three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
46-May-June-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-BlackoutThe winner of ten Hugo Awards and six Nebula Awards and the author of Doomsday Book, Connie Willis was recently inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

The Story: A good work of history can make readers feel as if they have entered a time machine and traveled back to the past. But in several novels by Connie Willis, historians in the year 2060 actually have this ability and use it to conduct research (or at least get their tireless graduate students to do it). In Blackout, a group of Oxford students have gone back to World War II to see how average people in London survived Hitler's Blitz. While these historians have to worry about everything, from adopting proper 20th-century attire to navigating their workplaces' romances, they can at least be confident that the sophisticated 21st-century controls to the time-travel "net" prevent them from changing history. Or so they think ...
Spectra. 512 pages. $26. ISBN : 9780553803198

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Blackout is a tour-de-force return to the novel form by a woman who is ... one of America's finest writers and who has more than earned her place among the greats of science fiction. ... Fair warning: Blackout, which ends on a cliffhanger, is the first half of a two-part story." Dorman T. Shindler

Locus 4 of 5 Stars
"In addition to her deft comedic touch, Willis is also a master at fully immersing the reader in her worlds without resorting to clunky informational dumps. Her 1940s Britain is richly textured, perhaps because she is so keen at focusing her attentions on her characters and how they respond to the time they are experiencing, rather than painting vast canvases for them to walk across." Adrienne Martini

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Willis balances tragedy and comedy more deftly in Blackout than in her previous time-travel novels, often framing her characters' inadvertent humor against a somber background. ... Like the Brits, [her] sense of the absurd builds on life's uncertainties. It's a mad world, with wit our sole defense against destiny's outrageous bombs and rockets." Nisi Shawl

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Willis' novel is so richly detailed that parts of it can be slow reading, especially for an American reader who does not know where Bethnal Green and Piccadilly Circus are, and how these neighborhoods might relate to each other. But this density is critical to the story: For their safety, the historians depend upon, even as they begin to doubt the reliability of, specific implanted knowledge of where bombs fell and when, and of which buildings were consequently destroyed." Jim Higgins

io9.com 3 of 5 Stars
"Unless you are an absolutely rabid Willis fan--which would be understandable--or you are infinitely patient, I would recommend waiting to buy Blackout until All Clear is also available later this year. It seems obvious to me that they need to be read back-to-back, and it's a shame the publisher didn't offer readers that opportunity." Annalee Newitz

Critical Summary

Reviewers were delighted to see any new book by Connie Willis, but particularly one that returns to the time-travel premise she explored so deftly in classics such as Doomsday Book. Most critics felt that she expanded further on that premise here, balancing more interesting characters with a wealth of historical detail while also complicating the assumptions of the universe she creates. A few critics felt a little overwhelmed by the amount of information on World War II-era London yielded by the characters' (and Willis's) research. But the more common frustration was the way in which Willis split the story into two volumes: the next part, All Clear, will not be out until fall 2010.