Thursday, August 20, 2015

1993 Hugo Winner: The Doomsday Book

Connie Willis
Completed 5/17/2013, reviewed 5/18/2013
5 stars

The first Connie Willis book I read was “To Say Nothing Of The Dog.”  I found it boring.  Knowing that I had two more Willis books to read filled me with dread.  Reluctantly, I finally got this book from the library.  I tried to psych myself up for it.  I had just completed “Neuromancer” and didn’t like it.  Any book after this would be better.  And “Doomsday” was about time travel to the middle ages.

It wasn’t just a step up; it was fantastic.  I read this novel voraciously.  It was the first novel I’ve read while commuting on a bus or light rail, 7-10 pages per ride, where I didn’t feel like I lost the momentum of the story.  I read it every chance I got.  It was that good.  This novel made me fall in love with Connie Willis’ writing.

The basic story of travelling to the 14th century tugged at my fascination of that period.  About 20 years ago, I listened to Barbara Tuchman’s “A Distant Mirror.” Although I wasn’t as good a reader of non-fiction at that time, I mostly enjoyed it.  I love watching Science Channel documentaries about the middle ages.  The gift of Connie Willis is that she made me care for people of the 1300s more than any non-fiction work I’ve come across. 

Like “Dog,” “Doomsday” bounces back and forth between the past and the present.  The great thing about this book is that the two times parallel each other.  She makes you an intimate part of the action of both times.  And she creates vivid characters in each as well. 

There were times when I thought she could have moved that action a little more quickly.  But she creates many supporting characters who are just as equally well-developed.  Their characters take time to unfold, but they become intricately involved in the movement of the story. 

And I cared so much for so many of the characters, Kirvin, Agnes, Dunworthy, Dr Mary Ahern, even the annoying Mrs Gaddins and Lady Imyene.  And what’s a story that takes place in England without annoying English stereotypes.  At times, their actions are absurd, funny, and frustrating, as in a Monty Python sketch.  But they are more than comic relief, they create interpersonal conflict and make the story that much more exciting and readable.

Kirvin is a brilliant character.  Her relationship with the “contemps” of the 1300s is wonderful, joyful, and heartbreaking.  I was nearly moved to tears towards the end of the book by her love for these people.  It wasn’t saccharine; it was mature drama.  Her evolution from outsider to angel is completely gripping. 

I have to sing the praises of this book.  I think I’m going to give this book 5 stars because of how much it moved me.  The ending is gut-wrenching and breath-taking.  I would consider this book a modern masterpiece of science fiction.  It is the perfect example of the evolution of soft SF.  It’s a well crafted story that keeps you riveted to the end, with amazing characters with whom you develop your own deep, personal relationship.

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