Doomsday Book by Connie Willis 2

This is one of the finest science fiction novels I’ve ever read. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.

I listened to the audio edition, which runs 26 hours and 20 minutes. When I started listening I was immediately hooked, however, the pace of the plot is exceedingly slow. Several reviewers at Goodreads give it one star because they claim it needs severe editing. I thought that too — for a while.

I had read so many great reviews of this book that I felt compelled to stick with it. Around ten hours I thought about giving up because nothing was happening, but listening was still compelling. Around fifteen hours I said to myself I was glad I read this book but I’d never reread it. In the last few hours, I knew I would reread it again.

There are two kinds of history – the sweeping history usually found in school and textbooks, and the everyday living kind of history full of details about ordinary living found in books by a new breed of historians. This novel is an everyday life time-travel story. If you loved Timescape by Gregory Benford you should like Doomsday Book. I believe time travel is impossible but these two books are the Hard SF of time travel.

Doomsday Book shows the intricate plotting of a J. K. Rowling novel combined with a fine sense of drama. Be warned, this story ultimately feels like a boxer is using your heart for a punching bag. It is relentless in its realism. Now I understand why the story needed so many words to be told.

I feel sorry for people who can’t listen to the audiobook edition of Doomsday Book read by Jenny Sterlin. There is no way I could have experienced this novel so deeply with my own wimpy inner reading voice.

James Wallace Harris

9 thoughts on “Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

        1. Then what are some of your favorite time travel stories?

          By the way, Connie Willis has a whole series of time travel stories, and Doomsday Book is the first novel (but before it was the short story “Firewatch”). Next up as Doug has mentioned above, is To Say Nothing of the Dog which I hear takes a lighter tone. Later on is the Blackout/All Clear pair of novels.

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        2. You’ve put me on the spot there! Almost exclusively it would be short stories, in fact at the longer length I can only recall one off the top of my head, “Up The Line” by Robert Silverberg, which I must have read 30 or more years ago. Interestingly, Wikipedia tells me “the plot revolves mainly around the paradoxes brought about by time travel, though it is also notable for its liberal dosage of sex and humor”, but I remember neither of those aspects of the book!! Apparently, Algis Budrys disliked the novel primarily for those reasons.

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        3. I hope you have read Time and Again by Jack Finney, it’s a classic time travel novel, with photographs. I also liked The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger. One of my favorites is The Door into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein. Oh, The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold is very good too. I don’t know if you would consider this a time travel novel, but I do, and it’s a masterpiece, is Replay by Ken Grimwood.

          I used to read lots of time travel stories in the old days, but I’ve mostly forgotten them. The Mists of Dawn by Chad Oliver was pretty good. Robert F. Young write several really fun time travel short stories.

          Of course, the absolute best is The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. Stephen Baxter wrote a sequel to it called The Time Ships which was a lot of fun. That’s all I can remember for now….

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  1. Thanks – more novels for my reading list! I have read the classic by H. G. Wells several times over the years since the first occasion at school aged 11. The Time Ships is in one of the multiple piles of books still to be read (I do like Baxter as well). I also enjoyed the Niffenegger, and the film adaptation is on the shelf waiting to be watched.

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