This book provided an incredibly vivid and in-depth look at life in ancient Rome and the birth of Christianity. I really enjoy Durant's style of writi...moreThis book provided an incredibly vivid and in-depth look at life in ancient Rome and the birth of Christianity. I really enjoy Durant's style of writing, which is clear, rational and often littered with ironic humor. I can't wait to get started on the next volume in the series, The Age of Faith.(less)
Connie Willis' newest novel, Blackout had a lot of things in its favor even before I read the first page: (1) it was written by Connie Willis, whose w...moreConnie Willis' newest novel, Blackout had a lot of things in its favor even before I read the first page: (1) it was written by Connie Willis, whose work I admire; (2) it's a time-travel story, which is a minor passion of mine; (3) it takes place in London in World War II, a setting which pushes more of my buttons. When I started reading it, I knew I would not be disappointed. The story follows three "historians" from Oxford, circa 2060, who are researching aspects of the Blitz in London. They do this by traveling back in time and embedding themselves in various events.
The story is rich with the setting and details of the period. The amount of research I imagine it must have taken shows through in the fine detail of what life must have been like during the Blitz. Having been to London, roamed the city and the Underground, I could picture very well where the events took place. Connie Willis' fabulous description, and especially, the little details she adds, helped complete the picture of what it was like 70 years ago, with bombs falling overhead. The characters come to life, too, and Willis even captures some rather witty examples of the British sense of humor that had me laughing out loud.
But the story has another layer, one which gradually build in tension: time travel itself, and its implications. More and more it appears that the historians are finding themselves stuck in 1940 London. The usual methods of extraction do not appear to be working. And no one knows why.
The writing really helps make the story come alive. Connie Willis is a master at this. The words on the page disappear and you feel embedded in the scenes, the sounds of the exploding bombs shuddering your bones, the droning of the airplanes rattling your teeth. She makes it look so easy, and yet if it were this easy to write a good story, everyone would be able to do it.
I don't give out 5-stars for books very often. (The last piece of science fiction to which I gave 5-stars was Joe Haldeman's The Accidental Time Machine.) I don't have hard and fast rules for this kind of thing, but there are 2 things that clue me in to the fact that what I am reading is 5-star material: first, it's a page turner, one that I can't seem to put down. I ended up finishing this book between 3-4 am simply because I woke up and had to know how it ended. Second, if I find myself getting close to the end of a book and wishing there was more, I know I've got something that's worthy of 5-stars. Both apply to Blackout. And yet--in this rare instance, my wish is coming true. For Blackout is really just the first half of the story. The second half of the story, All Clear is scheduled for a fall release. So the story will continue.
This leads to one of two minor issues I found with the book. First, the fact that the story ends abruptly with a cliff-hanger means that people will have to wait to find out how things turnout, and some people may find that frustrating. Second, it seems there are ways that our stranded time-travelers could make contact with their colleagues in the future--some fairly obvious ones--but those are not considered by characters. At least not in the first half of the story. (Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity hints at one possible solution--something that was also used in the Back to the Future series.)
Regardless, this was an absolutely wonderful read and I no eagerly await the conclusion of the story, desperately hoping it will be as good as the opening.(less)
Absolutely stunning, heartbreaking and joyous, hilarious and devastating. I used to think The Time Traveler's Wife was one of the best time travel sto...moreAbsolutely stunning, heartbreaking and joyous, hilarious and devastating. I used to think The Time Traveler's Wife was one of the best time travel stories I'd ever read, but Blackout/All Clear sets a new bar. Connie Willis is amazing.(less)
There are 3 things that I really enjoy reading: science fiction, science and history. Kim Stanley Robinson's latest novel, Galileo's Dream is a terrif...moreThere are 3 things that I really enjoy reading: science fiction, science and history. Kim Stanley Robinson's latest novel, Galileo's Dream is a terrific fusion of all three. It took me a longer than usual time to read this book, which I started in late December. But despite the interruptions, I kept coming back to the book because it intrigued me. It is a fascinating, fictionalized look at Galileo's life, and his struggle with the Catholic Church, a struggle which in some ways parallels the struggle taking place in the future with a newly discovered intelligence on the moons of Jupiter.
The novel has something for everyone: time travel, historical fiction, space ships, far future societies, first contact, high technology. But the main thrust of it centers around Galileo's life in Italy, his friends and family, and his evolution as the "first scientist". Interestingly, the copyright page on the Kindle edition calls the book a "work of historical fiction". Indeed, but both past and future history must be included in that broad categorization.
Stephen King’s most recent book, 11/22/63, is a time-travel adventure about a man from 2011 who uses a time “bubble” to attempt to prevent the Kennedy...moreStephen King’s most recent book, 11/22/63, is a time-travel adventure about a man from 2011 who uses a time “bubble” to attempt to prevent the Kennedy assassination. Writing a book like this is a bold move on the part of Mr. King. In the science fiction realm, time-travel stories are rampant and can easily become cliched and overdone. Furthermore, the Kennedy assassination is a kind of Grand Central Station for time travelers in fiction. It has been done in stories, books and television. So combining the two yet again was something of a risk. But after reading 11/22/63 it was a risk that I am grateful that Stephen King decided to take. The book is an outstanding example of what can be achieved when two over-used story lines are looked at with fresh eyes and a fresh approach. I loved the book from start to finish and most of the time had difficulty putting it down.
The story is told from the point of view of Jake Epping. Jake is a teacher in Maine. His friend, Al Templeton, who runs the local burger joint, lets him in on a little secret. In the back of the burger joint is a portal into 1958. It is a little hard for Jake to accept until he tries the portal for himself. Al has been back to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination, but is sick with cancer and passes the torch to Jake. Before Jake can try to prevent the Kennedy assassination, he first needs to prove to himself that the past can be changed and affect the future. This little side quest takes Jake on an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride through familiar territory: Derry, Maine, in 1958. After his hard fought success, he returns to 2011 and decides to take on the mission to prevent the Kennedy assassination. This means living in the past for 5 years. And meeting someone special and falling in love. I won’t give away the ending but it is equally as thrilling as the rest of the book.
Rather than use tried and true tropes of time-travel stories, King takes what seems to me to be a unique approach: each time you go through the portal, everything is reset back to the same day in 1958. This adds an important plot complication. Anything you’ve done to change the past is undone once you return through the portal to 1958. It means that if something goes wrong along the way, say, several years into Epping’s efforts, he can just go back directly to the point where things went wrong, but he has to start over from the beginning, much like a video game.
Jake Epping’s character is well-developed, like all Stephen King characters and the story is told from his point of view and in his voice, which becomes familiar and comforting. And there is a wonderful surprise for long-time Stephen King readers: some familiar settings, some familiar background stories, and even some familiar faces during the time Jake Epping spends in Derry, Maine.
The Kennedy assassination thread is also very well handled. King mentions possibly conspiracy theories, but proceeds under the assumption that it was a lone gunman and that helps to move the story along and avoid getting bogged down that has been rehashed in plenty of other books and movies. This is not a book about the Kennedy assassination. It is much more about the effect people have on the world around them–and each other.
Most of all, this was a fun book to read, an edge-of-your-seat thriller with just the right amount of mystery, mystique, adventure, romance, and humor thrown in for good measure. Yes, humor. The funniest scene I’ve ever read is contained within these pages. Don’t worry: you’ll know it when you see it. This read is well-deserving of 5-stars.