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Oxford Time Travel #1

Tuomiopäivän kirja

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Scifin mestarin jo klassikoksi noussut menestysromaani aikamatkasta keskiaikaan

”Olen pahassa pulassa, herra Dunworthy. En tiedä missä olen, enkä osaa puhua paikallista kieltä. Eikä se ole edes kiperin ongelmani.”

Vuonna 2054 opiskelijatyttö Kivrin lähetetään keskiaikaan. Hänen opettajansa professori Dunworthy pelkää pahinta. Hän on itse käynyt lähimenneisyydessä, mutta 1300-luku oli vaarallista ja synkkää aikaa.

Dunworthyn pelko osoittautuu aiheelliseksi. Mikään ei suju suunnitelmien mukaan.

”Tarina on tunnelataukseltaan vahva, jopa järkyttävä. — Kannattaa tutustua – myös niiden, jotka eivät tavallisesti scifiä lue, niin yleispätevää Willisin sanottava on.” – Kaleva

828 pages, Hardcover

First published June 5, 1992

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About the author

Connie Willis

257 books4,233 followers
Constance Elaine Trimmer Willis is an American science fiction writer. She is one of the most honored science fiction writers of the 1980s and 1990s.

She has won, among other awards, ten Hugo Awards and six Nebula Awards. Willis most recently won a Hugo Award for All Seated on the Ground (August 2008). She was the 2011 recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA).

She lives in Greeley, Colorado with her husband Courtney Willis, a professor of physics at the University of Northern Colorado. She also has one daughter, Cordelia.

Willis is known for her accessible prose and likable characters. She has written several pieces involving time travel by history students and faculty of the future University of Oxford. These pieces include her Hugo Award-winning novels Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog and the short story "Fire Watch," found in the short story collection of the same name.

Willis tends to the comedy of manners style of writing. Her protagonists are typically beset by single-minded people pursuing illogical agendas, such as attempting to organize a bell-ringing session in the middle of a deadly epidemic (Doomsday Book), or frustrating efforts to analyze near-death experiences by putting words in the mouths of interviewees (Passage).

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,423 reviews
Profile Image for Joel.
556 reviews1,665 followers
January 23, 2011
Somehow, by the year 2053, we'll have invented time travel but lost the use of cell phone technology. You'd think that was a pretty good trade-off, right? Well, if you've read a few of Connie Willis' "future historian" time travel books, you know that we're probably better off as we are, because without cell phones, it seems humanity would spend most of its days in fevered attempts to place calls by landline video phone, narrowly missing one another, encountering busy circuits, unable to locate anyone not at his home or office. This would go on for hundreds of pages.

Or look at it this way: Connie Willis really needs an editor. Because this is 1/2 of a fantastic book grafted to 250 pages of tiresome running about with no real purpose. This is the same format Willis prefers for all of her longer works: lots of really great writing and compelling characters, but you have to wade through a bunch of repetitive "funny bits" to get to them, most of which seem to have to do with telephones. I also could have done without nearly a dozen scenes of characters almost dispensing vital information, then falling into unconsciousness.

But after a few hundred pages, all the annoying stuff is over with and suddenly you're falling in love with all of the characters, and dreading what's going to happen to them, especially the ones in the Middle Ages, because the Black Death wasn't known for leaving a whole lot of survivors. And I'll say one thing for Willis, she isn't afraid to kill characters you like, and here she kills a lot of them. The end of the book is profoundly sad, and only a tiny bit uplifting; the ultimate message is that there is value in the struggle even if the outcome is failure. And yet it's not a depressing read, somehow. It's also not quite as gross and plague-y as you might fear, with only a small portion of the text devoted to lancing sores and vomiting blood. So that's always nice.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
783 reviews12.4k followers
April 25, 2023
The Middle Ages are a shady back alley of history. They are a juvenile delinquent to which all the 'proper' historical eras give the proverbial side-eye.
“Life expectancy in 1300 was thirty-eight years,” he had told her when she first said she wanted to go to the Middle Ages, “and you only lived that long if you survived cholera and smallpox and blood poisoning, and if you didn’t eat rotten meat or drink polluted water or get trampled by a horse. Or get burned at the stake for witchcraft.”
And yet, despite the filth, the ignorance, the ever-present dangers, the rats and the Plague - the dreaded Black Death that wiped out a third to a half of Europe - a young Oxford history student Kivrin Engle gets her way: to be sent to the Middle Ages for a few weeks of full-immersion research armed with nothing else but a voice recorder to create her own version of the Domesday Book, an account of what it was to live in those times.
“She’s seven hundred years from home, Dunworthy thought, in a century that didn’t value women enough to even list their names when they died.”

Nothing could go wrong on this carefully planned time travel, of course - well, except for nothing going as expected: the sudden severe illness, the incomprehensible language that apparently was very different from what we thought Middle English was supposed to be like, the inability to find the place from which she is supposed to be transported back into the present. Oh, and a slight mistake that happened during her time travel - the mistake Kivrin is unaware of, the one that resulted in her arriving not in the relatively boring 1320, but in a slightly more eventful 1348, the year the Black Death made in appearance in England. “People who have the plague don’t wonder if they have it. They’re too busy dying.”
“Nothing, she thought. There’s nothing you can do. It swept through village after village, killing whole families, whole towns. One third to one half of Europe.”


Despite what textbooks have you believe, history is not only about the columns of dates, the battles, the pivotal events, and the decisions made by those in power. History is about people, and even though everything around them may change over hundreds of years, people remain the same in their essential humanity.
“They’ve all died, she thought, and couldn’t make herself believe it. They’ve all been dead over seven hundred years.”
And that's how Doomsday Book packs such a powerful emotional punch with the sci-fi time travel story turned historical observation turned historical tragedy. Because Connie Willis makes you, the reader, slowly inhabit the world she imagines and come to care about the people she creates. To me, the bunch of characters in the story of the Middle Ages slowly became people, with realistic flaws and strengths, with motivations and desires that are colored by the gap of seven hundred years and yet so relatable in their humanity, and with lives unfolding along their own trajectories until an unstoppable force of nature rolls over them, leading to a tragedy grief-stricken Kivrin can best compare to "The slaughter of the innocents.”
Through the strength of Willis' writing, they come to life, reflecting history the way it unfolds - through the stories of people who live that history, strands blending together to create a broad tapestry.
“Kneeling on St. Mary’s stone floor she had envisioned the candles and the cold, but not Lady Imeyne, waiting for Roche to make a mistake in the mass, not Eliwys or Gawyn or Rosemund. Not Father Roche, with his cutthroat’s face and worn-out hose.
She could never in a hundred years, in seven hundred and thirty-four years, have imagined Agnes, with her puppy and her naughty tantrums, and her infected knee.
I’m glad I came, she thought. In spite of everything.”
The trivial concerns, the petty squabbles, the bloated righteous selfishness - all of this disappears once the horror strikes, and it's the last third of the book that becomes so powerful as we through the eyes of Kivrin see the tragedy that cannot be stopped, see the people who rise above the everyday pettiness and become heroes when necessity calls.

And as Kivrin at first almost mantra-like hopefully and then with the tired and angry resentment recalls the percentages that perished in the Black Death onslaught, the realization hits - it does not matter whether everyone died or some survived because they all, every single one, the brave and the weak and the innocent and the scheming and the petty and the evil and the stupid and the saint-like - they all mattered, all of them, every single one, "frightened and brave and irreplaceable".
“I wanted to come, and if I hadn’t, they would have been all alone, and nobody would have ever known how frightened and brave and irreplaceable they were.”

This bell, as we all know, "tolls for you" - tolls for all of us.


And yet I know this book was not nearly perfect, despite my sincere love for it. I see where those who found this book unpalatable come from. There is a reason why, after devouring this book twice in a month, I reread it again - but only half this time, skipping all the modern day chapters and instead choosing to remain in the Middle Ages with Kivrin. Because yes, the present-day parts have flaws that stand out like a sore thumb. The endless scrambling around to get a hold of someone just to figure out that the landlines are not working properly. The characters inserted for little but comic relief. The seriously stretched parallels to the things Kivrin experiences in the Middle Ages. The most annoying child character since that kid in the second Indiana Jones film (Colin, you make me go into a near-murderous rage every time your 'necrotic' whine appears on page!).
“Most of it was terrible,” she said softly, “but there were some wonderful things.”
But all this - at least for me - is so easily overshadowed by the magic the Middle Ages sections hold. And all this, as I discovered, is so easy to just flip through and ignore while searching for the next Kivrin section. And so to me the flaws are there, but not quite there, and I choose to skim them without hesitation.

Because falling in love with a book is no different than falling in love with a person. You don't stop seeing the flaws; it's just that the connection you feel is stronger than any flaws can ever be.
“I got it all on the corder,” she said. “Everything that happened.”

Like John Clyn, he thought, looking at her ragged hair, her dirty face. A true historian, writing in the empty church, surrounded by graves. I, seeing so many evils, have put into writing all the things that I have witnessed. Lest things which should be remembered perish with time.

Kivrin turned her palms up and looked at her wrists in the twilight. “Father Roche and Agnes and Rosemund and all of them,” she said. “I got it all down.”
Profile Image for Conrad.
200 reviews312 followers
March 24, 2007
What I find most objectionable about this book is its apparent lack of editing. Half the novel consists of people panicking over the phone about other phone conversations other people have had about people getting on and off trains who are the children of WHO CARES. Willis has no sense of perspective, no skill for inventing the suggestive detail; consequently, this novel is a monument to the gods of boredom. This on top of the implausible premise that if time travel were available as a technology, historians would have a monopoly on its use. I have found in my travels that most historians are much better at infighting than they are at obtaining control of proprietary technologies. More red herring than a Norwegian fishing boat, it's like a Clan McGuffin family reunion. Totally useless.
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,377 reviews12k followers
March 12, 2022

A quote from courageous young Kivrin, the medievalist who travels back in time where she lives among villagers in 14th century English: “I wanted to come, and if I hadn’t, they would have been all alone, and nobody would have ever known how frightened and brave and irreplaceable they were.”

Doomsday Book, republished as part of the SF Masterworks series by the American author Connie Willis is an amazing, unique, captivating 600-page novel taking place in two times concurrently: near-future Oxford, England and a 14th Century medieval English village. Historian and Great Courses lecturer Teofilo Ruiz recommended this work to me and I’m glad he did – Doomsday Book is a terrific read.

The novel is science fiction in the sense that those 21st century Brits have the technology to place historians back in time via a sophisticated version of Mr. Peabody’s WAYBAC machine (recall the 1960s cartoon where Mr. Peabody, a bespectacled intellectual dog and his adopted human son Sherman travel back through time and meet such historical figures as Cleopatra and Nero). Take my word for it here, Doomsday Book time-travel and parallel dramas will keep you turning the pages.

And there are a lot of pages to turn, which prompts me to offer a couple of observations about reading longer novels. Really make the commitment by taking notes, creating outlines and sketching maps; a longer novel is a world unto itself and usually requires years for the author to complete. You will be honoring the integrity of the art form by devoting the needed energy to keep up with the details. The payoff is great: you’ll have the enjoyment of living for many hours in a vivid, fictional reality. Also, try listening to the audiobook as listening will open an additional dimension on the world created by the author, especially the various voices of the characters.

Anyway, back on Doomsday Book. I wouldn’t want to say too much about the storylines and thus spoil for readers because this novel is simply too good and has too many unexpected surprises. Briefly, the time-traveler is a medieval historian, a young woman by the name of Kivrin, who has a thirst for first-hand experience of the 14th century.

Her wish is granted and we join Kivrin as she travels to a small medieval village and develops a deep emotional connection with a number of the villagers, including 12-year old Rosemond, 6-year old Agnes, and Father Roche, the village priest. Kivrin is given a very real and direct experience as the villagers face challenges and live the cycle of their days and nights in a harsh, hostile, rustic world. By the time I finished the book, I had the feeling I also spent time living with these medieval men, women and children. The novel is that powerful.

Meanwhile, back in 21th century Oxford, Kivrin’s mentor, a scholar by the name of Mr. Dunworthy, has his own problems with the time-travel technology and unfolding events at his school and in his town. He has to deal with an entire range of people, such as Mrs. Gaddson, an overbearing mother of one of the students, Mr. Gilchrist, a power-hungry academic, Colin, a precocious 12 year obsessed with the extremes of medieval history, Badri, a key technician for the time-travel machine, Montoya, an American Archeologist, not to mention a chorus of bell-ringers from America, including their headstrong leader. Again, I really got to know these people via the magic of Ms. Willis’s fiction.

Like all first-rate literature, Doomsday Book provides insight into what makes us all human, our dealing with love and hate, with hope and despair, with the beauty of life and those ugly and disgusting parts of life. However, there is an added component in this novel: Kivrin, our main-character and heroine, lives in a medieval world with the knowledge and historical vision of the 21st century, which adds a real spice. What a fictional world; what a reading and listening experience (I also listened to the audiobook). My modest understanding of what it must have been like to live in the 14th century has been much enriched.

American author Connie Willis, a lady with one powerful imagination
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,678 reviews5,253 followers
March 12, 2013
and what exactly was the point of this nearly 600-page novel? that people can be incredibly annoying and repetitious? that the Black Death kills? i can't believe i wasted so many hours reading this flabby, irritating nonsense. i could have been spending time with friends or exercising or taking naps. or reading another book. the entire thing is a monument to wasted time - my time and the characters' time and the 5 years of time it took to write this extravagantly dreary ode to pointlessness.

real review to come, maybe, if i can summon up the energy. but for now, one word can describe my thoughts on this travesty:

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Profile Image for Clouds.
228 reviews633 followers
May 10, 2019
Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).

Doomsday Book won the Locus Sci-Fi award in 1993. It won the Nebula the same year and had to share the Hugo as joint winner with A Fire Upon the Deep .

It was the third book I’d read by Connie Willis (after Passage and then To Say Nothing of the Dog ) and it shares many of the Willis trademarks but the tone (and emotional response) is completely unlike either of them.

Generally, this is a well-loved book, as you would expect from a multi-award winner. The GR votes look something like:
41% 5-star
36% 4-star
17% 3-star
04% 2-star
02% 1-star

And yet the most popular individual reviews I can spot on here fall into that bottom six percent of one or two star reviews, which suggests to me that those who dislike this book feel strongly about their position. So what’s their position?

“bored to the point I almost wish I had the plague” – Ala (7 likes)
“it supremely boring” – Mike P (12 likes)
“a monument to the gods of boredom” – Conrad (13 likes)
“a monotonous road” - Tracey (14 liked)
“250 pages of tiresome running about with no real purpose” – Joel (68 likes)

While I wouldn’t go as far as to say I agree with this sentiment, I can at least see where they are coming from. The opening half of Doomsday Book takes its own sweet time getting to the point and contains numerous repetitive elements. This could have been done better, and that knocked the top star off my rating.

So yes – it’s not perfect – but it’s not a million miles away, either!

I love the fact that this isn’t a heroic quest. Doomsday Book starts out as quiet academic investigation mission which gets fubar from both ends. It becomes a story about endurance, survival and the nature of hope. Kivrin is a… good person. The kind of person who you’d like to call a friend, a real friend - not like saying “I wish I was friends with Tony Stark” – but I could imagine having Kivrin over for coffee and a game of scrabble while my cats nuzzled her legs for fuss. Because she felt real, because I loved her just a little bit, watching her heart get shredded by the tragedy of unstoppable plague inflicted a tiny echo of that pain on me. I couldn’t block it. I couldn’t distance myself. It felt raw.

This is a powerful book, which pretends to be whimsical. It chatters and banters then hits you with a sucker-punch, right in the gut.

Following on from To Say Nothing of the Dog , which is an upbeat and rather delightful little treasure; Doomsday Book is profoundly sad. The ending salvages what it can from the mess but it’s like inflating the airbag as the car goes off a bridge – too little, too late.

For those who find the constantly missed messages infuriating – this is a regular theme of Willis’ which I’ve been pondering. I believe it’s meant to impart the feeling that drama is caused just as much by the things that don’t happen, as the things that do. That tragedy and salvation are only ever two sides of the same coin, being buffeted in the winds of a chaotic system – it only needs a strong gust to collapse the precarious situation. Willis' greatest skill is perhaps in generating a sense of genuine uncertainty that this will resolve with a positive outcome – she’s already shown she’s not afraid to kill her characters – why should Kivrin be any different?

With the axe looming prominent, I found myself sharing Dunworthy’s parental instincts, wanting to protect poor, brilliant, innocent Kivrin. I felt like my daughter had been missing for a day, and the policeman enters the room looking grim… oh god, oh god, don’t let it be true. Time stops. Am I even still breathing?

Like that.

I can’t say with all of my heart that I 'enjoyed' reading Doomsday Book it's not that kind of story – but writing this review has definitely made me want to read it again.

If you can brace yourself for a slow start and aching heart - highly recommend.
Profile Image for Tracey.
177 reviews47 followers
May 6, 2009
OMG I am finally finished! What a travel down a monotonous road. I will not attempt to say once again what has been so eloquently said many times before. But one thing that I had to mention was a phrase that has stuck in my mind for days. I found myself last week picking up the book so that I might be able to put closure on it. So there I am reading (ok skimming) this book as some say “Best time-travel novel I've ever read!” or “a study of people's behavior” what behavior, all the characters did the same things repeatedly over again throughout the novel. Ah but I digress… so there I am reading this when suddenly out of nowhere comes the words “I brought a locator” … ok on I read…. What! What the fuck a locator, so I went back and re-read it again , no that really can’t be. Kivrin the young historian who travels back in time and seems to have only one concern and that is to find the "DROP" which turns out to be a very tedious endeavor for her and I. Why wouldn’t she have taken a locator with her in the first place! Please if she can have a recorder (chip corder) and an interpreter then why wouldn’t she also be able to have a locator. Just think I would have been spared about 200 pages! At this point I was going to toss the book over the balcony, but then I realized this was an autographed book, just my luck.

bell ringers Pictures, Images and Photos

Yeah, that about sums it up
Profile Image for Ian.
125 reviews490 followers
February 28, 2010
I finished Doomsday Book this morning and immediately moved on to the next book on my to-read list, which happens to be Hyperion by Dan Simmons. Doomsday Book left me a little messed up in the head and I wanted to replace the imagery and train of thought with something new. I figured I'd have to let Doomsday Book mull around in my head for a while before I could write an effective review. I figured the same about Iain Banks' Transition, another book I recently finished. So my plan was to read Hyperion then come back and write thoughtful reviews of all three.

But I can't stop thinking about Doomsday Book. I can't get the images out of my head. I can't get the train of thought out of my head. I can't stop my throat from tightening or my jaw from clenching. In other words, "a little messed up" hardly describes how Connie Willis has left me. A better description would be "pretty fucked up."

I don't know what Doomsday Book was about to all of you. I can see how different people would take different lessons, themes, or morals from this book. I just know what it was about for me: a crisis of faith. Some authors have an uncanny ability to meet us where we're at--to take longstanding human themes and make them once again relevant to what the reader is going through in his or her life. Connie Willis certainly did so for me.

I have been going through my own crisis of faith over the last year or so. I have been a believer in, and follower of, Jesus Christ for as long as I can remember, and although my faith has been challenged and wavered at various points in my life, I have been spiritually pretty steady. But never have I experienced so much doubt as I have over the last year.

2009 began with such hope in my life ... I seemed on the road to recovering from a chronic nervous system disorder that causes constant pain; my wife and I seemed poised to renew and repair our relationship and get back to a loving marriage; and we seemed finally to be obtaining long-worked-for financial stability. But I now look back on 2009 as the most difficult year I have endured. My physical condition deteriorated substantially (I've written some of my frustration on this subject in another review); my marriage hit rock bottom (fortunately we are getting back on track following a new year's resolution to forgive one another for the past and start loving one another for the future); my wife got laid off and I took a 15% pay cut (there is still no light at the end of that tunnel). But that was nothing ...

... and here's the most obvious parallel to Doomsday Book ... my family witnessed death and suffering seemingly everywhere we looked. People we care about, God-fearing people, genuine Good People ... are going through some really Bad Shit. It began with my wife's close friend dying in childbirth. Kelly was 28 years old, healthy, happily married, and full of joy to be pregnant with her first child. Her doctor fucked up, and mother and child died. Then came 10-year-old Destiny, a student in my wife's 5th grade classroom. She was a delightful and intelligent girl. Conscientious, caring, hard-working, and kind to everyone she knew. Destiny was kind and helpful to my kids. She was smart and ambitious and had a wonderful life ahead of her. She was one of the kids that made all the crap worth it for my wife. Then Destiny got in a car driven by her mother's drunk boyfriend. Destiny had been talking about how the next week she was going to demand that she be allowed to live with her father so she could get away from the jackass who beat her mother. If only she had gotten out a week sooner. The drunk woman-beating piece of shit was driving twice the speed limit on a country road near our house, slammed into a ditch and flipped the car several times. Destiny died at the scene. Next it was my co-worker, Diane, who sits a few offices down the hall from me. The air was thick with her palpable desperation and grief when she got the phone call no parent should ever have to take ... her son had committed suicide. As if that weren't enough, another student died from cancer ... but that seemed somehow like just a cruel afterthought, since he had been sick for months and nobody expected him to survive.

Where was God in my life last year? Where was God when I prayed for physical and relational healing? Where was God when Kelly was about to give birth to a beautiful baby girl? Where was God when Destiny needed deliverance from an abusive household? Where was God when Diane's son needed His love and comfort?

It will be several years before I fully recover from the pain, both experienced and witnessed, that cut a swath through my life in 2009. Spiritually, I don't know that I will ... or can. My cries for help went unheeded and my prayers for healing unanswered. God abandoned Good People who needed Him. He stood by and watched.

And it hit home for the first time in my life that what I experienced and witnessed in 2009 was nothing unique, or even rare. I was forced to confront the reality that I had lived a cushy life while people suffered and grieved all around me, even right here in the good 'ol U S of A, and that 2009 was simply my turn at the table. So I started to question, where was God during all the years when I was living easy while Good People experienced Bad Shit down the street and in the next town and across the border? How could I have sat and so smugly thanked God for the blessings in my life without at least wondering why God was allowing such suffering in other peoples lives?

Doomsday Book made the Black Plague real for me. Willis took me there and made me love the people of that little village in Oxfordshire. Then she made me watch them die, one by one, in the most horrifying way possible. She made that shit real. And the thing is, it was real! The village and characters in Doomsday Book might have been fictional, but there were thousands of real villages, and millions of real people, who weren't all that different and who died those deaths for real seven hundred years ago. Of course they wondered where God was. Of course they thought God had abandoned them. I am having a crisis of faith because of 2009 ... I can't imagine the crisis of faith people must have felt in 1349.

And, now that I think about it, shouldn't the reality of 1349 cause a crisis of faith in all of us? We weren't there, but real people were. It's pure, blind, dumb luck that you and I were born in the 20th century instead of the 14th century. Those people were just as "frightened and brave and irreplaceable" (in Kivrin's words) as we are. And many of the people in 1349 had a faith that those of us in 21st century America can't shake a stick at! Those people believed the spiritual world was real and tangible and affected their daily lives. They had no doubt that God was real and that He intervened in the physical world. Yet God abandoned them. God set a new mark for ditching the Faithful in time of greatest need.

If God couldn't be bothered to spare good, faithful people from the Black Death, how can he be bothered to intervene in our cushy little insignificant lives?

And so my crisis of faith is quickly becoming a Crisis of Faith. In case you're wondering, no, I don't blame Connie Willis. Doomsday Book simply catalyzed my thought processes along their already natural progressions. If anything I'm glad I read Doomsday Book when I did, because I think I got the most that I can get out of it. But I am left wondering where I go from here. I think I just need time. Time for things to sink in. Time to put 2009 in context and perspective. Time to do therapeutic things like writing this review.

I don't know where I'll end up, but I know I must walk down this path. Will Mr. Dunworthy be waiting at the drop? Will Badri be well enough to open the net? Will Colin have any energy left to make it all happen? We'll see.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,099 followers
April 6, 2018
This is my second read.

The first time I read it, I was fascinated by CW's take on time travel and the mirroring of the plague in the future with the past's Black Death, but moreover, the characters snuck up on me and tore my soul apart. It was, perhaps, the best time-travel novel I'd ever read.

That was then.

But now? Even when I knew it was coming, when I tried to keep from loving all these characters in the past and in the future, I was unable to help myself. They're flawed, annoying, lovable, hurt, and intense. I feel their reality. And I still tried to hold myself apart from the tragedy to come.

But I failed. I failed hard.

I cried the first time I read this and it may have hit even harder this time. I held off for so long, just enjoying the everyday lives in the past and the growing unease in the future, not just Mr. Dunworthy's frantic efforts, but the epidemic that spreads there. When the past's Black Plague finally hit, however, I was undone.

This is the difference between good books and truly fantastic ones. Classic ones. Bowl me over and kill me ones.

This book has the timeless quality, the depth, the complicated emotions, and especially a complicated story that defies any easy description, or if I can describe it, such as what I've already done, then it simply cannot *really* describe it.

It's a hard book to read because it affects me so much.

But it's also one of the most memorable SF books I've ever read, too. I can easily place this in my top 100 books of all time. :)
Profile Image for Helene.
17 reviews4 followers
March 9, 2012

If you're only going to read one book this year... Make sure this one is simply on hand in case you run out of toilet paper. If you think that's being crude, let me remind you a lack of toilet paper is one of her side plots she uses to move things along. And by move things along, I mean NOTHING IN THIS STORY GOES ANYWHERE EVER.

This book won a Nebula and Hugo award. Oh swoon, right? OMG this must be awesome, right??? Well, no... And I just don't know if I have it in me to fully express how bad this book was.

Let me start by setting the scene: the only vaguely science-fictiony thing is attempting to take place, where some guy mans a console and a history student, in "authentic clothes" sits among already damaged items so that when she's sent back in time to a bit before the black plague, she'll appear to be a high born woman attacked on the road, deserted by her help with a nasty bonk to her noggin from her contrived robbers. The console man will be attempting to send her through, then will get a "fix" on her to track her/pick her up later. In what can only be described as the "Crying Room" found in any church, (soundproof with glass wall) a bunch of hen pecking, annoying scientists all talk over each other and do a terrible Acting 101 soliloquy in which they listen to no one and repeat themselves like some contemporary art performance that would only have been improved if they re-inacted Carole Schneemann's famous performance.

Okay, so what you want me to say is this: predictably, something goes wrong sending her back; despite the fact that `no viruses can get through the net,' you as the reader are aware that the student went through and got flu-like symptoms pretty bad, as did the man at the console. The scientists that were squabbling about nothing interesting (and not actually talking to each other anyway) go get a beer next door to wait for the "fix," when console-man shows up discombobulated to the pub, says "something went wrong... I got the fix...but..." runs off back to the console across the street and when they all get there, he never finishes his sentence but passes out ill. And thus this amazing tension of OMG WHAT ILLNESS WHAT WHAT OMG OMG. The console man got very sick... panic and quarantine, AND A CAPER!!! Eh, why make it interesting, though?

I'd like to say that's what happened, but it didn't, not really. I mean, it is, if you cut 300 pages out of the book. (My electronic version was 884 pages) In the first 200 pages, all that happens is they send the girl back, the guy collapses without telling them what was off about the send. That's it. So far, nothing. What DID happen 46 times in those 200 pages is they got him to say "something's wrong..." before he'd pass out again. Actually, he continued to say this and not explain up through page 600 out of 884, when he finally spat out more of that sentence.

And what of the girl that was sent back? Let's just say it takes you oh, about... a page.. a whole page... to figure out "hmmm, yes, something IS wrong, and deducing from the fact that her `translator' in her ear isn't helping her speak the correct language, they must not have sent her to the right time!" Honestly. It took her half the 884 page book to realize oooOOOOoooh...they can't understand me because I'M IN THE WRONG TIME! Yes, she's sick and delirious...and I suppose we're supposed to be seeing this amazing historical novel, how they care for the sick and dying in the 1300s. Or that we're witnessing the Black Plague all around her. The girl is fitted with a recording device on her hands that activates when she presses her hands together like she's praying...So she records "I hear a rat gnawing under my bed."

Okay, so first of all... this book is touted as a historical masterpiece. But... UNDER YOUR BED? Under? What, where your cute little Tupperware tubs are filled with sweaters from last season? HOW UNDER YOUR BED IT'S A PILE OF STRAW. This one sentence is early on, so you, the reader suspect OMG RATS SHE WAS SENT DURING THE PLAGUE! But...ahem, historical novel? I mean, seriously, didn't poorer folks in the 1800's STILL use straw mattresses on the floor? Under her bed? COME ON. I did ONE GOOGLE SEARCH and found this: [...]

THAT IS IN THE 1400s!!!! Poor people had mattresses on the floor. What, are you going to tell me that she magically had a future bed in 1330 something? How is this a historical novel? I think the writer did her research for this book on a cereal box. By the way, my favorite amazon review mentioned that while this is touted as being a historical fiction novel, she sources ONE LIBRARIAN in the back of the book. One. ONE. (Probably the person who sold the cereal box).

Back to my point, while I get it that student girl is delirious, we're told over and over how she was to learn old English, French, german, latin, her cover story, etc... and ALL SHE SAYS to these people is "I NEED TO GET BACK TO THE DROP SITE TO SEE PROFESSOR SO'N'SO" over and over and over and over and.... Where is your training? I HOPE YOU GET THE PLAGUE. Omg I hope she dies of the plague.

She doesn't, by the way. She effing doesn't. It's unjust.

The author finds this amazing device to set a scene... we'll call it Crappy Writing. She'll take one character, and make them crawl into their own mind, spinning out of control, thinking "OMG what if something went wrong? What if the send didn't go well? What if there's a problem???" and then a second character, completely immune to outside signals people are putting off, just barks at them about how "you're always trying to mess up my experiments! You don't respect me as a professor! Any mistake here is your fault!" Now, these EXACT two sentiments... down to EXACTLY REPEATED SENTENCES will repeat for 8 pages. One paragraph, inner soliloquy. Next, berating jerk complaining without listening. Soliloquy. Barking. Soliloquy. Barking. If at any one point in 1000 times this occurred, the person being barked at said "HEY. SHUT UP." And then maybe answered them, the conversation would be over and not have to be repeated 8 million times, but no such luck. Because that person that barked unanswered? They're going to keep repeating that sentence hundreds of pages in, just you wait.

You ever read a word in a book, and it's such a unique word, that you totally notice when the author uses it again? Maybe "discombobulate" (like I used above!) or "juxtaposition"... something that stands out. I don't know if it's a British thing, but he never "dials" a phone, he punches it. He punched numbers 31 times in the book. OOoh, and my personal favorite, Rummage. In the beginning of the book, one of the scientists waiting in the crying room has a "shopping bag," (which is mentioned no less than 20 times in the first 150 pages... 32 times in the book...shut up about the shopping bag!) But... this woman is constantly rummaging through this bag or some other bag, or shuffling papers. I never realized how describing something so irritating can be so irritating to read! STOP RUMMAGING. It's like the only way the author builds tension into a scene. She literally has someone talk at this character, then in response she rummages. So that person repeats themselves SO SHE RUMMAGES SOME MORE oh come on!

But that's not all. This book, set in the future, spends much of it's time with busy signals. Yes, that's right, pull that memory out of the back of your mind, the most annoying sound in the world, brought back to life. The book was written in 1992, so, unfortunately the science fiction part wasn't her strong suit, apparently only masters like Gibson can get this one right... time travel, and no voice mail or cell phones. EGADS. And, every time he gets through somewhere, it's to someone that I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP wants to update him on the toilet paper situation, and mention that some foreign guests are really pissed about being stuck in a quarantine. The toilet paper and the grumpy guests. They are simply used as a device so that every time he calls this guy for info, these 2 problems will keep him from answering what he was supposed to answer, and then the call will end, with no one getting anywhere. "Yes sir, but...the guests sir... the guests are upset" OMG WHY DID I SPEND SO MUCH TIME ON THIS BOOK. If you think I'm exaggerating, the guests are brought up 45 times, the toilet paper 17 times. I had more fun using the search feature than reading this, by the way.

I feel some of the fight drifting out of me. My sister recommended this book, and I so wanted to like it so we could chat about it... but I am just so angry these words were allowed to be printed on a page! It aggravates me! From the beginning of the book, we know something went wrong about sending her back, but the guy who wants to tell you what happened gets sick... he says something went wrong 129 times BEFORE HE SAYS WHAT WENT WRONG by page 600. By page 400, student girl finally figures out she must have been sent to the wrong time, and that's why her translator won't work. By the end of the book you realize none of it matters, and the "6th Sense" twist of this book is...there's no twist. They both just randomly got sick. Yeah, spoiler. Nothing in the past came to the future or vice versa. It's just dumb luck, lots of people dead, a pedophilia type love hinted at, and no reason to have ever bothered writing this book.

The "touching love story" or whatever people are calling it? While people in future-present are dying off all around him, the professor is still totally focused on the student that got sent back. I think people think it's a love story that he's concerned about her welfare, despite everyone he know or loves being dead around him and that not seeming to sink in. There's no defined love story...it's an absent minded professor twice her age immune to the suffering around him focused on a too-stupid-to-have-survived-this-book student and her well being.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
January 21, 2019
$1.99 Kindle sale, Jan. 21, 2019. Maybe my favorite time travel book ever (and I do like me a good time travel tale), Doomsday Book won both the Hugo and Nebula (as well as several other awards) in the early 1990s when it was published.

Kivrin is a history major at Oxford in a near-future world where time travel machines are controlled by universities and used for research purposes. Kivrin is traveling back in time to live in a medieval English village for a few weeks, but things go just a bit extremely wrong. She arrives and (despite all the inoculations she received) immediately falls very ill. She can't understand the language of 1300's England. Her clothing and appearance aren't right, and the villagers are rather suspicious. (Apparently the university's research into medieval England wasn't as accurate as they thought.) Because she was so ill, she's not sure where her drop off/pick up point is, so she can get back to modern times.

And then it turns out that she's not even in the time period she was supposed to arrive in, and a major disaster is already on its way.

A lovely and heart-wrenching story, highly recommended. It's much more about the characters than the hard science. Kivrin's - and the villagers' - bravery in the face of death and tragedy hit me right in the heart.
Profile Image for Mike.
1,138 reviews151 followers
August 10, 2016
I am very concerned. I read “The Doomsday Book” time travel saga, eagerly anticipating it based on the many Goodreads reviews that highly praise this story. Many reviewers whom I trust rave about this book. I just didn’t see it at all, not a bit. Not only was it supremely boring, but annoying. The first 120 pages can be summarized: “something is wrong”. During the next 180 pages, the rest of the characters realize there is “something wrong”. Yawn! I felt like slapping virtually every character in the book at one point or three to stop whinging and get on with a rescue. I didn’t care for any except the village priest and, just barely, the main character, Kivrin. Willis made Britain and the British so depressing, not the Britain I have visited. This is a multiple award winner, including the Nebula Award and I can’t imagine why. There is nothing “amazing” in this story. The science is minimal and never explained. The technology of 2054 was not impressive at all. I at least expected some interesting adventure in medieval times but nada. So I come back to questioning, what am I missing here?
Profile Image for Jennifer (formerly Eccentric Muse).
468 reviews997 followers
July 5, 2010
Updated: 07/05/10

Connie Willis shows us that we do not need to look to the future for an apocalyptic setting suitable for exorcising whatever demons haunt us, testing whatever faith we may or may not have, revealing the height of humanity's capacity for compassion or the depth of its misery. We had the mid-14th Century for that.

These ain't Jesuits on a distant planet, or a man and a boy wandering down a road.

This shit really happened, people.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A week ago or so, I had a brief exchange with Ellen about Mary Doria Russell's Thread of Grace, in which we both drew a line between Tier 1 and Tier 2 authors; a line that neither of us is particularly comfortable with. For me, this line is similar to the one I draw between literary fiction and science fiction, the latter genre which typically gets assigned an automatic Tier 2.

**pause to let the yelling die down**

When I joined Goodreads back in August 2008, I don't think I could have pointed to a "science fiction" book on my read list, with the exception perhaps of Vonnegut and Atwood. But Vonnegut and Atwood are definitely Tier 1, aren't they? Neither would self-select to the SF category and, I suspect, SF aficionados would not necessarily classify them there either.

So, thanks to recommendations from GRers, I've read Octavia Butler, Mary Doria Russell and now, Connie Willis. I'm not sure any of these authors would fit neatly within the confines of SF either, but they sure are more "science fiction-y" than my usual reading. And perhaps just because of the origins (or order) of their appearance on my to-read list, they are lumped into a triad in my head. Yes, I confess, I'd probably classify each of them as Tier 2 writers: there is something perhaps a little too 'easy' about the writing; a little too straightforward. No rhetorical curlicues or clever/pretentious/obscure allusions or metaphors. Nothing that makes you stop and need (or even want) to re-read to tease out the layers of meaning, the clever subtleties of language or the nuances of how style marries to substance.

These books are not about the writing, which really means they are not about the author. They are about the story. And I'm a sucker for a great story. This one pulled me in from page one and had me in its grip throughout all 577 of the remaining pages. I sacrificed sleep to read it, staying up late into the night. And, it made me cry. I was, in a word, engrossed.

Like Russell's The Sparrow and Children of God, Willis uses science fiction devices (space travel to first contact with alien species in Russell's series; time travel to Black Death-ridden England in 1348 in Willis's), but these are merely ways to get the main characters to a situation that forces them (and their readers) to examine the nature of humanity in the face of extreme crisis.

Russell focuses specifically on what it means to believe in a God that allows unimaginable suffering. Willis is concerned with this too, and includes a medieval priest to be sure the issue is raised, but she is a little more story-focused, and less about beating you over the head to make sure you get that point. Her characters feel more like characters, and less like symbols or vehicles conveying a theme. It helps, too, that Willis's characters are people anchored in a real past with whom we can connect not just intellectually and spiritually but also emotionally (and some of us, genetically).

I think her central concern--the heart of this book--is not about questioning faith but about our capacity for compassion.

Like her main character, time-travelling historian Kivrin, Willis seeks to link with a specific past and humanize it; like Kivrin, she wants to rescue the people of the Middle Ages from the negative reputation they've acquired, the modern disparaging judgement we've made against them for their filth, their narrow-minded worldview blinded by religion, their poor behaviour towards one another (she weaves in the apocryphal stories historians of the modern age tell, of cutthroats and villains; witch-burners and pitchfork-armed gangs seeking someone to blame; parents abandoning their plague-sick children and cold-hearted priests fleeing, leaving their parishioners to suffer in agony). Willis is making a judgement here about historians, too. She creates a character in her modern timeline, Gilchrist--as rigid and narrow-minded as any of the past and the closest this novel has to a villain--who claims the Black Death's mortality rate is much lower than commonly accepted. This is a real dispute, as I have read, among medieval scholars: the death rate in England during the first plague ranges anywhere between 23.6% at the low end to over 60% at the high. Gilchrist is a mortality denier: the numbers weren't that high, therefore the horrors weren't that great. Kivrin, and Willis, seek to debunk this dangerous bit of historical myth-making.

She brings the dispute over the numbers front and centre by repeating, at key intervals: a third to one-half of people died. Is it a third? Is it half? It doesn't really matter, says Willis. What matters is that they were real people: "frightened and brave and irreplaceable" (p. 544).

Only in retrospect, do I see how clever a writer she is (that page sums it up, but you'll need to read all that goes before it): how well-developed and 'real' her characters became to me; and how she connected the present (more or less, it's 2054 in the novel's present) to the past with character, symbols and motifs. The mirroring is beautifully subtle: a nagging mother in 2054; a nagging mother-in-law in 1348. A gaggle of bell-ringers practising Christmas carols; medieval church bells tolling for the dead. A pandemic in the 21st century echoing the Black Death of the fourteenth. What she focuses on is the connections we have with one another, personally and societally, in the present; as well as the ones that link us to the past. The epidemiology of love as well as disease.

People are people in all ages, Kirvin and Willis believe. Narrow-minded, ignorant and cruel in the present as in the past; kind, compassionate and self-sacrificing, too.

But all of that is my retrospective analysis, and none of it was on the surface as I was reading. As I was reading, I was *reading*, letting Willis tell her story to me. I didn't have half an eye on how she was telling it, or what I was going to say in my Goodreads review. She trumped all that by telling a great story, well-researched, well-written, with believable and convincing characters, a plot line that had real tension and a considerable amount of farce (black humour amidst the Black Death). Sure, she telegraphs some of her plot twists, sometimes as a way of cushioning the blow. There's some unnecessary repetition--a kind of backtracking from chapter to chapter that seemed redundant, and a tendency to switch from first-person to third-person that is sometimes disorienting, like time travel itself. Absolutely none of that got in the way of the incredible impact the story had on me.

I'm now moving on to Thread of Grace and then back to Willis with To Say Nothing of the Dog. Let's hear it for Tier 2 writers.

Profile Image for Overhaul.
317 reviews702 followers
March 29, 2022
"Ninguna de las cosas que nos preocupan suceden jamás. Siempre es algo en lo que nadie ha pensado"

Estamos ante un clásico atemporal de la mano de una de las autoras más galardonadas de la ciencia ficción mundial. Considerada una de las mejores novelas sobre pandemias jamás escrita.

El libro del día del juicio final (1992) es uno de los mejores libros sobre pandemias que se han escrito, galardonado con los premios Hugo, Locus y Nebula a la mejor novela. En él, una historiadora de la Universidad de Oxford que vive en el año 2054 decide viajar a la Inglaterra de 1320, pero una extraña crisis que vincula pasado y futuro altera sus planes. Al mismo tiempo, una epidemia especialmente virulenta se extiende en la Inglaterra de mediados del siglo XXI. ¿Acaso los viajeros del tiempo han infectado su propio mundo? La protagonista, en el pasado, y sus colegas, en el futuro, se enfrentarán a patógenos asesinos en una obra maestra que explora cómo responde el ser humano ante el sufrimiento generado por una catástrofe desconocida.

"El Libro del Día del Juicio Final", por la afamada autora estadounidense, Connie Willis, es una novela asombrosa, única y cautivadora de 750 páginas que se desarrolla en dos momentos al mismo tiempo. En un futuro cercano en Oxford, Inglaterra. Y en el pasado, un pueblo medieval de la Inglaterra del siglo XIV.

Para mi solo hay que tener en cuenta una cosa. Y es que estamos ante un libro de historia, de trama interesante que se irá desarrollando de manera pausada. No tenemos acción ni batallas, es algo a tener en cuenta. Fuego lento pero de calidad, que desarrolla una interesante trama bien construida. Si te engancha no hay más que decir es un libro que lo vas a gozar.

Un maravilloso libro de CF, de una autora muy reconocida en el género y de la literatura en general. Si hablamos del elemento CF que nos encontraremos aquí es bastante sencillo, es que los británicos del siglo XXI los años 2054/2055 más o menos ya poseen la tecnología necesaria para localizar ciertos momentos del pasado y viajar atrás en el tiempo.

Créedme, el viaje en el tiempo que nos ofrece "El Libro del Día Juicio Final", los personajes y las tramas paralelas os mantendrán pasando las páginas. Todo a través de una ambientación superior, trabajada. Realmente aplaudible. 👏👏👏

Nuestra viajera es una historiadora medieval, una joven llamada, Kivrin, que tiene sed de experiencias de primera mano en el siglo XIV.

Estos viajes en el tiempo son un hecho en 2054. Kivrin, una exitosa y apasionada historiadora de Oxford desea viajar a la Edad Media. Todo a pesar de los peligros a los que se expone, desde enfermedades, trato social, dificultades varias como una mujer sola viajando a esa época y el trato que recibían. Logra la autorización para esta misión y el viaje se autoriza, pero sale mal. Mientras, en el presente una pandemia cubre y azota el mundo.

Nos uniremos a Kivrin en su viaje a un pequeño pueblo en una época medieval y desarrolla una muy profunda conexión bastante emocional con varios aldeanos, incluidos Rosemond de 12 años, Agnes de 6 años y el padre Roche, el sacerdote del pueblo. Kivrin recibe una experiencia muy real y directa mientras los aldeanos enfrentan desafíos y viven el ciclo de sus días y noches en una época dura, hostil, supersticiosa y rústica. Y tan dura, ya descubriréis donde acaba Kivrin.

Cuando terminé el libro, tenía esa sensación de también haber estado ahí de haber vivido con esos hombres, mujeres y niños en esa epoca. El libro y la narrativa de Willis es así de poderosa.

Mientras tanto, en el Oxford del siglo XXI, el mentor de Kivrin, un gran erudito, Dunworthy, tiene sus propios problemas con la tecnología de viajes en el tiempo y los acontecimientos que se desarrollan en su escuela y en su ciudad. Tiene que lidiar con un amplio número de personas, como la Sra. Gaddson, una madre autoritaria de uno de los estudiantes, el Sr. Gilchrist, un académico hambriento de poder, o Colin, un precoz de 12 años obsesionado con los extremos de la historia medieval, Badri, un técnico clave para la máquina del viaje en el tiempo, también Montoya, un arqueólogo estadounidense. Y sin mencionar otros. Una vez más, realmente llegué a conocer a estas personas a través de la prosa de Willis. Otra parte bien trabajada.

Como toda lectura de primer nivel, proporciona una visión de lo que nos hace a todos humanos, la esperanza y la desesperación, la belleza de la vida y todas esas partes despreciables y muy repugnantes de la vida del ser humano. Y todo lo retrata a la perfección.

Tenemos un componente adicional muy bueno en este libro. Kivrin, personaje principal, vive en un mundo medieval con el conocimiento y la visión histórica del siglo XXI, lo que agrega un toque real, original e interesante de descubrir.

El libro está dividido en partes en las que la vemos el pasado y partes en las que podemos ver lo que le sucede a la gente en 2054/2055. Porque uno de los errores que lleva a la gran cagada, tiene grandes repercusiones para el instituto y las personas que viven cerca de él o que trabajan allí. Sin revelaros demasiado, la gente empieza a enfermarse en el futuro, y nadie está dando con la clave, y demasiado despacio.

He aquí mi único hachazo al libro, no es sencillo, necesitaréis tener algo de paciencia puesto que el comienzo es algo lento. Nos encontraremos a Connie Willis, para mí en su único y mayor fallo del libro, repitiendo demasiadas veces lo mismo. Alguno momentos que tardan en avanzar. Para mí se recrea demasiado con los personajes. Esto tiene su parte positiva y negativa. Por lo demás es un clásico que debería leerse. Pero, pierde para mi una estrella por el camino.

Hay muchos paralelismos entre las dos líneas de tiempo, que comprendí como la forma en que la autora demuestra que no hemos llegado ni tan lejos como creemos en nuestro tiempo, algo que para mi es una enorme y dura realidad. Si así en nuestro mundo se invirtiera más en ciencia y en los recursos necesarios para curar o intentar luchar contra tantas enfermedades en vez de invertir en no pocas gilipolleces..

Lo que más resalta es la cantidad de trabajo de investigación que la autora hizo para este libro y los detalles que agregó a la historia para hacerla más realista. Desde procedimientos en caso de una epidemia hoy en día, o en los años 90 cuando se escribió este libro, algunas cosas han cambiado a estas alturas. Nos muestra un mundo ricamente elaborado y recompensa a los lectores con un mundo tan, tan completo como el desarrollado en el que nos sumergirnos.

Hay que tener en cuenta de que no es un libro de batallas o de acción a raudales. No, todo se va cociendo a fuego lento, pero con mucha calidad.

Dos tramas que progresan in crescendo, todo se va llenado de tensión, esto de forma soberbia. Connie Willis da rienda suelta a su don y nos muestra una historia muy humana. Un libro indispensable de leer antes de volver al barro..✍️🧐🙋‍♂️
Profile Image for Trish.
2,016 reviews3,436 followers
April 9, 2018
(That's a quote from the only character I truly liked in this book.)

My first Connie Willis book. I’ve heard A LOT about this from all kinds of other readers. And I must admit that there is no denying the quality. At all. But more of that later.

This is about a historical institute belonging to the University of Oxford in 2054/2055. Since this book was written some time ago, there are no cell phones or laptops, but the telephones are some form of FaceTime the way they were described. Anyway, the most notable invention/technology in this future is time travel. And the historians use it for their research (actually, we never went into detail how they use it but the technology isn’t new and there apparently have been many jumps already).
One undergraduate student is to go back to the Middle Ages (1320) to study the people there for about a week. She has been preparing for this for the past 2 or 3 years.
The day finally comes and, of course, something goes wrong. We don’t know what exactly as nobody in the story initially does either, but suffice it to say that a number of smaller errors have led to a huge fuck-up that lands her in 1348, in the middle of the Black Death (the plague that killed half of Europe).

The book is divided into parts where we see her in the past and parts in which we get to see what happens to the people in 2054/2055. Because one of the errors leading to the huge fuck-up has major repercussions for the institute and the people living near it / working there. Without giving too much away, people start getting sick here, too, and nobody is putting one and one together; or they do, but only slowly.

There are many parallels between the two timelines, which I took for the author's way of demonstrating that we have not come as far as we think. Some of the people are too rigid when it comes to unnecessary rules while others endanger other people by not taking anything seriously. Not to mention that sickness can strike us down no matter how much penicillin we have.
In the same vein, the book also makes a very interesting point about academia vs being in the field - theoretical knowledge like statistics on how many people have died from the plague vs actually living through an epidemic. It also nicely illustrated that modern people don't know suffering on such a scale.

Theory-vs-reality was something that really irked me about Kivrin. She was just too naive. A bit can be explained away by her youth and inexperience but not that much. Well, she learned her lesson.

And that leads me to a major problem I had with this book and which is the reason I can’t give it full marks: I didn’t like any of the characters (except Colin, but that was later).
The professors and doctors either need to pull their heads out of their asses and get into gear or they are self-important twats (like Gilchrist) that willfully hinder others’ progress which got some people killed.
Not to mention that their actions and decisions didn’t always make sense. I work with academics and even though time travel is normal in this setting, I doubt they would have sent an undergraduate (because it's all about privilege and prestige) - not to mention that these „experts“ sent a 21-year-old FEMALE into the Middle Ages. ALONE. *bangs head against wall*
Oh, and don't get me started on at least Kivrin and Gilchrist not understanding statistics because when the mortality rate is 50% and you have a village with 100 people, that doesn't mean 50 people are safe after the other 50 people have died; that's not how it works in real life.
So many times I actually screamed in frustration because nothing ever got done or "experts" were very slow to catch on to something and it felt like we were treading water despite only a week having passed within the story.

So I didn’t feel all that much when so many died. In either timeline. On the contrary, I felt a very dark satisfaction about a number of the people dying horribly (like Lady Imeyne or those clergy men).

However, what I very much appreciate is the amount of research the author must have done for this book and the details she added into the story to make it more realistic. Be it about the procedures in case of an epidemic nowadays (or back in the 90s when this book was written, a few things have changed by now) or the fact that a plague meant animals not getting fed, cows being in pain because there was nobody to milk them etc. It shows us a richly drawn up world and rewards readers with a fully fleshed-out world to step into. And this is what made reading the book interesting despite me not connecting to the people. I was there for the history, the research so to speak, and there were a lot of details to marvel at.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,986 followers
December 6, 2020
2.5 to 3 Stars

This book took me about half a year to finish. I started it in the middle of a book slump caused by anxiety early on in the COVID-19 pandemic. In hindsight, maybe this wasn't the best book content-wise to get over pandemic caused anxiety!

A few thoughts . . .

Why did this take me so long to read?: I started this as part of a buddy read. I believe my fellow readers finished it months ago. I tried to get myself to read at least a chapter a day, but something about the book made it feel like a chore that I had to do (and no one was gonna pay me an allowance for finishing this chore!). I thought the story was interesting, creative, and somewhat predictive of the current state of affairs with the COVID-19 pandemic. But, I was rarely excited to get back to it or riveted while reading it.

Repetition: Before I started reading this book I saw that one of the biggest complaints several people had was that the writing tended to be repetitive. I thought,"how bad could the repetition really be?" Answer: pretty bad! This book could still have had all the exposition, build up, character building, suspense, etc. but been half as long. There were times that a point would be driven home ad nauseum several times in the same chapter. I wanted to yell at the book,"GET ON WITH IT!"

Side note on repetition - cliffhangers I am pretty sure the cliffhanger that ended each chapter for at least the first half of the book was exactly the same. I wanted so bad for the story to reveal it and move on - or, at least stop bringing it up and come up with some new cliffhangers. If I had a dime for every time I said,"Ugh . . . not again!" I would have at least $3.80!

Would I recommend this? In many circles this is considered a sci-fi classic and a must read. For speculative sci-fi content, it is pretty good and worth it. But, as an enjoyable and pleasant reading experience, I cannot give my endorsement.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,507 reviews853 followers
April 5, 2017
Just about 3 stars. It's a shame really because I LOVED the actual account of Kivrin and the details of life in the 1300s community she was brought in to was fascinating. If all or the majority of this had been the main chunk of the story, this would easily have been 4 stars. But I found the modern day story really boring.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews805 followers
August 18, 2014
This is one of the elite novels that won both Hugo and Nebula awards, there are not many of those and they are generally very good books though you and I can always find some titles to be undeserving, c'est la vie. Before starting on reading this novel I looked around Goodreads and Amazon for some consensus of opinion among other readers. I found the prevailing opinion to be on the positive side but it is always interesting to note the negatives also, in case the reviewers hate the same things I do. Among the unfavorable reviews a common criticism seems to be that this book is boring. While I don't quite agree with this sentiment I understand it. We are bored by different things and have different levels of tolerance for certain kinds of plot or pacing.

While I enjoy time traveling stories I tend to prefer those with a lots of paradoxes, going back and forth, becoming your own granddad, causing a massive rift in the space time continuum, that sort of thing. My favorite examples of this would be The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold and the short story "All You Zombies" by Robert A. Heinlein. Any way, just going to one time period and getting yourself in trouble because you are just too damn modern doesn't really do it for me. So Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" does not do much for me and "Timeline" by Michael Crichton is possibly the worst time traveling book I have ever read (I like other Crichtons though).

Having rambled on thus far I have to confess that I like this book a lot (and I can't italicize it enough!). Connie Willis' prose is nice and smooth, it reminds me of Lois McMaster Bujold's prose style, with just the right amount of elegance and witticism without sacrificing clarity. The novel is immediately accessible from page one, which is always a bonus. This book is clearly character driven, though there are a few clever scifi concepts like the non-mechanical translating device recorder implant etc. Also, as this is generally a dark novel, the occasional interjections of humor is very welcome.

The main character Kivrin is a wonderful creation, by the end of the novel I feel like this is a real person I have come to know very well. She is courageous, compassionate, intelligent and vulnerable, Ms Willis certainly puts her through the wringer with this one, poor lass. Back to the "boring" allegation, there is some pacing or progression problem with this book, at times characters seem to be running around circle not advancing the plot very much. The search for Kivrin's entry point to medieval time also gets a bit tiresome. That said, whether you will find this book intolerably boring will very much depend on how invested are you in the characters and their plight. I am totally sold on them.

A very interesting question that the novel raised in my mind is since what happened in the medieval time has already happened as far as we in the present time are concerned, all the characters from that period have been dead ages ago, so does it matter to the visiting time traveller if they die or how they die? I think it does because when they are with you they are just people.
July 26, 2020
😷 Pestilence for the Win Buddy Read (PftWBR™) with Eilonwy and Elena 😷

Previous rating: 5 pathetic stars
New rating: 12 stars. Give or take give a star or two ten.

There are only three things you need to know about this book:

① The cover for my edition is one of the most AMAZING things works of art I was ever given to see:

Not sure whether it’s amazing because:
a) It’s scary as fish
b) There’s a 90% chance of going color blind if you stare at it for more than 2 and a half minutes
c) It looks like the gaudy cover for a crappy best-selling 1970s historical romance
d) It has bloody shrimping NAUGHT to do with the book
e) All of the above

Oh, and by the way, if someone could please tell me who the shrimp the dude on the cover is, I’d be eternally full of grate and stuff.

② This is the mostest bestest time travel novel ever written. (Along with To Say Nothing of the Dog, which was apparently written by a woman called Connie Willis, whose name sounds vaguely familiar for some very weird reason.) Why is this the mostest bestest time travel novel ever written, you ask? Because I said so, obviously *eyerolls so much she nearly loses an eyeball*

Connie Willis of the Strangely Familiar-Sounding Name is so talented this book is hazardous to one’s health. I am aware that you , being the Clueless Barnacles that you are, probably have trouble grasping the undeniable logic of this point. But fear not, for I am feeling uncharacteristically cooperative today, and shall therefore explain the most pernicious Willis Talent-Ailment Causality (WTAC™): part of this book is set in 14th century England, you see. Such a lovely time to be alive this was: wonderful social system, varied diet, central heating, great hygiene…the works! Not to mention the most glorious luxury of them all…the Black Death of Doom! It slightly decimated 30 to 60% of Europe’s population! People died left and right (and also middle, from what I’ve heard)! They suffered horribly! They vomited blood and stuff! They developed Super Hot Black Buboes (SHBB™) that oozed pus and blood, and got yummier and yummier bigger and bigger!

Ooooh, sexey!

Anyway, this is where Willis’ talent comes in. Because the woman is so bloody shrimping gifted, and depicts delicious viruses and exquisite plagues so incredibly well, that you start wondering whether you should wear protective gear while reading the book (I recommend this outfit, by the way. It comes with a super handy, vital accessory and stuff). Then you ask yourself if you should call your GP/MD/whatever and ask him/her/it/whatever to give you an Anti-Every-Virus-That-Ever-Was-And-Ever-Will-Be Shot (AEVTEWAEWBS™). Finally, when you start developing Slightly Suspicious Symptoms (SS³) the way I did, and end up having the flu, sinusitis AND allergic rhinitis all at the same time, you come to the conclusion that 1) Connie Willis is just too bloody good at this and 2) It is a fight you cannot win. Ergo, you decide to give up, give in, and stop resisting, cough your lungs away in grand medieval style, and finish the book even it means you are going to die a slow, horrible, moderately excruciating death. And that’s the beauty of Connie Willis for you.

Nefarious Last Words (NLW™): “necrotic!” and “apocalyptic!” have now officially been added to my Favorite Scrumptious Interjections List (FSIL™), just so you know.
Profile Image for Aerin.
149 reviews541 followers
February 17, 2018
(Original review date: 11 May 2009)

Doomsday Book has a wonderful concept, but I have never in my life read another book with such infuriatingly rotten pacing. This is a six-hundred-page book where NOTHING HAPPENS for the first four hundred pages. The last two hundred pages are sublime, but I can't bring myself to raise the rating any higher than three stars.

In the first four hundred pages, we meet Kivrin, a young history undergraduate at Oxford in the near future. The development of time travel has transformed history from an armchair science to a field of dangerous, exciting participant observation. However, no one has yet been sent back to study the Middle Ages, as they are considered much too hazardous. Kivrin is determined to be the first.

Now, here's where the book starts to get obnoxious. As readers, we are asked to believe that a bunch of university professors would send an inexperienced undergraduate as the very first envoy to the Middle Ages, alone and ill-prepared, while they run none of the safety checks that are typical with more routine types of time-travel???! There are so many reasons that this is ridiculously unbelievable -- or have negligence lawsuits and academic rigor been obliterated in the future?

In any case, Kivrin goes back in time. Only, a mistake has been made - she was supposed to go back to 1320, well before the Black Death. Instead, she's accidentally been sent to 1349, just as the plague is sweeping through England. Now, this is a pretty cool premise for a book. Only problem is, we don't even learn that this is the plot until page 400. Until that point, we're treated to... a whole lot of nothing.

In the present, it should have been immediately apparent that an error had been made, BUT the tech who noticed the problem got deliriously ill before he could tell anyone. And then there follows a series of the most pointlessly boring events EVER, all designed to keep the main characters and the reader from finding out WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK IS GOING ON for 400 pages. It is so incredibly aggravating, I'm surprised I didn't end up tearing the book to shreds in my fury. I swear, more pages are spent on the constant repetition of the fact that THE DORMS HAVE RUN OUT OF TOILET PAPER, OH NO, OH NO, than on advancing the story. And the TIRESOME minor characters, and the MEANINGLESS side plots. Willis obviously believes that this is some kind of HILARIOUS comedy of errors, as the characters scramble to find out what's happening, but it's just obnoxious, and any one of the following would have cleared it up instantaneously:

1) THE FUCKING CELL PHONE. "Oh! I can't get a hold of so-and-so! Wherever could he be? His landline keeps ringing busy! Only he knows the answer to this major plot point! Let's let this hold up the story for at least 50 pages!" This book was written in 1992. I know cell phones were not PREVALENT then, but they HAD been invented, and you'd think it wouldn't have been too hard to extrapolate their existence into a future that had, you know, time travel.

2) A HARD DRIVE. One of the major "disasters" of this storyline is that the Evil Dean Of Evilness (did I mention that the minor characters were all utterly one-dimensional?) has shut down the computer that had been storing Kivrin's whereabouts and, uh, whenabouts. So it's irrevocably lost and they'll never be able to find her!!! Seriously, in the future they can't save that information to a hard drive? Or even a floppy? COME ON. Again, this is technology they ALREADY HAD in 92.

3) CHARACTERS WHO ARE NOT UTTER DING-DONGS. Every last person in this storyline is such a fucking idiot that I cannot BELIEVE their brains had not yet begun oozing out of their ears. If any one of them had had more than two brain cells to rub together, they would have realized what had happened to Kivrin immediately.

Okay, so there's THAT storyline. And then there's Kivrin, trapped in The Days Of Yore. This story is much better, and it's what kept me reading through all the boringness. It is not without its own aggravations (Kivrin too is something of a moron, missing all the GLARING signs that she's landed in the middle of a plague, plus, she ALSO immediately gets sick, making the first hundred or so pages of her adventure an exciting story of delirium and vomit.) But things pick up once her health returns, and we get to know the residents of this small medieval town. These sections read like an interesting and well-written historical fiction story, and the characters are lovable (especially five-year-old Agnes) and interesting. It's just that not a whole lot HAPPENS here either, until page 400.

That's when Kivrin and her compatriots in the future both suddenly realize - WHOOPS SHE'S IN THE WRONG TIME. And then people start dying and stuff starts getting really interesting. The last 200 pages flew by, and I enjoyed them immensely.

So - two stars for the first two-thirds, four and half stars for the last third. I'd say that averages out to about three. Don't read this book unless you have much more patience than I do...
Profile Image for Ms. Smartarse.
604 reviews260 followers
January 8, 2023
December 2054, Oxford: time travel is now a thing.
Taking advantage of his boss' Christmas break, the acting head of Oxford University's History Department organizes a "sneaky" trip to the tail end of 1320; almost 30 years before the outbreak of the plague.

As time travelers had not yet explored the years prior to the 1600s, this trip is deemed especially dangerous. Yet as true ignoramuses, the organizers brush off any worries. After all, the most important prep stuff had been completed, and the rest is obviously just needless worrying, which would take up way too much time anyway. Possibly even enough for unadventurous people to interfere. Unsurprisingly, things end up going very badly, and not just for Kivrin who is travelling to the past, but also in present day Oxford.

time machine

This 600-page (digital) brick of a book, basically chronicles the story of two pandemics. One in the middle ages with little to no resources available, and one from the near future, where (almost) all resources necessary for its eradication exist.

Having Kivrin realize the futility of her pre-time-travel preparation was fairly predictable. The accuracy of the present-day pandemic though was quite impressive. Or perhaps I should call it frustrating? After all it was published back in 1992, based on research of the 1920s Spanish Flu.

We learned nothing

That being said, most of the book's appeal lies in the storyline of the past, where the tragedy is both entirely predictable, and at the same time so much worse than that. With this in mind, I was truly surprised by how futile, yet also incredibly important Kivrin's efforts in helping the people around her eventually proved to be.

Compared to that, the account of the present-day pandemic, while successfully contained within Oxford, proved to be an exercise in frustration, much like what we've seen/are seeing in our days: people whining about minor (aka first world) problems, rioting against their rights being restricted, not to mention using religious guilt-tripping to prey on the vulnerable.

Score: 4.3/5 stars

Despite it originally being a self-imposed prerequisite for reading To Say Nothing of the Dog, I'm happy that I read this book. It turned out to be such a gripping tale, even with the frustrating amount of senseless bickering in the present day storyline.

TV in your head

Even though I've shelved this book a little over 4 years ago, I don't think I could've appreciated it properly before. Certainly not back in 2017, before I had experienced living during a global pandemic. Not even last year, when I was way too frightened of getting sucked into yet another COVID conspiracy, as soon as I even thought of the news.

Other books from the series:

Review of To Say Nothing of the Dog
Profile Image for Caroline .
429 reviews593 followers
October 16, 2018

It won the Hugo and Nebula awards, and if there were an award for most repetitious, Doomsday Book would have won that too. Its premise is a great one, and the story is straightforward and intriguing, but Doomsday Book could easily have been half as many pages with no harm to the story. For almost the entirety of the book, Willis repeatedly detailed a main character’s struggles to extract vital information from another character; at least a dozen times hammered home that the Black Death wiped out 60% of Europe’s population; and--just plain stupid--until the final 25%, kept a dorm in dire straits owing to a shortage of toilet paper. This is on top of continual hand-wringing over the time traveler’s well-being. Everything does end up resolved, just not until the bitter end. It’s a memorable 578 pages but more so for repetition than actual story.

Doomsday Book’s narrative is split smoothly into two points of view, one in the present day, the other in the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages section is much more compelling than the present day. It has forward-moving action, and its integration of facts about the Black Death make it particularly gripping; Willis took great care to put a human face on this horrifying sickness, and it paid off. In the present-day section, Willis attempted to create suspense in several spots but failed because she held out too long in the resolution. This makes for one very frustrating and, at times, boring reading experience. The characterization is at least strong, with some characters particularly lovable.

Interestingly, this is a science fiction that has aged well. Cell phones have screens that allow people to see as well as hear each other. Time travel occurs via an invisible, shimmering “net” that characters step into. Work tasks are done on computers. The common cold has been cured.

Doomsday Book is educational, and it's enjoyable now and then, but for a time travel story, it sure lacks a sense of adventure. It’s a satisfactory choice for those seeking to learn about life during the Middle Ages, specifically about the Black Death, and that's about it. Reading time would be better spent with a quality non-fiction book on the Black Death.
Profile Image for Guillermo  .
80 reviews79 followers
March 4, 2013

I think Connie Willis did a great job at portraying something so absolutely horrible that it defies comprehension. I had read about the plague that almost eradicated Europe, but nothing could prepare me for what I read here. The horrors of the Black Death seem to be something so far beyond anything we could imagine.. I found myself cringing and pleading: "she's not going to go there... she's not going to go there.. so when she does...it's devastating.

The feeling of abandonment that these people had, coupled with the fact that they did not hold their religion to the casual standard that most people in this age do - that they really thought God, Angels, and Demons, were just as material as anything they could physically see and touch, made it that much more heart wrenching. I could tell Willis did a shitload of research in writing this book, and just for that, I really appreciated this.

It was not a book without faults however, the chapters in contemporary times were not as interesting. Dunsworth and his "tasks" grew repetetive. It seems the author was tyring to create a parallel structure with the medieval and modern era, but it fell flat. Our heart was with Kivrin the entire time. Everything else was sort of irrelevant. As I say after I finish a Hamilton book: "Good, but needed to trim alot more fat."

I think Willis was trying to make a point about the fragility of the human experience by diametrically opposing a plague in the 14th century with one in the 21st, but I never really felt too terrified with the events in contemporary times. Most of that horror seems to happen "off camera". Not so much with Kivrin's chapters though. This book really isn't for everyone. I had nightmares and I still think about this book more than most of the fiction I read, because while this is a fictionalized account, it really happened. I can't help but place myself in some of those situations and start sweating. Wllis does a great job at making these characters more than just numbers in a history book. Trust me when I tell you that you will feel it.

The technology described was not as impressive, but I can forgive her for not being a wonderful prognasticator of technology back in 1991 - for God's sakes, the internet was in its infantile stages back then. How could I expect her to predict telecommunications in the year 2054? The Time travel itself had very interesting rules with the slippage, but not alot of thought went into the mechanism itself, which was a little disappointing, but it didn't take anything away from the novel. In my opinion, time travel is pretty much the stuff of fantasy anyways, which is ok, so I"m not going to get bothered by it. It's speculative fiction after all, so we don't always need all the answers.

So the bottom line was that it was a solid book that was sometimes oppresively dark, but light on the technical details and feasibility of the technology. It was a bit too long and repetitive at times. Could've served as a novella in my opinion. Powerful story- Kivrin's sections were wonderful to read, which were about half the book. Could just as easily be a 3 or 3.5 star, but the fact I still think about these characters this long after I've finished the book, elevates it to a 4.
5 reviews14 followers
January 23, 2009
Why I hated this book by Marc.

I read a lot. The number of books I list on my read list here is a fraction of what I read. And for the most part, none have reviews, just ratings, because I have little time to write reviews. But I just had to comment on "The Doomsday Book". I fell into a trap. I read reviews of the book before I bought it, and those reviews help convince me to give it a try. That is something I usually do not do. I usually read the back cover, and if it sounds good, I buy it. But I read the back cover of this, and it sounded interesting, maybe something great, but the reviews pushed me over. "A book to read again and again", "It will capture the imagination". Nebula and Hugo winner. I was sold. Like a fool. Is it just me or are the Hugo winners, many times, just boring to read. I mean, they sound good in summary, but when you read them many make you go "Meh". (Canticle for Lebowitz, I am looking at you.) This book, again, started well. But heck, by page 200, all the plot that had developed was what I had read on the back cover. By 300, little more had changed, except I learned about bell ringers. At that point (The book is 600pgs at least), I had enough. I put the book down. Again, it was an interesting premise, but way to verbose. And I like verbose, when it suits the book. (See China Mievile) But not here. I don't need to know a conversation between two doctors about how they like to drink their tea. Some call it a writer's style, I call it filler. So I put the book down. Then I did something I have never done before. I went to Wikipedia and I looked up the book. I mean, I invested a day's reading into it, and I at least deserved to know how it ended. Well, lets just say I would have been disappointed if I had stuck with it. I am not sure why it would have taken 300+ more pages to get from where I stopped to the book's resolution, but evidently it did. Here is where I am torn; I think Willis is a good writer, but it is just not my cup of tea. So I won't tell people not to read the book, as some obviously love it. (It seems to have a cult following) But I will tell people who are looking for a hard scifi book to stay away...you will be sad.
Profile Image for Shannon.
901 reviews235 followers
June 4, 2014
MINI REVIEW: this book won a Hugo and Nebula for 1992 and a host of other awards. It's a nod to the historical “Domesday Book” of 1086 and focuses upon a futuristic society sending some of its people back into the past to Oxford, England but an error puts the main character into that area during the Black Plague. Note that while they are sending people out that said society has their own plague epidemic taking place.

The strengths of this novel are its attention to Historical details, the engaging and believable characters suitable to an era and the dark but hopeful tones and themes of the story. Most readers will feel humbled about humanity's belief that it has everything figured out as the tale parallels massive amounts of people being wiped out during both eras. Prevalent themes of love, bravery, faith and hope.

Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,209 reviews104 followers
June 21, 2021
Even though Connie Willis' 1992 Doomsday Book won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards and that many readers therefore do consider it mostly science fiction and fantasy, my personal reaction when I originally read Doomsday Book in 1998 (right after having finished with my PhD dissertation, and yes, as a bit of a treat and reward for myself for finally being done) was (and yes indeed also remains) that frankly, I consider Doomsday Book more a time-travel novel of historical fiction, set in the future, reaching into the past, often futuristically fantastical of course, but actually also posing many important and indeed essential general (and yes also contemporary) questions in particular with regard to human responsibility and how individual actions and behaviours (and especially in academic and research settings) towards and regarding the historic past might through disciplines such as archaeology, linguistics, history and the like also negatively proceed to influence the present (or the future) and as such also society in general.

For aside from the fact that Oxford's time travelling machine and net are still rather untested and also incredibly and dangerously tempting devices in and of themselves (as personally, I pretty well know that if I were an Oxford student such as Kivrin and had promised or perhaps even signed a release form that if I were to travel back in time for on site observation and research to especially a problematic and tragic era such as in Doomsday Book, the time of the bubonic plague, I would not engage in wilful behaviour that might interfere with history, I rather personally know that I would probably not be able to resist trying to help, attempting to change history for the better, even with my promises to the contrary), the main cause of the deadly flu infection in Doomsday Book (and which is turning into a United Kingdom wide public health disaster in the present, or rather in the present of an imagined future) is actually NOT as is first believed the past affecting the future via the Oxford time travel machine, but that present day archaeologists working on a Mediaeval tomb and digging up the skeletal remains of a knight end up releasing old, strong and unknown influenza microbes still viable and deadly after hundreds, thousands of years.

And yes, in my humble opinion, this is indeed a relevant and important question that I for one also do think is not asked nearly enough at and about our actual and bona fide archaeological digs and even by so-called experts in the field, and something that while definitely uncomfortable is also the main reason why I in fact appreciate Doomsday Book so much, namely that Connie Willis, although of course writing a fantastical novel set in an imagined future is actually posing questions and potential issues that I for one do indeed believe absolutely need to be increasingly discussed with regard to how we approach the past, how we study and research the past, and certainly, that if we are not careful and prudent with how we conduct our both on site and laboratory research, especially concerning unearthing both ancient and not so ancient cemeteries, tombs, burial mounds and such we could well end up launching epidemic diseases and mayhem into the world, diseases that we might not even be able to easily or even successfully either treat or prevent from becoming a maelstrom pandemic.

Furthermore, while I as a university trained academic of course do believe in continuously striving for more and more knowledge, Doomsday Book also clearly points out that the quest for the latter, that wanting to explore and research does not ever exist in a vacuum and that scientists, researchers, archaeologists etc. absolutely and totally do have a responsibilty to humanity, to society, to not engage in methods of research and study that could cause public endangerment, especially with regard to potential disease and epidemics.

So while I did originally read Doomsday Book totally and only for personal entertainment value (and yes, because I enjoy time travelling novels and reading about the Middle Ages), what has remained with me regarding Connie Willis' narrative are in fact mostly the questions and musings I have considered and expanded on above, about our human and societal responsibilities regarding high level, regarding any type of research and that especially archaeologists absolutely do need to make sure their unearthings and studies of the past and in particular of human and animal remains do not negatively affect the present with the possible spread of long buried diseases. And yes indeed, if in the future, time travel for academic research and exploration purposes were to ever become an actual realiy, that this obviously would also need to be approached both prudently and with primarily public health and safety in mind (as while, for example, when Kivrin while in the past discovers that Middle English during the time of the Black Death was still at least in the vernacular, in the spoken language of the English people considerably more inflected than assumed by her current day Oxford professors, that knowledge, while definitely most interesting, is not really all that necessary and even acceptable to try to gain if its acquisition is or might prove to be dangerous or deadly in the current, in the present age).
Profile Image for Jemppu.
501 reviews93 followers
October 5, 2020
I so wanted to like/feel this more, but couldn't get past the intentionally fuddled handling. Rated up, regardless - for well-intended aspirations.

I've been both eager and hesitant to (re-)engage with this book for a while; it came to me highly praised, and I came to it wanting to be touched by that apparent, profound admiration inducing experience. Yet, previous encounters with Willis have left me dubious of if I'd ever be fully enamored by their particular style. Making this more of an examination of why that might be.

The book's themes are powerful and - incidentally - strikingly current again. The momentum in the plentiful of dialogue is pleasant to follow; fun to 'play along', even. Yet, with all its circling around, the narrative never quite allows itself to go beyond the limited boundaries it keeps setting for itself.

There's something in the very form of the problem-solving lead plot, which allows the presentation not to feel quite true to the events. Lacking focus, stakes and/or emotional involvement; the narration likes to meander in an array of petty actions, verify certain dynamics by repetition, and chew on the fact of the situations themselves. But beyond surface level remarks and constant relay of movement, it expresses hardly any mental response: no moral conflict, instinctual hesitation, inner doubt... ; for most of the way the narration leaves you longing for it to proclaim some - any - sign of thought-provoking philosophy or self-reflection, to give the narration humanity and depth of soul it would need, to speak to one's heart.

The style of storytelling in general seems in need of more finely tuned situational calibration; the method of dispersing adversity, and reacting to it, is universally handled by aimless darting about and piling on tasks, creating a persistent manner of distracting obstinacy, and nurturing of constant unnecessary secondary drama - commotion to bury even the coherent responses under, and certainly dissolving of any suspense.

Overall, Willis' approach feels almost habitual of self-preserving distancing; without revealing most anything of oneself in its interactions, it places the narration in positions where it can direct the focus of any event - big or small - into the immediate directorial minutia, and drown itself into repetitious - often self-initiated - worked up urgency, scene after scene after scene. It sees no importance in engaging mentally, or providing any inner contemplation to the events. Throughout, the narration presents itself generally more preoccupied with the mechanics of the messes of its own invention, than is affected to reflect on the nature and weight of the events it is cast to witness.

The narration imposes itself in the proximity of vulnerable situations, but rarely lets itself slip into a position of showing emotional intelligence. Rather, it goes its way to insert any possible sideline distractions into the action, as if to avoid the manifestation of a passing emotionally resonant response to the events - until starting to the next errand.

All of which, for me, made the narration appear flat, suspiciously unequipped or unwilling for introspection, and distractingly task-focused to convey the full weight of any affecting fates it's inflicted itself upon. Creating also an almost Kevin Costner-esquely principled leading figure, in a sense of hollow and out of place self-insertion, basking in others' narratives.

The story operates around compelling and significant themes, full of exploratory potential. It follows Willis' customarily precise directorial beats, with highly active characters, theatrically exchanged dialogue, and some well performing tender moments. But I would not call it's approach moving: expecting it to be, the general response to the events themselves left an unsatisfactory impression of mental uninvolvement and avoidance of contemplation; kept me waiting for an overall more considerate reflection - if the work was to convey soul, allow resonance, or earn my emotional investment.

That said: some of the most experience enriching passages of the book came from the presence of children. And slight character affirmation was delivered in couple of stand-out occasions, when the narrator allowed their inner thoughts to briefly show through in rare, separate personal anecdotes in archiving. Mere exceptions to the ruling chaos, however: these solitary instances of deliberation were unfortunately vastly outweighed by data speculation and the overwhelmingly prevailing action reporting.

This does beat Blackout / All Clear, though - for slightly lesser mess. And just as I felt with that saga, here too Willis' style seems most suitable as a script - open for generous emotional interpretation and dressing up.

And, there is the issue of repetitious prose, too. Which luckily, was mitigated by the audio format for a good length of the way (until the disappointment sank in and I let the absurdity come flooding). The audiobook narration was wonderfully befitting for Willis' characters' volatility, and for the adorably childish demeanors present - the kids being kids.

As much as I kept wanting for this to share stronger emotional involvement, I think I can settle for analytical minutia, too. And as tiringly out of control of its own faculties as the narrative form is, the consistently idiosyncratic patterns in the telling alone inspire certain curiosity to checking out more of Willis' work. Accompanied by the lingering hope for the possibility of still stumbling across something - beyond intentions - deserving of admiration.
Profile Image for Aletheia.
288 reviews119 followers
August 21, 2020
Gracias, Mary Robinette Kowal por escribir un libro tan sosaina como The Calculating Stars que se ha llevado los tres premios gordos de ciencia ficción, porque sino no hubiera cogido ahora mismo este tochamen que esperaba en mi estantería desde hace años.
Pues eso, con la decepción del libro antes mencionado, decidí quitarme el mal sabor de boca rebuscando entre los pendientes de la estantería un libro de una época en la que los premios literarios aún significaban algo. Ni siquiera me leí la contraportada y cuando empecé a leer me quedé un poco loca con el tema de la Pandemia: no quería leer libros de estos temas ahora mismo pero ha sido una suerte porque creo que 2020 es el año para leerlo.
¿Me hubiera leído un libro sobre una epidemia? No. ¿Viajes en el tiempo? Ahora no, gracias. ¿Y una novela histórica sobre la Peste Negra? Ni de coña. Pues contra todo pronóstico el libro me ha gustado mucho: a pesar de su longitud es muy fluido, con tres pinceladas describe personajes creíbles y mezcla comedia y drama (dramote) de forma magistral para que no resulte pesado.
Me ha sorprendido, y entiendo perfectamente que se llevara los premios que recibió en el 93. De propina un buen final (que es donde cojean muchos libros del género) y las menciones a las mascarillas, papel higiénico y demás hacen gracia y asustan a la vez en el presente; estoy segura de que si hubiera leído el libro el año que lo compré, la trama del "presente-2054" me hubiera parecido farragosa y poco creíble. En serio, 2020 no es el fin del mundo, es el año para leer este libro.
Profile Image for Fiona.
319 reviews343 followers
February 11, 2016
Following my abject failure with noir wizards, I'm retreating to an audiobook that seems to contain everything I like: lady-protagonists, time travel, semi-distant British history, and plague. Loads of plague.


(Gen up on the plot before you read this one: it's not very spoilery, but I'm going to dive right in and assume you know roughly the premise from the start.)

I've been wondering how to approach this review for ages. Looking at what other people have written, it seems that the general consensus is that it isn't a perfect book - but it does just fit into now very well. I can agree with that. The strengths of Doomsday Book lie in the affection you end up having for the characters, and how close to them you end up feeling. It does a thing very well, that I suspect a lot of writing advice tells you not to do, but I wish more books did, and that thing is saving the action til later.

Let me qualify that a bit - Doomsday Book is a book of two halves; the first half involves a lot of people hanging around in places and waiting for conversations that they don't end up having. It took me three months to read the first half. And then in the second half everything seems to happen at once, and keeps on happening, unrelentingly and inexorably, and I finished it in about a week. But I wouldn't have liked the second half so much, wouldn't have cared, or felt that gut-wrench of loss and regret, if it hadn't been for the first half. Where it felt like nothing was happening. But it was happening, because it was three hundred pages of slow-build getting to know characters in their natural habitat.

And I love that! I love it. My biggest, most common gripe about stories is that I don't get a chance to see what "normal" means for characters before it's summarily broken by Plot Happening. So I don't think that the slowness of the first half was a weakness at all, even though I suspect some people do. I think it was a strength, and I am delighted that I got to hang out with a load of ladies in the fourteenth century, with some increasingly irate bellringers in somewhere that's less the near future than an adorably alt-1975. I thought it was charming. I loved that it ended up having a purpose beyond that. People die in this book, and other people have to watch it happen, and I cared about all of them. I felt strongly for all of them, because I knew them, and I felt their fear. This is what I want stories about inevitable disaster to look like.

Don't imagine I think it's faultless, however: like other readers, I was also very swiftly bored of the word "necrotic", and endless updates on the remaining supply of toilet paper in Oxford. To be honest, even I have limits to the number of times you can have "going to meet someone; they're not there, but it's a nice place anyway - look at the scenery!" as a chapter summary. But I still think this is the sort of thing that sci-fi should be used for: to make me care about people I might never have thought to care about otherwise. That matters.

If you're an audiobook sort of person, by the way, I highly recommend this one - Jenny Sterlin is really great, especially for a whopper like this (26 hours 30 minutes!) with so many characters in it. Apparently she's done some of Laurie R. King's Mary Russell books too? I'll be looking out for those - I bet they're great.

One other thing. If you go to the Wikipedia page for Doomsday Book, and then root around a bit, you'll find a whole train of discussion about how this is a rare example of a female time traveller, including this excellent piece by Charles Stross. His point is that time travel is a form of tourism, to places where the person most likely to feel safe is the upper-class white guy, so that's by and large the sort of person who gets to go back in time. So in the last three months, I've been asking various writer groups I know to think of female protagonist time travellers who get to do the tourism thing properly, other than Kivrin Engle. And nobody could think of any! Until it occurred to me that, actually, I know another one. And that is why you may prise Outlander from my cold dead hands.
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