Doomsday Book by Connie Willis has been languishing unread on my shelves for several years. Since Connie Willis is basically one of the canon authors of science fiction/fantasy these days, I figured I should finally pick it up and be one of the cool kids. Good decision? DEFINITELY! This book is seriously engrossing, you guys. Complex, engaging, tragic…we are given a lot of characters to follow, and not a lot of hope that they will make it to the end of the story unscathed.
The synopsis is awesome, you guys: TIME TRAVEL! When Doomsday Book starts, it is basically – welcome to the future. Time travel is a thing, but only for scholarly purposes. Everyone isn’t popping back and forth between centuries all willy-nilly, a lot of time and research goes into each drop. Time periods are rated on how dangerous they are, and a lot of them are banned. Like, the medieval centuries for instance. However, a series of circumstances has occurred in which Kivrin, a medieval scholar, is being allowed to travel back to 1320s England. Plenty of time to learn stuff while still avoiding the black plague by a couple of decades.
Her tutor, Mr. Dunworthy is totally against this scheme, panicked about all the things that could go wrong. But alas, it is hasta la vista to Kivrin within a few pages. Within an hour, the tech in charge of the drop collapses from a mystery illness. WTF? Shouldn’t that be something Kivrin has to deal with, not everyone safely ensconced in the late 21st century?
So anyway, longest synopsis ever in a review, sorry. But I just love the plot so much! As the story progresses, we jump back and forth between the past and the future and see how what turns out to be two pretty parallel story lines converge.
So, most of the negative reviews I’ve seen bash Doomsday Book because there are no cell phones in the future. Um, hello – this was written in 1992 before they became a permanent attachment to our bodies. How can you fault the book for that? Like, “*shakes fist* That bitch Connie Willis didn’t really know what the future would look like! How dare she! IMPOSTOR!” Puh-leaze. I find it kinda amusing that about 83% of Dunsworthy’s time is spent panicked and tied to a land line, trying to reach people.
As for the past? Sigh, it made me happy (despite being horribly depressing). The era is one of my favorites, and I kept having these hilarious “wow, so THIS is what it was really like! oh wait *headdesk* FICTION, ALLISON! THIS IS FICTION!” moments. Also, there is one character in particular – Father Roche – that fascinated me. I wish we’d learned more about him, but he remained an enigma for the most part. (If this had been a book with different priorities, he and Kivrin would have totally hooked up.)
Basically, if your list of must-read book buzz words contains medieval, time travel, epidemic or future-with-only-land-line-telephones (hey, it could happen), Doomsday Book is one you need to pick up. It is so consuming – I always felt transported when I read it. The only downside is the large cast of characters, which keeps you from being able to really get to know anyone super well. I never really felt 100% invested in any of them. It was about being glued to the pages for the plot on this one, for sure. (A forgivable offense in this case since the plot is SO AWESOME.)
To Sum it Up:
- Academic time travel you guys – this needs to be a thing! Kivrin’s jaunt to 1320s England definitely held my interest.
- I really hope a horrible outbreak of the influenza isn’t really what we have to look forward to in the future…but it makes for great reading! I kept hoping all the annoying characters would die.
- The only downside to this FABULOUS read is the fact that the huge cast of characters keeps us from really delving in to anyone in detail, but all is forgiven since the plot is made of so much awesome.