Friend and science fiction author Connie Willis was lauded in today’s news. Read on!
Review: “Blackout” author Connie Willis a worthy heir to Heinlein
Special to The Denver Post
Even more, Willis carries on the Heinlein spirit via characters who are self-reliant and driven: from the spunky, time-traveling Kivrin of “Doomsday Book” to the determined research psychologist, Joanna Lander, who uncovers the mysteries of near-death experience in “Passage,” Willis’ previous novel, published in 2002.
But along with Heinlein, one of the larger influences on Willis’ body of fiction has been the comedy of manners style of writing. Echoes of everything from Jane Austen to screwball cinema comedies (like “Bringing Up Baby” or “His Girl Friday”) can be felt in the often frustrating turns, twists and roadblocks that appear in a typical Willis novel.
It’s no surprise, then, that all of these things come into play in her latest novel, “Blackout,” which, like “Doomsday Book” and “To Say Nothing of the Dog,” is set in an alternate universe featuring a fascinating group of time-traveling historians who conduct excursions out of the University of Oxford in England, during the mid-21st century.
“Blackout” occurs during a time of great chaos in the future, circa 2060, with dozens of historians being sent back to pivotal moments in history, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks the American Civil War and various moments during World War II (Dunkirk, Pearl Harbor, etc). Most of the young, time-traveling historians sent out by Professor Dunworthy (and technician Badri, surely one of the worst at his job) often find themselves sidetracked.
Merope Ward — rechristened Eileen, because of her unusual name — is supposed to observe the evacuation of children to the English countryside, but more often than not she finds herself trying to round up Alf and Binnie, two unrepentant brats left in her charge. Polly is trying to observe the shop girls in London but ends up distracted by the firewatch crew at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Mike, was supposed to be at Pearl Harbor, finds himself miles away from his intended destination: the white cliffs of Dover.
To further confuse matters, young Colin Templer (who played a significant role in “Doomsday Book”) has fallen in love with Polly, four years his senior, and is determined to travel back to the Crusades and use the paradox of time-travel to “catch up” to Polly in age.
Amid all this chaos, assignments are suddenly being changed without warning, air raids, V1 rockets and unexploded bombs cause havoc and present danger, and as lives are put in peril via missteps and miscalculations, the time-traveling historians begin to suspect that the long- held belief that the past can’t be affected is dead wrong.
Science fiction writers are always having to point out that the genre isn’t so much a prediction of things to come, but rather a commentary on things that already are.
Those of us living in the present might notice that Willis draws parallels with our “war on terror” to the brave souls of London who endured a constant barrage — every day, for several years — with humor and courage, never letting Hitler’s bombs and terrorism get the better of them or change their way of life.
“Blackout” is a tour-de-force return to the novel form by a woman who is one of Colorado’s best novelists, one of America’s finest writers and who has more than earned her place among the greats of science fiction — Robert Heinlein, included.
Fair warning: “Blackout,” which ends on a cliffhanger, is the first half of a two-part story. Fortunately, readers won’t have to wait long for the conclusion, since “All Clear” will publish in October.
Dorman T. Shindler lives in Melbourne, Australia.