Passage - Connie Willis image
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).

The opening salvo of my Locus Quest were a bit hit and miss.
Accelerando = brilliant!
Rainbows End = so-so
Anathem = perfect!
Passage = ummmm…

If you’ve never read any Connie Willis before – Passage probably isn’t the best place to start. And I say that as a fan.

I’ve since read To Say Nothing of The Dog and Doomsday Book (and loved them both) but if I hadn’t been working my way through a specific reading list, I’m not sure I’d have given Willis another chance after Passage.

It’s not that it’s a bad book:
- The characters are likeable
- It plays on the heartstrings
- There are amusing moments
- Some interesting discussions
- Memorable use of location
- Powerful thematic resonance
- Brave plot development

So why only two stars?
I promise, I’m not naturally stingy with my stars.
I wanted to like it.

To me, those common elements of Willis’ writing style which work so effectively in her Oxford Time-Travel books (bureaucracy, late messages, tragic death, meandering mystery) act in those stories as a sort of grounding mechanism and counterpoint for the danger or romance of the time-travel adventure. In Passage, the ‘adventure’ is a scientific investigation into markedly morbid terrain and, in my opinion, applying the same techniques just doesn’t work.

This time around I found the bureaucracy grating, the late messages petty and the meandering mystery not particularly mysterious and mostly just frustrating.

For a sci-fi award winner, there really wasn’t much (any?) in the way of classic sci-fi elements. The ending was vague, symbolic, but ultimately unsatisfying. And for significant periods progress became a sort of grit-your-teeth and trudge.

Masie Nellis, the sick 9-yr old girl, is such a loveable and memorable character that she practically earns that second star on her own.

But I won’t read this one again. If anybody would like to see if they fare any better, let me know and (for a couple of quid donation to a good cause of your choice) this book can be yours, otherwise Passage is looking at a one-way ticket to the local charity shop.