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To Say Nothing of the Dog (Oxford Time Travel, #2)
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December 2018: Geek Reads > To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis 3/5 Stars

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message 1: by Dan (last edited Dec 17, 2018 09:41AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan | 16 comments Last summer, my family had the misfortune of living with me as I read Connie Willis's Blackout. I hated it--and I found myself ranting over all the details that frustrated and annoyed me. How could the novel win the Hugo AND the Nebula? It was terrible, beyond redemption. I had enjoyed Doomsday Book, but I knew To Say Nothing of the Dog was looming as I continued to read Hugo winners.

When I started this one, I braced myself. The time travelers were again in London during the Blitz, and AGAIN they were there for the most nebulous of reasons--to find the "Bishop's stump," a kind of Victorian vase, to ensure it was there so the reconstructed Coventry Cathredral in the future from which our intrepid travelers traveled could be just like it. Yes, indeed, let's send time travelers and risk death so the reconstruction is just neat.

Well, one of the time travelers has traveled through time too much and his brain is slowly going to mush. To avoid the harridan behind the Conventry Cathredral project from neglecting his health by demanding he be sent back to war-time London (because, in Willis's world, time travelers are a spineless lot), the time travelers decide to "hide" him on a boat trip down the Thames during Victorian times.

I kid you not--that is true. Wait, wait--I'm controlling myself. Taking a deep breath. Yes, Dan, it's the most rediculous plot device imaginable and, yes, these time travelers are indeed idiots. See my review of Blackout for more material in this vein.

Now, in the midst of all this, Connie is writing an homage to Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat and is riffing on that nebulous genre of humor. Those zany boaters, those crazy Victorians with their crazy notions. I think this was to be amusing, but I didn't find it funny. Evidently, if one time travels, then one encounters every stereotyped character seen in lavish BBC productions. The absent-minded professor! The class-obsessed matron! The eccentric father who is a former colonel. The patient, organized butler who puts up with these zany Victorians and their crazy luggage and demands.

But I liked this book. It wasn't as good as Doomsday Book--that's still Connie's best work--but it's not as terrible as Blackout. In this work, Connie touches upon something which floored me as a science fiction reader.

Suppose, just suppose, the technology for enabling time travel is invented. Then, after some intial forays into the past (cause backwards is all you can do here), it is evident you're unable to bring back any artifacts. If you so much as have on a pair of pants from the time, you won't come forward. Additionally, you can't visit certain points in the past--you try to visit the actual Battle of Waterloo, for instance, you're likely to find yourself in Wyoming territory in 1882. If such were the case, then a lot of major corporations would lose interest quickly. If we can't exploit the past for materials, then why go? The answer is history. What happened during the London blitz? What happened at Waterloo? University departments wanted to travel to the past--and not much else. Connie doesn't mention tourism, but then again, preparing to visit without drawing attention to yourself makes tourism rather difficult.

So you can't take anything, you can only look. Corporations aren't interested anymore. Universities are--and they need money. Enter a wealthy matron who wants to reconstruct Coventry Cathetral and will fund further research if pleased, and you have this novel.

I'm glossing over the details, of course. Connie Willis wants to bring in The Moonstone and Agatha Christie and spiritualism--but, in the end, the critical component of this story is don't mess with time. And, I'm pleased to see, I liked the ending. It all came together, but it certainly could have come together a lot sooner if our protagonists were, I don't know, intelligent people.

Do I recommend this book? Yes--but only if you have read and enjoyed Doomsday Book first. If you have but didn't enjoy that novel, do not dip your foot in this one. And, if you do and find this ever so enjoyable--stop there. Do not go to Blackout, just don't.

Karin | 7197 comments Perhaps I ought to read Domesday Book--this was only about a 3 star read for me, back when I read it, before GR and Shelfari existed.

message 3: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan | 16 comments I read Doomsday Book<\i> a while back, but it was a thrilling page turner. Willis’s historical research and plotting was much more interesting then. The medieval world with the plague was engaging and memorable. Her obsession with WWII Britain isn’t as captivating for me.

Elise (ellinou) | 525 comments Aw, I loved all four of them! It's true that Blackout and All Clear were more annoying the second time I read them, when I knew the plot so saw more of whatever else was happening, so I can see where you're coming from.

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