Amy Sturgis's Reviews > All Clear

All Clear by Connie Willis
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Let me begin by saying that The Doomsday Book is one of my all-time favorite novels (definitely "top ten," quite possibly "top five"), and I'm also tremendously fond of Connie Willis's Lincoln's Dreams, as well. When I knew she had a new book - well, duology, though the two books are really one chopped in half - set in the same time-travel universe as The Doomsday Book, I was beside myself with anticipation. (I blame her publishers for the decision to splice the book and then wait months between the first and second volume.)

Now I'm simply incredibly frustrated. I think there was a good novel somewhere in there, but it was lost beneath everything else. First and foremost, Willis needed a better editor; the sheer amount of constant repetition, useless detail, and point-of-view hopping between one line and the next is inexcusable. I got the feeling Willis had invested so much effort researching every angle of the period (the Blitz in World War II England) that she became determined to fit it all in, whether the story needed it or not.

Second, the way she handled the issue of time travel was troubling. Anyone trained to be a historian goes through multiple courses on the theory of history, philosophy of history, etc. (I'm a historian, and I'm speaking from personal experience.) For those in the future training to be time-traveling historians, I can only imagine how thoroughly they would study the theories behind time travel, as well. Yet several of these students seem utterly clueless about the very premises of what they're doing. (Allow me to paraphrase. "Historian X went to the Blitz Z years ago when he was in our department. So that was in the past, even though we're in the Blitz now. No, wait? He'd be here now, too, even though we left at different times? Golly gee, I never thought of that! Time travel's funny!" Or, for another example: "Maybe the retrieval team hasn't found out yet where we went. As soon as they do, they'll come and get us. Wait, you mean that, if they'd found our location, they would already have gone back before Q happened to get us? Time travel's so crazy! Who'd've thought it?") Augh!

Also, for a two-volume book, I would have expected more character development. The two female protagonists were so flat they were easy to confuse until the very last section. The best characters - Mr. Dunworthy, Sir Godfrey - begged for more attention. The fascinating ideas the story raised about the net, the drops, and the meaning (failure?) of time travel only received a random few infodumps, and I would've loved to know more, especially since this was the supposed crux of the two volumes.

I realize that I came into this with very high expectations, but I think Willis could have delivered a very good novel if she hadn't been impatient with the science fiction and self-indulgent with all of her research. The World War II material was fascinating, but less in service to an overall story than by itself, in isolated chunks. If you're looking for an excellent work that blends science fiction and historical fiction, read The Doomsday Book. Then, when you're done, bypass this and read The Doomsday Book again.
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Reading Progress

03/21/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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message 1: by Julie (new)

Julie Davis Great review. Everything you mention was a source of frustration for me as well ... as you know. The whole time travel issue is simply a matter of logic. I'm no historian but those aspects drove me nuts too. :-)


message 2: by Elizabeth (new) - added it

Elizabeth my gosh, that just sums up my impression exactly.


message 3: by Joel (last edited Nov 17, 2011 10:53AM) (new)

Joel Walsh Thank you so much for validating my frustrations with this book. How did this 400-pages-too-long book with a predictable ending ever get nominated for the Nebula, much less win?

Edit: I really like Conny Willis and her voice and sense of warmth and humor that come across on every page. I enjoyed reading the book for that and for what little tidbits of history I learned that I didn't already know. But I was hoping for better.


Alex Spot on. My thoughts exactly.


Renée Yes!


Tina Exactly what I felt. I made the mistake of beginning with book 2 not realizing how connected the two books are, which rarely happens. I got so frustrated with useless information that did not pull the plot forward.


Moray Saved me reviewing this book and said much better


Daniel Bratell I should have skipped my own review and just linked to yours. You capture it much better. I think the pain is amplified by knowing that she has done so much better in other books.


Luke Anderson Great review. I am glad to see someone else felt this way.


message 10: by Mohita (new)

Mohita Great review and insightful! My impressions exactly


message 11: by Emma (new) - rated it 2 stars

Emma oh my god, 100% yes. I practically had to write a note in the book 'Eileen, nanny; Polly, shopgirl'. And the constant minidramas about keeping information from one another. And constantly being told about rehearsals being missed and other people having to cover shopgirl shifts. I can't even.


Ubersmaug Yes. Exactly.


Jennifer Aitkens Wow, perfectly said. Only thing I would add is my frustration that I had to wade through so much of vol 1 before I had a working understanding of time travel theory as advanced by Ms. Willis. Where was the editor? Publisher, you should be ashamed of foisting this on the reading public. And Nebula and Hugo awards panel: what were you thinking???? This is barely science fiction, time travelling historians aside. Any respect I had for your awards is utterly and completely gone.


Claire Gagnot Totally agree with you ! Have you read To Say Nothing Of The Dog ? It's my favourite of all her novels. Give it a try


Reggie Martell Nailed it.

It's difficult offering negative criticism of a Willis book, because the inertial good will created by Doomsday Books is significant, but I find this review to be 100% accurate in its sentiments and analysis.

So much of the characters' motives rang hollow and untrue; their general intelligence was suspect; their travels just not overly compelling or novel. I kept asking myself, "why am I still reading this book?" The answer seems to have been, "inertia," throughout.


message 16: by Pat (new) - rated it 2 stars

Pat F. Every word you wrote rings true for me, too. Such a disappointment.


Amanda Great review! It's hard to imagine Willis will be able to recreate the intense atmosphere of Doomsday Book. Some of the foreshadowing we get as readers is so transparent that it is appalling that so-called grad students in time studies did not think of that. also, the whole thing could have fit in 500 pages, both novels. I finished reading out of sheer hate and out of 'well it's been three books already, now I gotta end this'


Cliff Exactly. I had a feeling that edited down to, say, a half or a third of the length of the two books there would have been an improvement.


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