Connie Willis has a new book out! Yesss! It was apparently too big and was split into two! Noooo! The rest of the story will come out in the fall. Sigh, that’s a long time to wait.
Blackout is a new story about the time traveling historians. This time they travel to England during the Second World War.
Even though the book starts with Colin Templar’s romantic notions, the main characters are three historians who are going to WWII to observe the contemporary people.
Merope Ward is in a country manor where she’s supposed to observe children evacuated from London. However, since she’s one of the maids, she also has to take care of them which turns out to be a daunting task. Her contemporary name is Eileen which is used during most of the book. She’s trying to deal with Binny and Alf Hodbins (spelling? I have an audio book.) who are real brats.
Michael Davies is going to Pearl Harbor and he has already done the research and the American accent implant. However, his drops have been rescheduled and before he can even do the proper research, he’s dropped into Dunkirk to observe the volunteer ships’ captains who evacuated British troops while under fire.
Polly Churchill is going to be a shopgirl in London during the Blitz. She’s observing the civilians there while living and working among them.
Colin is 17 and in love with Polly. He’s determined to stay in a different time period where he can live long enough to catch up to Polly, age wise. Polly doesn’t agree and neither does Mr. Dunworthy who is the head of time travel.
However, something weird is going on in Oxford: Mr. Dunworthy has changed almost every historian’s drop schedules which causes a lot of vexation among them. There’s also a long discussion between Colin and Dunworthy about how time travel is destroying the universe which I think will be significant in the second book.
Each chapter starts with a quote which is usually from the year that the chapter’s start is set in. They range from the speeches from Kings and Queens to wartime headlines.
There are a lot of people in the book. The three historians are all in different places and get to know different contemporary people. All of them are ordinary British people who are doing their best to cope with the war. The Hodbin hellions are exceptionally entertaining to read about.
Often enough there’s an atmosphere of confusion in the scenes when the people are trying to get from one place to the next, and the buses and trains don’t run and the streets can be rubble. In the shelters, the atmosphere can be claustrophobic. But I felt that was quite appropriate for the subject matter.
Even though the war is hardly a light thing to write about, there is also humor in the book. Particularly the parts set in the 2060 Oxford contain a lot of humor, IMHO. Also, the Hodbins with their pranks are giggle-worthy. However, the mood of the book darkens as it goes along and things start to go wrong for the historians.
Otherwise, 2060 seems to be curiously non-futuristic. For example, the phones there have receivers instead of being cell phones.
The audiobook has a foreword from Willis herself.
But I did enjoy this a great deal and I’m looking forward to the next part!