BJ Rose's Reviews > Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
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Sep 12, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: 1001-books, alternate-history, classics, futuristic, historical-suspense, medieval, time-travel
Read from January 21 to 30, 2010

I fell in love with Connie Willis when I read and thoroughly enjoyed To Say Nothing of the Dog, so I really looked forward to reading Doomsday Book. I immediately discovered that the two books had much in common but also much that was very different. There is absolutely nothing lighthearted about this book, although there is much humor sprinkled throughout the modern segments.

Doomsday Book won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards in 1992/93, and I wholeheartedly agree with those decisions. This is a gripping tale of the indomitable will of the human spirit. It begins with Kivrin, a medieval-history student in the year 2048, preparing to travel back in time to 1320 to conduct hands-on research. But a time-slip sent her to 1348 on the eve of the Black Plague. The story switches back and forth in time, focusing on Kivrin in the 14th century, and then on the chaos among her colleagues in 2048 as they try to deal with an epidemic in their own time, which was spread & then made worse by air travel, which of course was not a problem in 1348, where travel was exceedingly difficult and sometimes next to impossible. Modern science and medicine should have made the 21st C. epidemic easier to isolate (which they immediately worked on), and thus to control and eradicate than in the medieval era. But human nature hadn't really changed thru the centuries, so scapegoating was still alive and well and exascerbating problems. So when Kivrin's colleagues eventually realized that she was not where she should have been, and tried to find and bring her home, they faced opposition from a department head who expected this 'mission' to bring him fame.

The anguish and pain and suffering that Kivrin saw and experienced made personal the historical statistics we have read about the black plague. At one point, I got really frustrated with the amount of apparently purposeless time Willis was spending on those irritating bell-ringers in modern time, but I should have trusted her; they definitely had a purpose!
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