“Blackout,” a Review

Blackout” is a book by the science fiction writer Connie Willis, and I just finished reading it and thought I’d write down a few comments.  First, it’s a relatively large book, 491 pages and probably well over 100,000 words.  But that didn’t stop me, I plowed right into it and began a great time of reading.  I don’t usually think of books as the type “I couldn’t put it down,” but this one qualifies as closely as any.  I’m not really sure what it is that makes a book like that, but I enjoyed reading it so much that whenever I did put it down, I couldn’t wait to get back to it.  Most books don’t do that to me, and I’ve always wondered why.  I’ve got a couple of theories.

First, the subject of the book was relatively interesting to me, though I realize others who try to read it might not find it so.  The plot revolves around three time-travelers from Oxford, England, who, from the year 2060, travel back to 1940 England to study the British people as they endure the Blitz–the bombing of London–and the evacuation of British armed forces from Dunkirk, France, as the German army was about to encircle them.  I’ve had an interest in WWII for a long time, perhaps because I grew up in the years just following the war and heard about it from everyone who had anything to do with it.  I don’t remember the war itself, but I remember hearing about it from so many others.  It made an especially good topic for numerous TV shows, documentary as well as fictional series.  My father was in the war too, in Europe, especially in England, though he was there later, around 1943 to 1944, preparing for the invasion.  Thus, the subject of the book had a familiarity about it that appealed to me.  Someone else, especially a person much younger, who picks up this book might not feel the same way.

Second, though the book is large, the writing is well done and intriguing.  The largest part of the book is taken up with the time-travelers’ mishaps.  Things don’t always go well for them, even though they’ve researched the Blitz and the evacuation, as well as London at that time before they make the time travel leap into the past.  Their research isn’t always accurate, though.  Accidents happen, unforeseen events take place, and setbacks occur that turn a simple sojourn into the past into a life-threatening adventure for all three characters.  After all, going back into the past to a place where bombs fall every night onto the place you are staying doesn’t make for a simple time studying the population.  Yet, the excitement of it all made for a fascinating read, and I was held to the book all the way.  I’ve picked up smaller books that never held my attention anywhere nearly as well.   I had read one other Connie Willis book, “To Say Nothing of the Dog,” also a time travel book, and though I made it through to the end, it didn’t hold my attention quite as well, and was a little hesitant to try “Blackout.”  I’m glad I did.

One small caveat.  There are a lot of details in the book, and it was hard to keep track of all of them.  Several times I had to refer to the front of the book to refresh my memory.  Ms. Willis obviously did a lot of research, and used it well in the construction of the plot.

In short, I recommend the book highly.  I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, “All Clear,” which, as I understand it, wraps up the story.  I’ll order it soon.  It won the Hugo Award last year.

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