Author: Connie Willis
Title: All Clear
Publication Info: New York : Spectra, 2010.
Previous Works By Same Author:
As noted in my review of Blackout
this book is less of a sequel and more of a direct continuation of one lengthy work about three time travelers studying life in England in the early years of World War II. Both books are part of a larger series of loosely connected works by Connie Willis about a future Oxford University where graduate students in history are able to study the past by traveling through time via a mechanism known as the net. I enjoy Willis’ approach to time travel fiction and particularly am impressed with her well-researched and detailed descriptions of contemporary life.
The three main characters Polly, Eileen, and Michael finally met up toward the conclusion of Blackout and now begin working together to find a way to an open drop in the net that will return them to Oxford. The mysterious characters of the previous book turn out to not be so mysterious after all and are woven fairly well into the narrative, although through unlikely coincidences that approach the edge of plausibility. And yes, they do get out of the past (well, sort of) but the conclusion is satisfyingly unexpected.
I did find the greatest flaw of both of these novels is that a character will come up with an idea, will then discuss the same idea, and then carry out the idea which created a lot of unnecessary repetition (especially since every attempt to return to the future is a flop). If Willis could have tightened up the novel and created more tension if she did more showing and less telling, perhaps even condensing the story to one volume. Still I found these lengthy tomes to be mesmerizing and read straight through to find out what would happen next, so it’s still an engaging work with a great attention to detail.
Author: Connie Willis
Previous Works By Same Author:
Connie Willis is one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy authors and I particularly enjoy her take on time travel fiction in works such as Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog so I eagerly sought out this book once I learned of it. This book like the two previous I mentioned is set in a future Oxford where graduate students in history study the past by traveling through time through a device known as the net. Blackout shares some of the supporting characters of the earlier novels but focuses on three young historians studying England in the early days of the second World War. Polly, the main protagonist of the novel, is an experienced time traveling historian observing people in shelters during the London Blitz. Eileen is a new historian spending time working with children evacuated to the countryside. Michael is hoping to learn about heroism by visiting various battles including the evacuation of Dunkirk.
<Spoilers Begin Here> All three historians find themselves unexpectedly trapped in their time. Furthermore, they find themselves participating in major historical events and seemingly affecting their outcome, something that the time travel theory of the net says should be impossible. The main conflict of the novel becomes whether Polly, Eileen, and Michael can find a way out of the past which means first they must find one another. <Spoilers End Here>
I find the best part of this novel is that it captures the everyday life of English people during the War in great detail, almost as if Willis were a time traveler herself shedding light on the ordinary life of the past. Willis’ thorough research and attention to detail carries the novel through even at times when the plot and dialogue are a little flat. There are other characters introduced in the novel who are seemingly dropped although their resolution is made clear when I realized that the next book All Clear is not so much a sequel as a direct continuation of a lengthy work.
Author: Dr. Ronald L. Mallett
Title: Time Traveller: A Scientist’s Personal Mission To Make Time Travel A Reality
Publication Info: New York : Thunder’s Mouth Press, c2006.
Young Ronald Mallett was devastated when he was a ten-year old having to deal with his beloved father’s death. Discovering the concept of time travel in science fiction and later in scientific works dealing with general relativity, Mallett commits himself to learning mathematics and physics so that he can invent a time machine and go back in time to prevent his father’s early demise. This motivation carries Mallett through school, military service, teaching and research until at last his theories are being tested in research lab. Sadly, there’s no time machine yet. Mallett’s story is all the more interesting that as an African-American he had to face racial discrimination in his quest as well as being the only black man in the room at many gatherings of physicists. Mallett writes an engaging autobiography and is also good at explaining scientific concepts in layman’s language.
Related Works: Feynman’s Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life by Leonard Mlodinow
Author: Selden Edwards
Title: The Little Book
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2008), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
Wheeler Burden is a lot of things:
- son of a revered athlete and war hero
- a successful – if not ambitious – high school and college baseball pitcher
- a rock & roll superstar
- heir to a mentor’s collection of writings about fin-de-siecle Vienna which he publishes into a book
- a time traveler
I do love a time travel adventure and this is a pretty good one as the protagonist Burden suddenly arrives in Vienna in 1898. Armed with the knowledge provided by his teacher “the venerable Haze” he successfully navigates a time half-a-century before his birth and becomes acquainted with the intellectual socialites of the time. More surprisingly he meets quite a few people he already knows. The novel jumps between Burden’s story in Vienna and biographical stories of three generations of the Burden family. Along the way, Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler and Buddy Holly among others play a part.
It’s not a perfect book as Edwards’ dialogue and characterization is kind of weak, and there’s no end to the superlatives he lays on the characters we’re supposed to like. But there’s enough of a cracking adventure to make it worth a read. File it under intellectual brain candy.
Recommended books: To Say Nothing of the Dog; or, How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last by Connie Willis, Time and Again by Jack Finney, and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Also reminiscent of John Irving’s early works because of the New England boarding school and Vienna connections. Said to be inspired by Fin-de-Siecle by Carl Schorske.