Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis: book review


I liked these books or should I say I liked the idea of these books. Three historians go back in time to study World War II. Yes, that’s my cup of tea. However, the execution of the story rather failed. The amount of historical references and research is mind boggling, however, it almost weighs down the plot and becomes burdensome. It was hard enough to remember who is who in what year. Twists and revelations should be a pleasant Aha! But instead I found myself, “Wait, where are we again?” I should have equipped myself with a highlighter and post it notes to keep track. There isn’t going to be a test on this, is there?

My other complaint is that this is one BIG book, not two. So if you plan to read it, make sure you have book two, All Clear, handy. Blackout/All Clear feel as if a meat cleaver was held over the manuscript and wherever it dropped was the book separation point. Ending book one with “For the riveting conclusion to Blackout, be sure not to miss Connie Willis’s All Clear. Coming from Spectra in Fall 2010” is a VERY BAD IDEA for any author to do. No avid reader wants to encounter that sentence while nestled in bed and yet feel compelled to run to the bookstore fifteen minutes before closing wearing their jammy jams to find out what happens next. You can’t not go to the store when the story train is charging down the track with no station in sight. As an author, you have to wrap up a story a little bit to make reading the first book satisfying, otherwise how are we supposed to sleep at night. I’m seriously glad that both of these books were available when I did read them and I didn’t have to wait for the second half to be written, otherwise, I’d be mailing my psyche bills to Connie Willis.

Next point: three historians choose to go to WWII to study and spend every minute there worrying about getting home. I’m not sure if any of them actually wrote down any observations at all. They seem to mostly check that x happened at y time, basically verifying another person’s research instead of doing any of their own. If any of these characters was actually to write a thesis on their trip they’d be screwed. People in the future have become incapable of some of the most basic tasks like wrapping a package, perhaps that’s what made WWII so fascinating for them, because the people then had only one choice, but struggle on, be resourceful and survive.

Throughout the books, the characters also repeated themselves often. The reader is able to see their inner thoughts and read that thought again as the character as they verbalize it to another character and again when another character arrives. Then the character will continue to worry about the thought for the next several paragraphs. What this book needed was a very good (and perhaps heartless) editor to strike through the repetition.

I did enjoy reading this book. I like history and figuring out how the stories all affected each other was fun. I just think it needs better execution…and some characters with a stiff upper lip.blackout-allclear

***Spoiler alert***

One more thing! THE ENDING! I know this book is about time travel, BUT you can’t hang your hat on “We were meant to be here, to do these things, because if we didn’t come from the future to get stuck here, none of the other things would have happened and our future selves would not have existed to make it back here to…” It basically means that everything is fate, you can’t change a damn thing that happens to you, and history can be dependent on someone that doesn’t yet exist. SO all the worrying the characters did over doing or not doing something was pointless, meaningless. They could have swung from the rafters of St. Paul’s and that would have ensured we won the war! I don’t like it!

Additionally, WTF was the whole Colin/Eileen thing about. It was too sudden. Let’s just toss an allusion into the very end of the book. You couldn’t just wrap it up with a bow and put a little chapter about how they finally reached Oxford and were happy. Instead, it’s hey, they might be related, supposedly, I’m not going to tell. This suggestion came out of left field and I had to do some online research about what other readers thought it meant. All in all, the ending left me feeling a little cheated. I put a lot of time into reading this and this is all I get?



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