Saturday, 16 April 2011

Doomsday Book - Connie Willis

Published : 1992
UK Price : Paperback Version £9.87 Here
US Price : Paperback Version $7.99 Here

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis was a novel I had never heard of before, I read it because it is the April read for Dreams and Speculation's Women of Science Fiction Book Club . The synopsis didn't leave me that excited as the first thing that came to my head when I read it was that it looked like it could be similar to "Timeline" by Michael Crichton which wasn't that great. However, I am glad that I did read it as I really enjoyed it and it has restored some of my faith in time travel novels.

The novel is set in the near future with most of the world seeming very similar to nowadays, one of the major exceptions is that that humanity has mastered the ability to travel into the past. It is set at Oxford University where historians have been sent to the past routinely, although mainly to only the last couple of centuries. The medieval period had previously been deemed as to dangerous until some political maneuvering allows for a young female historian named "Kirvin" to go back to 1328. This novel follows both "Kirvin" in the past as well as the people who have stayed behind in the "present". In both the present and past, epidemics appear and we watch how in both times, some of the reactions are so very similar.

The science aspects of this novel are very light, we get no real explanation of how time travel works beyond some basic paradox rules that ensure anyone going back can not change the timeline. We don't get told how this happens, we just get told that time travel won't work if the person goes back could change something. At times it was more like a historical fiction book as the really interesting and enjoyable parts of the novel were in the way it showed some of the issues faced by people in the fourteenth century. It was nice to see Kirvin realise that the life in this period was as variable as ours and the text books missed out on so much.

One thing that did amuse me, was the many issues in the "present" as people tried to utilise the land line phone system. Poor Connie Willis didn't appreciate when she wrote this book, the huge growth in mobile phones and the mass use of them that we now have. This is of course nothing unusual when people try and write near future novels, technology always moves much quicker than they usually imagine.

I also found this novel very memorable, many of the issues occurring in the present had comic undertones, but  the events in the past were at times harrowing and sad. In regards to this, I have to admit I finished the book feeling like I had been through a very emotional journey. You really do feel for the various characters and the ending is heartbreaking.

Overall, I enjoyed Doomsday Book a lot and am already looking forward to reading some more novels from Connie Willis. I have even found out that she set at least one other novel in the same Universe so that will be my first point of call. I do think that this book may appeal more to fans of historical fiction than Sci-Fi but I think both  types of fan should give this book a read.


  1. Just requested this through interlibrary loan-- I almost forgot about the April book.

    I like some historical and sci/fi so I'm looking forward to it.

  2. Another excellent Connie Willis time travel novel is To Say Nothing of the Dog. It's also very funny!

    Do you ever review self-published science fiction novels? I have one I published as an ebook. I hope this link works for you to show you the beginning:

    It's also on the Kindle, Nook & iBooks platforms, and I could provide you with a copy it you're interested.

  3. The book alternates between what is happening in the present and what is happening in the past, as those in the present work to unravel the mystery of what went wrong. Meanwhile, Kivrin struggles to overcome the anomalous situations she encounters that run contra to her expectations. Believing herself stranded in the past, Kivrin artfully maneuvers around the precarious situations in which she finds herself, never losing her humanity despite the horror of her situation, given what went wrong.

    Steeped in well-researched medieval life, it is the story of Kivrin's sojourn in the past that captures the imagination of the reader. This is a stunning book that is totally gripping. The spellbound reader will definitely keep turning the pages of this wonderful book, which is clearly written by a master storyteller.