Friday, December 02, 2011

What We're Reading: The Doomsday Book

What if time travel was not only possible, but a tool regularly used by Oxford historians to do research? How would you prepare? What precautions would you need to take? Is there a period of time that is too dangerous to visit? Would you knowingly visit an era with documented dangers? These are some of the questions explored by Hugo award-winning author Connie Willis in The Doomsday Book.

Kivrin Engle is a medieval historian at Oxford University in 2057 and a student of Professor James Dunworthy. Kivrin is preparing for a time travel trip, or drop, to 14th-century medieval England, which, until recently, has been considered too dangerous to visit because of the Plague. But the temporary head of the history department over the Christmas holidays, hoping to make a name for himself during his brief period of control, has revised this pronouncement and is allowing Kivrin to make the drop in spite of Dunworthy’s objections.

Shortly after Kivrin steps through the "net" into the 14th century, the tech running the drop announces that something is terribly wrong and then loses consciousness. The events immediately following result in a quarantine of Oxford and delays in determining Kivrin’s safe arrival and how to coordinate her retrieval.

Unknown to Dunworthy, Kivrin has arrived in the 14th Century, but the “time lag” symptoms she is experiencing are much more pronounced than she expected and she can’t seem to locate the village she was instructed to find upon arrival. Lost, feeling ill and with night falling in the forest where she arrived, Kivrin will need to take immediate action to survive, or her first night in the past may be her last.

Written in a style reminiscent of a British “comedy of manners,” Willis unfolds the two plotlines of The Doomsday Book with a seemingly effortless grace. In the present/future, Dunworthy must battle Government and Institutional bureaucracies, shortages (food, beds, lavatory paper) and a troupe of American bell ringers angered that the quarantine has upset their tour of the UK. In Medieval England, Kivrin’s ideas and plans are quickly reconciled with the brutal realities of life during this period in history. The Doomsday Book is a wonderful adventure into both the past and the future!

If you read and like this one, don't miss other Willis time travel adventures: To Say Nothing of the Dog, a hilariously comedic take on the same theme; and her two most recent works, which are really parts one and two of the same story (and previously reviewed on this blog), Blackout and All Clear.

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