Doomsday Book

Connie Willis
Doomsday Book Cover

Too Long


I read Willis' Blackout when it was nominated for the Hugo. I despised it--bloated, slow and repetitive. I didn't care about the plot or the characters enough to tolerate the 800-900 pages of All Clear to find out what happened. I said--no more Connie Willis. But then the other day, I friend handed me The Doomsday Book and said I should read it. (She's about to teach an honors seminar on plague with a theatre professor and a biologist and had read it for that syllabus.) "What the hell," I said, "at least it's only 575 pages instead of 800." So, it won a lot of awards and will help my stats (Though, I am not interested in completion). I think I'm glad that I read it, but this really is the last Connie Willis. Reading it helped me figure out what I don't like about her writing and plotting.

She has no imagination about the future. The Oxford world really is 1992, just with the ability to travel through time. The "problems" that are the basis of most of Dunsworthy's troubles are no longer problems to us. Everyone has wireless communication, phones, texting, computers. So much of the plot is about calling other people on video verion of landlines. Really! Guess what? There were cell phones in 1992. (They looked like a brick with an antenna). It would not have been too hard for Willis to imagine a work with better wireless communication. Watch an episode of Star Trek! The plot tensions created by missing messages, not knowing where someone is, waiting on phone calls, and misunderstandings in general take up a large chunk of the modern part of the book and seem completely disingenuous.

I don't like authors who try to make me feel smart. What all this repetition and to-ing and fro-ing does is give me plenty of time to figure out what is going on. I foresaw almost every plot twist because she telegraphs them. I want to be surprised. I want read an author and say "Damn, she is smart!" I don't want to say "See how smart I am? I saw that coming."

In short, I cannot find her storytelling organic in any way. It is bloated and repetitive. At least Kivrin was more likeable than the historians in Blackout, and there was only one of her.