Stephen Hayes's Reviews > Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
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really liked it

I wasn't expecting much from this book when I took it out of the library -- just wanting to make sure i had something light to read when the library is closed over the Christmas holidays. But I was very pleasantly surprised, and found I couldn't put it down.

The plot is a common trope in science fiction -- time-travelling historian goes back to the past to see what happened there and gets more than they bargained for. But in this case it grabs the reader's attention, and evokes sympathy for the characters, or some of them, anyway.

The year is 2054 and Kivrin, a history student at Oxford, gets permission to travel back to the 14th century to see what life was really like then. Things go wrong, however, and the technician handling the transfer is taken ill and cannot explain the problem. It's the Christmas vac, so all the other technicians who could deal with it are on holiday, and interdepartmental academic rivalries don't help. So the history student is in danger of being stranded 700 years away from home.

I might have given it five stars, but there are a few flaws. The pace flags a bit in the middle, and it could probably have been made about a hundred pages shorter without losing anything. There is also a strange mixture of British and American usage and spelling. Perhaps the author intended this to represent the way English had developed by 2054, but much of it feels more like 1954.

A lot of the visions of future technology are rather inaccurate. It was published in 1992, when car phones, if not cell phones, were becoming common, yet the author doesn't foresee them being used 60 years later. Personal computers and email were also becoming pretty common, especially in universities, by 1992, but people in Oxford in 2054 were spending a lot of time looking for public telephones.

But there is an interesting evocation of 14th-century English village life, and in many ways it seemed rather familiar. The parish priest is like many village priests and catechists I've met in rural Africa -- not very well educated, but faithful in performing his duties and in his care for his flock. And in a sense, he is the real hero of the story. And perhaps that is why I liked this story so much. It is people like him who have kept the Christian faith alive for 2000 years, and it is people like him who will keep it alive for the next 2000 years. We neglect and despise them ar our peril.
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Reading Progress

December 18, 2019 – Started Reading
December 18, 2019 – Shelved
December 18, 2019 –
page 160
35.96%
December 20, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by booklady (new)

booklady I have this and hope to read it someday... Good review!


Stephen Hayes booklady wrote: "I have this and hope to read it someday... Good review!"

It's definitely worth a read. I've written a somewhat fuller review on my blog. Time travelling historian gets stuck in the past | Khanya.


message 3: by booklady (new)

booklady Thank you Stephen, appreciated the extra details. And I agree with you entirely: 'It is people like him who have kept the Christian faith alive for 2000 years, and it is people like him who will keep it alive for the next 2000 years. We neglect and despise them ar our peril.'


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