Didn't start to gel until page 440. Since the story is split over two volumes, that means I was ~960 pages in before Willis settled down to business....moreDidn't start to gel until page 440. Since the story is split over two volumes, that means I was ~960 pages in before Willis settled down to business. There's no question this story could have been told in a single book; Willis could have just left out all the running around and interminable personal questioning.
But how would we gain insight into the characters' thoughts without internal monologues? Would that even be important? Must every monologue be based on questions? How many questions are enough? Is annoying the reader part of the fun? Chekov said, "The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them." Are endless questions Willis' attempt at being literary? Is this really the best way to tell a story?
Uh, no. Still wondering how this won all the awards.(less)
I am at a loss. This novel garnered Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards and the only conclusion I can draw is: the other nominees must have been terrible....moreI am at a loss. This novel garnered Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards and the only conclusion I can draw is: the other nominees must have been terrible. Even discounting the Locus (evidently awarded based on cover art—story quality is obviously not considered), that's still two respectable awards for a colossally repetitive World War II Three's Company episode.
I read this only because I'd already bought All Clear, unaware that it was the second half of this story. These should have been packaged as a single book, because Blackout cannot stand on its own. There is no ending AT ALL, which is especially frustrating given how interminable the set up.
This story suffers from the same issue that annoyed me in Doomsday Book: a mysterious time travel problem confounds our plucky heroes ("Oh why won't my blasted drop open? I do ever so wish it would!") but we have no hope of deducing what it is. Willis drowns us in detail, but not clues, so it's impossible for us to decipher the problem on our own. It's difficult to stay engaged with a story of the form:
1. Deposit hero in bad situation (Dunkirk, Blitz, measles quarantine). 2. Describe, at length, why situation is bad. 3. Send hero back and forth to build tension. 4. Thwart hero's escape at every turn, over and over and over. 5. Cry, "There's something wrong with time travel!" 6. Explain something, or provide resolution/growth (← this never happens). 7. Go to step 1
There are fifty-three chapters of this, at the end of which nothing is resolved. ("For the riveting conclusion to Blackout, be sure not to miss Connie Willis's All Clear." Yeah, right…)
What do I do? Read another 650 pages or ignore the sunk cost and move on? I rated this book generously, considering, well, this book. If I finish the next one and it's more of the same, I'm taking back some stars.
[Update] The second volume is better, but doesn't make this one any less peripatetic or frenzied. The incredibly low signal-to-noise-ratio for this book makes it very frustrating to read.(less)
Clarke is fun to read. It was easy to forget (for me, at least) that this book was completed in the early 21st century, not 200 years earlier. Old-fas...moreClarke is fun to read. It was easy to forget (for me, at least) that this book was completed in the early 21st century, not 200 years earlier. Old-fashioned spelling, free indirect speech, rakes, fops, and Miles Gloriosus are all spot-on. Clarke's alternative history is detailed and interesting.
According to the author, the book was written in fragments, then pieced together. This is noticeable mostly in the footnotes, which are sometimes repetitive, and the occasional meandering digression. Character growth happened mostly off-stage, unfortunately; I can see how it would be hard to establish an arc over many snippets written out of order. Still, the story was entertaining. (less)
Was really hoping for something along the lines of To Say Nothing of the Dog (a little more light-hearted/romantic), and held out hope right up until...moreWas really hoping for something along the lines of To Say Nothing of the Dog (a little more light-hearted/romantic), and held out hope right up until the end. I'm still not sure exactly what to make of the ending, or most of the story, to be honest... There was a fair bit of character development (which I appreciate), but in the end, what was the point? Kivrin certainly appears moved, but her growth—if that's what it was—just wasn't that interesting, and the rest of the characters... Well, they didn't get much of a chance to experience growth, did they?
I mean, is the point of this romp really to put a human face on the Black Death?
I also found the plot "mysteries" incredibly frustrating, in part because it took forever to describe them (the book really would have benefitted from more aggressive editing), but mostly because the reader never had any hope of solving them. If the solution is going to be essentially arbitrary, don't string me along interminably making me think I'm supposed to deduce something. Were these elements MacGuffins?(less)
I really wanted to like this book more, since it combines monsters and historical Seattle, two of my favorite topics. Unfortunately, there were too ma...moreI really wanted to like this book more, since it combines monsters and historical Seattle, two of my favorite topics. Unfortunately, there were too many loose ends and half-formed ideas to make this a truly satisfying story.
First and foremost, Priest never explains why on Earth anyone would willingly stay inside the blighted area of Seattle. There are at least two easy avenues of escape to civilization, fresh air, fruits and vegetables, and a pronounced lack of flesh-eating zombies. Why would anyone stay?
Second, how does this population of masochists support itself? I suppose we might assume they supply the outside with Lemon Sap (a blight-derived narcotic) in exchange for basic necessities, but we learn early on that this can be collected without them. With no believable motivation or means of support, the characters just aren't interesting and the whole plot feels contrived (since it is).
Third, assuming there's a good reason for people to stay inside the wall in the first place, I don't understand why they would dig tunnels down to escape a poisonous gas that's heavier than air and comes out of the ground. Oh, and zombies can't climb. Why wouldn't everyone live as high as possible? Also, if the wall essentially forms a bowl of Blight gas 200 feet deep, then more than half of the Smith Tower's height (at over 500 feet) sticks up into fresh air. Wouldn't that be a good place for a zombie-fearing, air-breathing population to congregate?
Fourth, and it disappoints me to say so, but the zombies were kind of lame.(less)
I enjoyed this book much more than Perdido Street Station, in part because it focused on fewer main characters, but painted them in richer detail. Aga...moreI enjoyed this book much more than Perdido Street Station, in part because it focused on fewer main characters, but painted them in richer detail. Again, Miéville plays with scale, creating unending vistas and (literally) earth-shaking monsters, but this book is less-obviously focused on the epic; it's just a story, and that story just happens to have some big stuff in it.
He's certainly imaginative, though as with Perdido Street Station, some episodes seemed over-the-top—as in, “Let's throw this in, too, just to crazify things up a scooch.” I would have enjoyed the book just as much had it been 150 pages shorter.(less)