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Fire Watch (Oxford Time Travel, #0.5)
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Book Discussions > "Fire Watch" by Connie Willis

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 10, 2018 07:43PM) (new)

This is our discussion of the science fiction novelette....

Fire Watch (Oxford Time Travel, #0.5) by Connie Willis Fire Watch (the novella) by Connie Willis
(Winner of the 1982 Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novelette.)

We are discussing only the novelette, not the Willis collection of the same name.

This story can be found free on-line at the publisher's website here .
It's also included in the Willis anthology of that name, Fire Watch.


message 2: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 10, 2018 07:49PM) (new)

This is Willis's first story in her Oxford Time Travellers series. It was originally written as a stand-alone story in Asimov's Magazine (1982). Willis returned to the time travellers ten years later with the novel Doomsday Book (1993), and then To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998), and Blackout/All Clear (2010), all of which won the Hugo Award for Best Novel and 3 of 4 won the Nebula Award as well.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

It's interesting that Kivrin is mentioned early as one of Bartholomew's friends back at Oxford ~2055. (Doomsday Book is the story of her practicum to the Middle Ages. One wonders if Willis had already had that story in mind, or just used Fire Watch as a seed to write the story a decade later.) "The Middle Ages was too much for her," indeed.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) Just got back from an 8 day trip through the Midwest with my daughter's basketball team. I'm wiped out and pretty much useless this morning, but I did start reading this story last night before I went to sleep. It's cool to see the origins of the Oxford Time Travel folks in this story, which feels a little different than Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. I did notice the reference to roommate Kivrin in the early going.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Poor Bartholomew. He goers off on his practicum assignment to the London Blitz without having studied up on the era. (He should know pertinent facts, such as where & when major bombings happen. The team in Blackout, more time travelers from Oxford visiting WW II London, do a much better job.) In some ways Bartholomew seems almost permanently distracted. I wonder if you get jet lag from time travel?

Doomsday Book & To Say Nothing of the Dog are quite a bit different from each other as well :) The former is quite depressing, while the latter is a comedy of manners, though they both involve time travelers.


message 6: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2818 comments I enjoyed the story, and I had to sympathize, I'd be as lost as he if someone tossed me back to that time period with no prep work and without even telling me what I was supposed to do while I was there!


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) I'm about halfway through and should finish later this weekend.

I had often wondered how Willis' books would read if all the extraneous stuff was removed, such as the endless searches for the vacationing department head/toilet paper/slippage/a working telephone. Now I know.


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Randy wrote: "I had often wondered how Willis' books would read if all the extraneous stuff was removed, such as the endless searches for the vacationing department head/toilet paper/slippage/a working telephone...."

In many of her works, Willis likes to put in a character who is obsessed by some triviality, e.g. the leader of the bell carolers intent on putting on a concert despite a quarantine. Or, someone looking for toilet paper. In this work, Bartholomew's obsession with Langby being a Nazi spy intent on burning down St Peter's, even after he learns Langby is more likely a Communist, if anything. Or, Bartholomew obsession with getting brandy because he thinks getting drunk will help his recall of deep memory implants.


message 9: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 14, 2018 09:05AM) (new)

Andrea wrote: "I enjoyed the story, and I had to sympathize, I'd be as lost as he if someone tossed me back to that time period with no prep work and without even telling me what I was supposed to do while I was ..."

Agreed. How would one know what the currency was worth? (Having just read The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, in which a pound could apparently run a household of six for a week, my value scale is currently way off :)

I like some of his questions on language. "A tart is either a pastry or a prostitute (I assume the latter.)"


message 10: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2818 comments Or assuming an acronym is a word.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Andrea wrote: "Or assuming an acronym is a word."

I kept thinking, I'm a member of the ayayarpee!


message 12: by Cat (new)

Cat | 343 comments I haven't read any of her other works, so I found it interesting. I found it quite a light read for such a heavy topic/era of history. I thought it was really nicely done - it certainly had it's moments of humour. And the characters were all neatly sketched, I also liked the hints at the historian time-travelling organisation. I'm intrigued to read further particularly the comedy of manners one, although I might steer clear of the other it is depressing!


message 13: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 16, 2018 07:37AM) (new)

Cat wrote: "I also liked the hints at the historian time-travelling organisation...."

"Hints" is a good term for it. I couldn't call it world-building, especially since so little of the story takes place in future Oxford, but Willis drops a few hints at her "future history," most notably of nuclear attacks on London & Denver and some bio-warfare that left several species, including cats, extinct.

I assume she picked Denver to nuke because that's where she lives. Because so many of her stories were set in Britain, I'd originally assumed she was a British author; it wasn't until I read All Seated on the Ground, an alien arrival story set in Denver, that I marveled at her grasp of Americana in a mall before Christmas. I finally looked her up on Wikipedia and discovered she was born, raised & still living in Denver. Another of my illusions shattered. :)


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) G33z3r wrote: "Because so many of her stories were set in Britain, I'd originally assumed she was a British author; it wasn't until I read All Seated on the Ground, an alien arrival story set in Denver, that I marveled at her grasp of Americana in a mall before Christmas. I finally looked her up on Wikipedia and discovered she was born, raised & still living in Denver. Another of my illusions shattered. :) "

I think she's one of those Americans who think they're British, like Madonna or Gwyneth Paltrow.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) I finished the story. It was interesting to read the first Oxford Time Travel story especially after reading the first two books and knowing how Willis' created world would evolve.

One question: Kivrin at the end of the story says that she had previously been sent back to the plague years. Does that mean this story was actually set after Doomsday Book?


Donald | 157 comments Randy wrote: "Gwyneth Paltrow"

Wow now my illusions are getting shattered.


message 17: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 16, 2018 04:44PM) (new)

Randy wrote: "One question: Kivrin at the end of the story says that she had previously been sent back to the plague years. Does that mean this story was actually set after Doomsday Book? ..."

Yup. After Doomsday Book & before Blackout (assuming "before" and "after" have any meaning in a world with time travel :) I mentioned earlier that I thought Willis used the Kivrin comments in Fire Watch as a jumping-off point for Doomsday Book.


message 18: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2818 comments G33z3r wrote: "assuming "before" and "after" have any meaning in a world with time travel"

That was actually my reaction to Randy's post. I figured it most certainly took place "after" Doomsday if Doomsday took place in the plague years and Firewatch during the War :)

Unrelated to time travel, thought it was interesting that they could info dump directly to the mind, but because you didn't process it properly it was hard for the brain to access. I couldn't help picturing Neo from the Matrix.


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

Andrea wrote: "G33z3r wrote: "assuming "before" and "after" have any meaning in a world with time travel"

That was actually my reaction to Randy's post. I figured it most certainly took place "after" Doomsday if Doomsday took place in the plague years and Firewatch during the War :)..."


Willis's time travel is interesting in that it only goes to the past and keeps a sort-of channel (I forget what she called it) open from your origin, so if you spend 6 months in 1940 you return 6 months later to 2055 (or whatever date you left.) In Doomsday Book & To Say Nothing of the Dog, it's believed that the time portal won't open if it's possible to change the past; in All Clear they come to question whether that's really the case.

In Fire Watch, I don't think there's any doctrine on how changeable the past is. You would think they wouldn't be sending historians back to the past if they thought there was a chance they could change things. Still, Bartholomew seems under the impression that if he doesn't keep an eye on Langby, the latter might succeed in burning down St. Paul's, even though history says it survived the war.


message 20: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2818 comments G33z3r wrote: "In Fire Watch, I don't think there's any doctrine on how changeable the past is. You would think they wouldn't be sending historians back to the past if they thought there was a chance they could change things. Still, Bartholomew seems under the impression that if he doesn't keep an eye on Langby, the latter might succeed in burning down St. Paul's, even though history says it survived the war."

He did seem to think he had been sent with a purpose, whether to save the church or to save the girl, which implied he thought he could change history and not just observe it. I wondered if that was the point the head of the department was trying to make by sending him there unprepared, that he can't actually change anything or save anyone?

Then again, he's not changing the past if he was already part of the past and he did succeed in playing whatever role he needed to play so history would happen they way they thought it should from the POV of 2055, one of those destiny kind of things. You would actually change history by not going back and changing history...


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) G33z3r wrote: "I mentioned earlier that I thought Willis used the Kivrin comments in Fire Watch as a jumping-off point for Doomsday Book."

Well, that's what I get for skimming through your posts. ;-)


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) Donald wrote: "Randy wrote: "Gwyneth Paltrow"

Wow now my illusions are getting shattered."


Fortunately, I can confirm that Queen Elizabeth is in fact British.


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