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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Blackout – Connie Willis

Blackout is the first book in a two-book series, (All Clear is the second novel) that tells the stories of a group of time travelling historians stuck in England during different periods of World War II.  While it’s a stand-alone series, Blackout is not the first novel set in this universe and unfortunately it shows.  Blackout won both Hugo and Nebula awards for Science Fiction, but the book contains very few sci-fi elements.  The plot centers around the use of time travel, but time travel is never explained. 
I really enjoyed the early chapters of this book where, due to some mysterious circumstances that are tantalizingly hinted in early chapters, our time travelers are frantically trying to get ready for their trips back in time whose departure dates have suddenly been brought radically forward leaving them underprepared for such a dangerous period in history.  Unfortunately, those mysterious circumstances are never explained.  It was the most interesting hook in the book, but as soon as our time travelers have made it to their destinations in World War II England, they promptly get stuck there and the rest of the book is essentially comprised of WWII stories as told by panic-stricken narrators. 
And our narrators are some of the least likable characters I’ve ever encountered.  Despite knowing how and when the war ends, where every bomb falls  in London and believing that they cannot change the course of history no matter what they do, every character allows themselves to be pushed around by others and they worry constantly about alterations to the timeline.  Also, despite knowing something has happened to prevent them from returning to the future, when our characters finally manage to meet up (after a series of ridiculous co-incidences that prevented them from doing so for most of the book) do they discuss their number one problem?  No.  They’re too worried that their fellow time-travelers are too mentally fragile to handle such a discussion. 
Ultimately the plot feels contrived, the characters are unlikable and the one decent plot hook goes frustratingly undeveloped from chapter four onward.  How this novel won both a Hugo and Nebula award I’ll never know, because despite persisting with this book long after I normally would, I cannot bring myself to continue the story with All Clear.

Michael L.

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