
     
  13. SuzieOz

    SuzieOz Registered User

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    Another of her novels - "Passage" - is 780 pages long and I found it totally gripping from beginning to end.

    I guess it depends on what kind of writing style you like. I am really enjoying all the WWII info she includes in "Blackout/All Clear", but hubby (who is reading it also) is finding all that quite tedious and wishes she would just get to the point.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2011
  14. DDCOrange

    DDCOrange Registered User

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    I haven't picked up All Clear yet but very much enjoyed Blackout. I like the way Willis puts the time traveller's with very ordinary people dealing with very extraordinary events. It's a part of history that is too often marginalized; I give her kudos for studiously avoiding the critical historical events and figures (the Dunkirk evacuation excepted) and dealing with the spectrum of everyday figures. I find that I like and even care about them (even the Alf and Binny, definitely two kids from Hell).
    I do find it amusing however that some of the tube stations didn't exist in the war years. Someone really did their research there!
     
  15. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    The Doomsday Book was notably superior, with a better structure with the Pandemic of the mid-2050s unfolding in concert with the Black Death. It really tore down a lot of romantic notions about medieval life. It had some similar problems - if Willis stumbles across an obscure fact about the time period in question, you're going to hear about it whether it's essential to the plot or not - but was a much better book overall. 2050s Oxford is still extremely anachronistic though.

    Of course, the contemps viewing the war through an Anglo-centric view is natural. The Russians aren't even in the war, and it is London is being pummelled (though, it has to be said, that what the Allies did to German cities in reprisals made the Blitz look like a summer picnic in comparison, but again that's beyond the scope of the novel).

    However, the actual time-travelling historians themselves (who know about the entire war and the 120 years since) say things like the Battle of the Bulge and Dunkirk are the two most crucial turning points of the entire war, and in both cases Hitler would have won the war if he'd won those two battles. This idea can be summed up as 'total bollocks'. If any historian today said that in an essay, they'd be laughed out of the classroom instantly. That Willis lets her characters say that and be taken seriously is ludicrous.

    There are also other research problems: a character jumping on the Jubilee line when the British Jubilee was in 1977, which is when the tube line in question opened, was a monstrous failure of research. Assuming the age of sexual consent in Britain is the same as in several American states was also very lazy (it takes 10 seconds to confirm the real age on Wikipedia). The fact that the research in so many other areas is very thorough and impressive actually highlights these mistakes more.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2011
  16. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Hmm, it doesn't sound like Willis to get a lot of the history wrong. And she's usually not bloated, though she takes her time. However, there have been some complaints about this biggie. I guess I'd have to see. I haven't loved everything she's done, but she's done some very interesting novels and short stories.
     
  17. cgw

    cgw Registered User

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    I am close to half way through All Clear and having a hard time maintaining interest. Blackout was fine. Right now I am reading a chapter (of All Clear) or two at a time. It seems like it is running in place and stuck a sort of bad sitcom mode.
    If you invented a time machine, would you let this group of unorganized seat-of-their-pants historians use it? Part of the plot is whether or not they can affect history by their (the time travelers) actions in the past. They are so worried that minor actions will change the outcome of history. It is more likely their stumbling bumbling actions will affect history. Right now my money is on Germany.
     
  18. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Monthâ„¢

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    I saw this in the shops a few days ago but it is unlikely that I'll buy it. It's massive and I don't really want to wade through that much inept bungling for the sake of finding out what happens to a few people.
     
  19. cgw

    cgw Registered User

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    I'm hoping someone will say the second half of All Clear will make it a worthwhile.
     
  20. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    I was certainly frustrated through the beginning of All Clear and definitely found the end to be worthwhile and think it certainly explained my frustrations adequately. But your milage may vary, as always.