May 2011: SF Book of the Month: BlackOut by Connie Willis

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Hobbit, May 1, 2011.

  1. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    No, it wasn't just you - me too!

    I'm half way through now and finding it a gently engrossing book. Without the backdrop of the time travel it would be a reasonable soap-opera style account of WW2; as it's SF though it's twisted into something totally different. I can really imagine that this kind of thing actually goes on and we have just never noticed!!
     
  2. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    On the topic of blowing up tanks: I loved that whole sequence. He's so grumpy about having to go blow up the tanks...one assumes detonate. Then they're making big balloon tanks. For some reason the whole thing cracked me up.
     
  3. Corporal Blues

    Corporal Blues I like to rock the party

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    Yeah, that scene was pretty funny. I get the sense that Gerald has a larger part to play in All Clear.
     
  4. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    Did anyone manage the cryptic crossword clues on page 320??
     
  5. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    You know, I didn't spend a lot of time with them, but as someone who does a LOT of cryptics, they did seem a little off. But, then again, I tend to do American-style, National-Puzzlers-League-Style Cryptics, so if they're terribly British, I may have trouble with them.
     
  6. Corporal Blues

    Corporal Blues I like to rock the party

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    Nope, I'm a newbie at crosswords, and those ones were even more difficult than the American ones I'm used to.
     
  7. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    Having got 90% of the way through the book, and knowing that it's just going to cut off before the final half, I think I can now safely say Blackout has been a very enjoyable read. All the usual Connie Willis elements are there, both good - the minutiae of accurate historical facts integrated into the plot; the well rounded characters; the tension - and the bad - the repetitive prose; the long winded passages featuring characters just running around looking for other characters. The scene setting was so successful that at times I found myself believing this was really happening and that there were historians amongst us as I read, lost and looking for their drops!

    Stylistically, I wished Willis would stop ending sentences in the middle. Which she did all the time, like that, for dramatic effect. Once or twice was fine; twenty or thirty times was getting a bit annoying. I was not really sure of the success of the 'cliff-hangers' at the ends of each chapter, but it didn't mar the experience. Perhaps the only real problem for me was that the threads involving Polly and Elaine were by far the best: the others involving Dunkirk, the FANYs and the inflatable tanks were just distracting really. Perhaps this will be remedied by the second part, but for now I would have preferred them to have just been isolated chapters that were inserted for interest rather than to return to them more than once. Still, with that in mind, I'm looking forward to reading All Clear later this year.

    EDIT - I just realised the chapters featuring the FANYs were the early chapters of Polly's drop - somehow I didn't make the connection between her leaving them and traveling to London. So maybe my comments about the two best threads in the book should really be that I felt little empathy for the two male characters, whose drops didn't inspire quite the same level of believability.
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2011
  8. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    A couple of other thing that bothered me about this book:

    Nearly everything that happened was the result of someone's - usually incorrect - assumption. Take a look: it's either a person not turning up when expected or someone thinking someone is talking about one thing when they mean another, or a journey taken on the assumption that something or someone will be waiting at the other end...

    Another thing - what's the difference between a divergence point and any other event, no matter how trivial? If, as quoted in the book, a butterfly flapping its wings in one continent can cause a storm in another, surely any action would prevent a time traveller from visiting the past?
     
  9. SuzieOz

    SuzieOz Registered User

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    Hello, I am new here and finding my way around. It took me ages to find this thread because I was searching the SF Bookclub thread/section. Is that no longer being used? I'm a little confused.

    Anyhow, I have put the Connie Willis book on hold with my library ... just have to wait for it to turn up. I presume it is ok to post into June if I haven't finished the book by then?

    I have read two of her books: "Passage" which I loved and couldn't put down and "Bellwether" which left me wondering why I'd bothered. I sent it to the op-shop. I am very fond of time travel stories and am looking forward to giving this one a go.

    Cheers, SOZ :)
     
  10. Hobbit

    Hobbit Now.. A Seriously Likeable Administrator Staff Member

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    Suzie: thanks for joining in.

    Apologies for the confusion, the thread's usually in the area with most traffic, and there's usually a direct link between the thread and the first post in the 'Reading in....' threads, that we do each month.

    The threads at the end of the month are usually archived. However they remain open for further discussion as members sometimes don't get to the book until later. Waiting for the book to turn up can sometimes take longer than expected!

    Mark
     
  11. SuzieOz

    SuzieOz Registered User

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    Hmmm, I think you may be right Mark, although I'm next in queue for this book. Unfortunately I'm 10th in the queue for next month's book, which could apparently take up to 100 days! I might have to buy that one.

    Thanks for the welcome ... :)
     
  12. SuzieOz

    SuzieOz Registered User

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    I've finished this book now and absolutely loved it. I deliberately kept away from this thread until I'd read it as I didn't want to spoil anything, so for some reason forgot it was a Part 1, so at the end of the book I'm sitting in the couch going "oh no! oh no!" ... I've now ordered the second part from my library and am thankfully 2nd in the queue so hopefully it won't take too long to turn up.

    For me the flitting back and forwards between characters worked well, only once I was on the edge of my seat after one chapter and just had to look ahead a couple chapters to read the first few lines to satisfy my curiosity.

    I agree the beginning of the book was getting a bit confusing ... she introduced so many characters all at once, it was a relief when they finally started time travelling.

    Are you sure Kent is Polly? What about Douglas (pg 157 in my book - London-7 May 1945). Is Douglas actually Polly because it is Douglas that gets to see the end of the war. Or are Kent and Douglas both Polly? I must admit these two characters confused me a bit, as did Ernest. They didn't seem to have any real purpose - especially as I was getting to the end of the book which I didn't realise was a Part 1 :confused:

    Anyhow I'm sure it will all work itself out in the next part.


    I too hope that the newcomer is Polly's crush rather than Mr Dunworthy. But his desperate wanting to see St Paul's does definitely suggest that it is Dunworthy.

    A couple of points that irritated me slightly as I'm a bit of a stickler for detail:

    Polly appeared not to bathe or change her clothes (at least not her blouse) or barely sleep for days, yet turned up for work and worked whole days. This just seemed a bit ridiculous. She would have looked (and smelt) terrible.

    Also near the end of the book where Mike, Polly and Eileen are sitting on the emergency exit stairs in the early evening - they sat down, had a bit of a conversation, Eileen went to get food and came back, had a bit more conversation and then suddenly it was morning. So where did the hours go?

    Also when Padgetts was bombed and the three of them saw the mannequins they immediately thought they were dead bodies, whereas no-one else who came along afterwards had the same reaction.

    Just minor points actually, not really important. I am loving the story! I find it very easy reading. I don't know that I'll get Windup Girl read before I start All Clear.
     
  13. SuzieOz

    SuzieOz Registered User

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    I was thinking about this too, and I'm wondering whether it's evidence of the laws of time travel working to make sure the visitors don't change history? It happens so often that I'm sure there must be a purpose in it.

    Everything just seemed to be working against their plans to observe what they'd travelled back to observe - from significant events to small encumberances.

    I must admit I found it a bit frustrating sometimes, especially near the end when it didn't look like Polly, Mike and Eileen were ever going to meet up.
     
  14. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    Glad you enjoyed it. Was it the first Connie Willis book you've read?

    Not bathing or changing clothes more than a few times a week was normal for most people in the UK (and probably the rest of the world too) until about 50 or 60 years ago. It wasn't until the 1950s and the birth of TV advertising that people started to become really self-conscious about their body odours. I agree though that the time travellers did not complain about it even though they would not have been used to it.
     
  15. SuzieOz

    SuzieOz Registered User

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    I've also read Passage which I loved, kept me on the edge of my seat, though the end left me a bit blah. It seemed a bit anticlimactic to me, and sad :(

    I've also read Bellwether, and though it also kept me interested all the way through, at the end I expected something more. I was waiting for the big climax which didn't seem to happen. I wonder is this a Connie Willis trait and am I going to be disappointed at the end of All Clear?

    I also have a book of Christmas short stories she wrote which has some rather interesting tales.

    I am looking forward to reading some others of hers which have been mentioned on this site, like the Doomsday one and another I can't think of right now.

    I agree about the lack of bathing in the era too, I did realise that, but I suppose it made such an impression on me because in the same situation I really don't think I could have coped! Also, she didn't seem to eat much for days either. I couldn't cope with that either. Such a different time.
     
  16. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    I meant to come comment on the wrong assumptions phenomenon. All of her books (in the time-travel Oxford) universe seem to work this way. In To Say Nothing of the Dog I thought it was quite charming because it fit very well into a sort of Victorian Comedy of Errors style, but I found it absolutely didn't work for Doomsday book. Here in Blackout it neither bothered me nor excited me. Not sure if her other books work this way, but I've come to accept that it's a bit silly.
     
  17. SuzieOz

    SuzieOz Registered User

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    Hmmm, this is interesting. I seem to recall in Passage (though it's not a time travel book) there was this frustrating things-not-working-to-plan element too. Sounds like a Willis trait then? It certainly ups the tension, but can be overdone. Especially at the end of Passage, (it was a few years ago I read it), I remember the result of all this tension for me was an expectation that something really BIG was on the way. What did happen just felt all wrong to me.

    Oh well, hopefully the end of All Clear will be happily satisfying, I do love a happy ending ... :):)
     
  18. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    I'm almost halfway through All Clear now and without offering significant spoilers I'm not enjoying it very much yet. It's more of the same, but without as much interesting historical filler....just people constantly being morons and so not explaining things to one another or not realizing things or running off for some silly reason and missing a connection. Plotting through character stupidity is starting to wear thin....
     
  19. SuzieOz

    SuzieOz Registered User

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    Bother, perhaps the novel should have been shorter then?
    I do hope it has a satisfying ending.
     
  20. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    Well, the middle third is entertaining me more than the first third did. I think something actually happened. :)