Book Review – All Clear

I just finished listening to the audiobook version of All Clear by Connie Willis, narrated by Katherine Kellgren. This book is the second part of one long story that started in Blackout, which I reviewed here, and is part of the author’s larger Oxford Time Travel book series. This duology won the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards.

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Here is the blurb:

In Blackout, award-winning author Connie Willis returned to the time-traveling future of 2060—the setting for several of her most celebrated works—and sent three Oxford historians to World War II England: Michael Davies, intent on observing heroism during the Miracle of Dunkirk; Merope Ward, studying children evacuated from London; and Polly Churchill, posing as a shopgirl in the middle of the Blitz. But when the three become unexpectedly trapped in 1940, they struggle not only to find their way home but to survive as Hitler’s bombers attempt to pummel London into submission.

Now the situation has grown even more dire. Small discrepancies in the historical record seem to indicate that one or all of them have somehow affected the past, changing the outcome of the war. The belief that the past can be observed but never altered has always been a core belief of time-travel theory—but suddenly it seems that the theory is horribly, tragically wrong.

Meanwhile, in 2060 Oxford, the historians’ supervisor, Mr. Dunworthy, and seventeen-year-old Colin Templer, who nurses a powerful crush on Polly, are engaged in a frantic and seemingly impossible struggle of their own—to find three missing needles in the haystack of history.

Told with compassion, humor, and an artistry both uplifting and devastating, All Clear is more than just the triumphant culmination of the adventure that began with Blackout. It’s Connie Willis’s most humane, heartfelt novel yet—a clear-eyed celebration of faith, love, and the quiet, ordinary acts of heroism and sacrifice too often overlooked by history.

I enjoyed this book more than the first half of the story in Blackout, probably because I was more invested in the characters by this point, and we see the characters figure out the mystery behind their problems with time travel. I think that the story worked better having the three main characters in contact with each other as well, rather than constantly missing each other as they did in Blackout.

The audio production of both these books was nicely done also. While this is quite a long story, my attention didn’t wander often while listening, which is more likely for me with an audiobook than a physical book.

The ending of the book brings everything to a satisfying close. I anticipated some of the outcomes but the author still threw in some facets that I hadn’t thought about. This is the kind of book that may be worth rereading once you know how it ends since there are many small pieces to the story that I likely missed on the first pass.

Have you read any of Connie Willis’s time travel books? Let me know in the comments.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Blackout

I am not a huge history buff and it has been decades since I took a history class. However, I did delve into Connie Willis’s time travel books a few years ago with The Doomsday Book, set mostly during the spread of the Black Death in medieval England. I really enjoyed that story, but I don’t think I ever reviewed it here.

My book club wanted to read Blackout, another book in the series, set mainly during World War II. This is a book that you can pick up even if you haven’t read the earlier ones, as they’re loosely related. However, Blackout is only the beginning of a two-part story that is finished in the book All Clear, which I plan to start reading next.

The duology won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel and the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

Here is the blurb:

Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place, with scores of time-traveling historians being sent into the past. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser into letting her go to VE-Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, and dive-bombing Stukas–to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past.

I listened to Blackout as an audiobook (narrated by Katherine Kellgren), and while I enjoyed the book, I felt a little bogged down in some of the details. However, that is also one of the strong points of the book. The author does a wonderful job portraying the details of everyday life in WW2 England and interweaving that with the historical events. Being a terrible history student, I can’t say how accurate these details are, but it certainly feels authentic when reading it.

The characters feel well-drawn but are a bit frustrating to read about at times. I wanted to shout at them occasionally, but part of the story seems to be about how coincidence and accidents shaped history. The overall theme here relates to whether the past can be changed by these small events, and in the end, that question is still unanswered in this book.

In terms of pacing, I also felt like it took a while for the plot to emerge because there isn’t any real antagonist. Hitler is in the background of the plot, but the three main characters aren’t supposed to have any direct role in the war. Once things start to go wrong, it takes time for them to finally become convinced something is wrong and start to deal with it.

I did enjoy the book enough that I need to read the sequel though. None of the plot threads are resolved in this one, and I read that the publisher had split the original manuscript for the book into two volumes because of the length, so the author had intended it to be one long story.

Have you read Blackout or any of Connie Willis’s other books? Let me know in the comments.

Find more of my reviews here. And please follow the links to help support this blog.

Book Review – Dragonflight

Sometimes I wonder if books I had read and loved when growing up would still stand up if I read them again now. One of my book clubs decided to read Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey a few months ago, so I had a chance to evaluate that idea.

As a pre-teen and teenager, I read everything that Anne McCaffrey had written, including multiple re-reads of the Dragonriders of Pern series. I have to say that Dragonflight certainly still stands up as one of my favorite books of all time. While it is the first book in a series, it can also be read as a stand-alone.

Here is the blurb, which is a bit spoilery:

To the nobles who live in Ruatha Hold, Lessa is nothing but a ragged kitchen girl. For most of her life she has survived by serving those who betrayed her father and took over his lands. Now the time has come for Lessa to shed her disguise—and take back her stolen birthright.

But everything changes when she meets a queen dragon. The bond they share will be deep and last forever. It will protect them when, for the first time in centuries, Lessa’s world is threatened by Thread, an evil substance that falls like rain and destroys everything it touches. Dragons and their Riders once protected the planet from Thread, but there are very few of them left these days. Now brave Lessa must risk her life, and the life of her beloved dragon, to save her beautiful world. . .

The first sections of this book were originally published as novellas in Analog Science Fiction Magazine. The first of these, Weyr Search, won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards for Best Novella, making McCaffrey the first woman to win either award.

The story follows two main characters, with Lessa being the more dominant lead character. She came across as more prickly and less trusting than I remembered her to be. The plot moves quickly and introduces the reader to the telepathic dragons and the civilization that has adapted to Pern and the unique threat of Thread that falls from the sky.

I have always felt like the Dragonriders of Pern were more fantasy to me than science fiction, but on this re-read I do see how the science fiction aspects are woven in to hint at the underlying science background to the world of Pern to a greater extent than I remembered in this first book.

If you’ve never read anything by Anne McCaffrey, this is a wonderful book to start with. You can also continue with books 2 (Dragonquest) and 3 (The White Dragon) to complete the first section of the series. In my opinion, the eleventh book, All the Weyrs of Pern should have been the last book, as I felt like nothing else needed to be resolved after that ending. I read one or two in the series after that, but it just wasn’t the same world to me.

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