Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.
On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.
While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).
* Published as two books, Blackout and All Clear do not work as two separate stories. This is one tale spread over two volumes. As such I am writing one extra long review and spreading it between the two books.
** As this is a time-travel book with events reported in a non-linear manner, I am writing this review as a ‘non-linear’ ‘time-travel’ review. I’ve labelled the paragraphs and then jumbled them up between the two reviews. You poor schmucks have to make sense of my drivel (if such a thing is possible) – think of it like a puzzle, or a game, yeah?
*** Sometimes I wonder; is my brilliance perhaps outshone only by my modesty?
Begin your journey by going through THE BROWN DOOR WITH THE BRASS HANDLE
Parts of your journey will occur on this review of BLACKOUT
### THE OLD SUBWAY
So let’s have a look at some of the regular complaints…
1) I read the first book and it just ends without any sort of resolution or even a proper cliff-hanger… it just ends! I’m very unsatisfied.
- Dear reader, read both books together and judge them as one story. She could have published as one book – it would have been thick enough to stand on when you need to reach on top of the wardrobe – but from a narrative perspective, it would have made sense. Be grateful that she split it into two portable tomes!
CONTINUE ACROSS THE QUAD
### FORM WTF/83/CC
Overall, I’d give it 3.5 stars, and I thought the second half was slightly stronger, hence the 3|4 split. It didn’t need to be so long. It could have slimmed down to a thousand pages in one novel and not lost a huge amount of its impact – that wasn’t a massive issue for me, but would have pulled it up that half-star to a 4. A more quirky protagonist would have given it a little extra spark – Polly, Mike and Eileen are all lovely people, but they’re all fairly middle-of-the-road types – the most memorable characters are the Hodbin children. A bit of a curveball on one of the leads would have pumped it up to 4.5 for me. Finally, a better explanation of Dunworthy’s behaviour – switching all the assignments around (but letting them go ahead, unprepared) seemed negligent and inept. I know the incompetence of bureaucracy is one of Willis’ regular themes – but here I felt it wasn’t supported or justified adequately. Correcting this would have seen me 5-star the story with a giddy grin on my funny little face.
CONTINUE BY TAKING YOUR FORM TO COUNTER 6F
### THE BROWN DOOR WITH THE BRASS HANDLE
I know they get a weaker version (made by a different manufacturer) in New Zealand, and the Aussies have an equivalent called Vegemite – but can you buy Marmite in the States? If you’ve never heard of Marmite, it’s a thick, black, salty syrup – a kind of gloopy yeast extract – which is eaten spread on toast. It’s got a strong and distinctive flavour. I don’t think Connie Willis mentions Marmite at any point in Blackout or All Clear, but the whole production reeks of Marmite to me. For as long as I can remember, Marmite’s advertising slogan has been “love it or hate it”. If you offer a stranger some Marmite on toast, either their eyes light up in delight or their face screws up in disgust. There’s no middle ground with Marmite – it’s a polarising product – and in the UK anything which produces an equivalent, strongly polarised response can be branded as eliciting ‘a Marmite response’. Connie Willis is something of a Marmite author, and with this duology she’s reached a new peak of Marmiteyness. Vintage Marmite – aged for an even stronger reaction.
CONTINUE DOWN THE LONG CORRIDOR
### DUTY OFFICE
It’s not the first time I’ve noticed this sort of response to Willis’ work. Her ’93 novel, (and fellow Locus/Hugo winner, Doomsday Book, prompted similar wails of praise as well as angry gnashings of teeth. I find this curious. So what is up with the Willis?
CONTINUE BY TAKING THE OLD LIFT
### THE LONG CORRIDOR
How are these for some polarised review quotes…
“This is a very impressive novel, and obviously a labor of love for Willis. I expect one of these books will win her another Hugo.” – Jamie
“This is a beautifully crafted book,” “It’s ingenious and a great deal of fun. It’s funny, tragic, romantic, heartwarming, and completely engrossing.” – Lisa Vegan
CONTINUE UP THE NARROW STAIRS“Willis manages something transcendent,” “these volumes are the greatest work of science fiction ever written.” – Kaethe
### THE OLD LIFT
Blackout/All Clear is part of the Oxford Time Travel series. Future Oxford historians go back in time to live in WW2 and study various aspects of life at that time. Something goes wrong with their ‘drops’, the portals they use to travel through time, and they are stranded in the past and must survive in wartime Britain. It’s a solid premise that doesn’t vary too far from the successful template of Doomsday Book (where a single historian is stranded in the middle ages).
CONTINUE BY TAKING THE OLD SUBWAY
### COUNTER 6F
Blackout and All Clear (together) won the Locus Sci-Fi and Hugo awards in 2011, beating off competition from:
Bujold’s latest Vorkosigan Saga - Cryoburn,
Bank’s latest Culture novel – Surface Detail
Mira Grant’s debut, the GR Sci-Fi Readers Choice winner – Feed
… and Ian McDonald – The Dervish House (which sounds awesome!)
CONTINUE BY TAKING YOUR FORM TO THE PIDGEONHOLES
After this I read: A Madness of Angels