Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Blackout," by Connie Willis

A few days ago I finished "Blackout," Connie Willis' first volume of a time travel story. It's 2060, and a group of students, training as historians, go back to the time of the Blitz in England. As a writer (whom I first met as she was working on "Doomsday Book" at the Greeley Public Library some 23 years ago) Connie has gone from strength to strength. She couples impeccable research with profound human insight. In this long first volume, the focus is all on the England of the past. Our cast of characters begins, as we do, as observers. But soon, the boundaries between them and the "contemps" disintegrate. They, and we, pass from the safety of historical knowledge to the chaos and uncertainty of the moment. I now know how it feels to be alive back then.

Connie has been working on this one for years, and it's big in scope, in feeling, and in length. It's 491 pages, and I hate having to wait until this fall for the second and concluding volume. But I know it's worth the wait.

I'm not sure how she persuaded her publishers not to write a trilogy. There aren't many two volume science fiction masterpieces out there. ("Darwin's Radio," and "Darwin's Children" by Greg Bear come to mind.) But I'm confident that "Blackout" and the sequel, "All Clear" will qualify.

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