Tag Archives: Connie Willis

Blackout (All Clear#1) – Connie Willis


Connie Willis created a beautiful piece of time travel/historical fiction with ‘Blackout.’  Depending on how you want to look at this book it is either the first book in the All Clear series or the third installment of the Oxford Time Travel series.  ‘Blackout’ includes characters from ‘The Doomsday Book’ with Colin Templar and Mr. Dunworthy.  They are not the stars of this double-decker novel but they do play very important roles.  ‘Blackout’ revolves around three historians from the future sent to observe different key events during World War II.  ‘Blackout’ is the story of what happens when their assignments end but they can’t get back home.  They either can’t get to their drops or they are damaged and won’t work.  Oxford should send a retrieval team.  ‘Blackout’ is what happens when they don’t show up.

I’ve read this and ‘All Clear’ three times.  I’ve listened to them and read them and enjoy it both ways.  What Connie Willis does extraordinarily well with these books is make the experience of the everyday person who didn’t enlist in the war accessible.  During World War II people in London were shop girls, children, and old men.  She focuses on the every day heroics of the people who lived at the time and took the famous words of Churchill to heart, ” Keep calm and carry on.”  These words that have been appropriated by a new generation were originally meant to steady a people who were sleeping in bomb shelters and waking to find their homes and places of employment bombed.  People who would never have been thought of heroes are highlighted as old clerics joining the fire brigade to keep St. Paul’s safe, the shop girls who signed up to become Ambulance drivers and WRENS, children under the age of 16 who were collecting scrap metal and lying to become ARP wardens.  Willis paints a realistic picture of rationing and living conditions during one of the coldest, wettest, and bleakest winters in England during 1940.  Our historians experience this from the perspective and benefit of privilege.  They are from the future where the living conditions and medical breakthroughs make life much easier.  They haven’t had to deal with shortage.  They are historians and they researched the conditions but research and experience are two different things.  They have the advantage of knowing that they win the war but the tables are turned when they can’t get home.  There is a fear that they have changed events.  What if they did something to alter the course of the war?  They become the contemporaries they were studying.  Their only hope is to find  other historians studying World War II.  If they can find another drop site they will have found a way home.

Willis explores the invasion of Dunkirk, experiences of the evacuated children, the fall of the service class, the Blitz, and the V1 attacks.  Her research is solid.  She did eight years of research to complete these two books.  Some have found the books to be daunting and long due to the amount of detailed historical information included.  This, however, is what makes this book special for me.    She provides great information sources, but one in particular caught my attention. She utilized the Mass Observation Diaries heavily and credits them as being invaluable.  The diaries came from observers and volunteers in London recruited by Mass Observation.  Harrison founded the organization in 1937 with Madge and Jennings to  create an ‘anthropology of ourselves’. The writers chronicled the lives of ordinary people in Britain. By luck, the study neglected to tell the volunteers writing the journals the study was ending prior to the start of World War II creating an amazing resource of first hand accounts detailing the everyday lives of Brittish citizens during the war.  Follow this link to find out more about the original Mass Observation project.  I can see why some people would have a hard time engaging in the All Clear Series. It is a commitment to read them.  Blackout is 512 pages and All Clear is 643 pages. Willis refers to them as a double-decker novel because Blackout ends abruptly and starts up immediately with All Clear.  Many have argued it should have been one book, but if two is a bit unwieldy one would have been extremely off-putting.  You will want the sequel immediately.  Plan to either download ‘All Clear’, buy the physical book when you get three fourths of the way done,  or download the fabulous narration by Katherine Kellgren immediately after finishing ‘Blackout.’

I  do not recommend this for people with a short attention span, or those who are looking for a light read.  It is hopeful, but it is also drenched in data.  If you want a light time travel piece I would encourage you to pick up Rysa Walker’s ‘Timebound’ or ‘Just One Damned Thing After Another’ by Jodi Taylor.  ‘Blackout’ is a great time travel novel and is a personal favorite.  Rarely have I seen an author be able to weave such great fiction around factual history.  Usually you get one or the other.  If you enjoy historical fiction with the added enjoyment of science fiction time travel this is perfect for you.

If you like this you may like:

–  The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

–  Crytonomicon by Neal Stephenson


Bellwether – Connie Willis


The book centers on the science of pop culture and chaos theory.  Connie Willis develops an intriguing tale set in the 90’s of scientists at a large research firm named Hi-Tek.  Sabrina Foster studies fad source analysis. Why do we make the decisions we do?  What makes us think something is a good idea, that a person is attractive, what we will wear, what we do in our free time, and what we do for a job?  Good questions, no?  I’d like to know and so would every company in the world.  If you know what the next fad is going to be you can make a pretty profit.    If you study fads, however, life becomes all about them.  Your favorite restaurant has stopped selling iced tea because nobody is drinking tea anymore.  Tea is out and coffee is in.  If you go to the library what books are on reserve?  Sabrina checks out her favorites once a year so the library doesn’t sell them because even Dickens get sold if no one is reading him.  The library must cater to its customer wishes and those generally focus on what’s hot right now not 200 years  ago. Commitment is in, postmodern pink is in, hairwraps are in, branding is in and so is Barbie.   How do you start a trend of positivity, accountability, and  a strong work ethic?  At Hi-Tek, management is always current on the newest employee engagement trend.  They go through 3 to 4 engagement seminars in a season.  My favorite had the acronym of GRIM, but another one was SHAM.  This made me laugh very hard.  ‘Bellwether’ is a very funny tongue in cheek book.

Sabrina studies fads to see how they are started.  Her focus is on what caused women to cut their long curls and bob their hair in the twenties.  It’s a fad that doesn’t have an obvious source like the Pompadour, named after its trendsetter Madame Pompadour.  If she can figure this out she can figure out what truly starts trends.  Through her studies she, and every other scientist, is plagued with the interdepartmental communications director named Flip.  She is not competent.  She, however, is very knowledgeable of what tasks do or do not fall under her job description … mostly the ones that don’t fall under her job description so she can refuse to do them.  What Flip is good for is causing chaos and destruction wherever she goes. Flip delivers a perishable package to Sabrina instead of the person it belongs to.  Due to Flips incompetence,and Sabrina’s sense of responsibility, Sabrina delivers the package and meets Chaos Theorist, Bennett O’Reilly, who seems to be completely free of fads.  He is a perfect study subject.  Flip’s errors keep putting Sabrina in Bennett’s crosshairs and they become friends.  When Flip loses Bennett’s funding request Sabrina adapts her research project so he can keep his job. Instead of studying Macaque Monkeys for the trigger or iteration in chaotic systems they will use sheep that Sabrina can borrow from a man she’s dating.  This interdepartmental study is perfect for studying chaos and what starts trend behavior in higher animals.  Management is keen on it and finds all necessary resources to fund it because statistically it has a likelihood to win the elusive and very lucrative Niebnitz Grant.  The sheep wreak all kinds of havoc, just like Flip.

This is wonderful book.  It’s light, it’s humorous, and smart.  It’s sprinkled with literary references.  There’s even a believable but unobtrusive romance.  Connie Willis’s writing and characters are fabulous and worth your time.  It’s a short book, and won’t take you much time.  By ‘Bellwether’s’ logic it should have been a fad.  If you haven’t read it, it’s okay, you can still join the party.  Unlike many fads this one is worth your time.  Enjoy!

All Clear – Connie Willis

All Clear

I love historical fiction and science fiction so you could say this series is made for me but I would say Connie Willis did even better on this book than the first. It has more action and ties all the stories together neatly.  This is the sequel to Black Out which is set in World War II in London.  The series follows three time travelers and the entourage they accumulate during the Blitz.  It is a unique take on what an everyday Londoner rather than a War Hero or spy experienced.  This focused more on the shop girls, elderly men and women, and children experience.  All with an enjoyable bit of time travel.

I will say I’m disappointed there is not to be a third in this series. I wanted more. I wanted to hear more about Elaine and Polly. I won’t say more about that for fear of spoilers. Katherine Kellgren did a fabulous job narrating this on Audible. After I finished this I got the Doomsday Book (also by Connie Willis) and if you read it, in my opinion, Connie Willis did a much better job on this series but All Clear in particular. Don’t miss out on this. I made my mother, not a huge science fiction fan but a definite fan of historical WWII fiction and non-fiction, download this on her kindle. I don’t do that for anyone because I try not to force anyone to read anything but I made an exception this time. ….oh, and she loved it!

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