Doomsday Book • 1992 • SF novel by Connie Willies

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Rating: 2 out of 5.

I‘ve read this in 2014 and reviewed it at Goodreads. I thought it a good idea to copy it to this blog. The review is missing a synopsis, but you can find one at wikipedia.

This novel is in urgent need of an editor.
Most of the 2054 story line is very annoying: Everyday problems like toilet paper shortage, phone handling, mom war, etc. are just ridiculous and repeated in dozens. There is not a page where Dunworthy doesn’t worry about Kivrin. While there’s nothing wrong with this in itself, it’s just that Dunworthy doesn’t seem to have an existence outside of that worrying.
I don’t have real problems with annoyance – for example, I like Kafka’s works (e.g. the process) when it is used as an art form. But in this book I never have got the feeling that those repetitions or annoyances are needed.
I think that cutting 200 pages would have been really good for the book.

The conversations don’t build relationships but are endlessly repetitious as well.

Most characterizations are excellent. Not everyone is likeable, e.g. I find Gilchris’ objections to be quite annoying. Sometimes, I think “ok, Mrs Willis, I understood that he is an ass. Do we really need to have yet another utterance from him?”

World-building doesn’t convince me – Willis doesn’t seem to be interested in building a believable future setting of Oxford in 2054. It feels more like a 1950s version with some minor futuristic assets here and there. When the novel was first published in 1992, networked computers were well-known. I don’t blame her that she didn’t bring in the ubiquitous WWW. Compare that to Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep from the same year where he used discussion forums extensively. But she could have used cell phones.

The Kivrin part is ok – nothing grand, though.
Due to the somewhat better flowing last part, I round up to 2 stars. But it was merely ok for me and I cannot say that I liked it. I don’t know how someone can ignore or enjoy those annoyances and repetitions or think that they have literary quality. I don’t get it how it could have won those awards.
There must be something in it that I simply missed.

My edition from SF Masterworks contains an excellent introduction to this “trilogy” of time travel books. It mentions her Nebula award winning novelette Fire Watch from 1982 which is freely available at http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/firewatch.htm

Meta: isfdb. It won the Hugo, the first one ever.

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16 Responses to Doomsday Book • 1992 • SF novel by Connie Willies

  1. Have you read To Say Nothing Of the Dog? It is the only Willis book that seems promising to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This book is often praised on the blogosphere, but since it ended as a DNF for me after a handful of chapters, it is somehow refreshing to find a review from the other side of the fence 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jameswharris says:

    I loved Doomsday Book, but then I listened to it. I might not have loved it so much if I had read it. It is long and slow, but in the end, I realized that was a major feature. Here’s my review:

    Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andreas says:

      I‘m sorry to disagree. „one of the finest science fiction novels I’ve ever read“ – I‘m really wondering which of the many awful (sorry!) narrative elements we don’t disagree. Maybe we should just stop talking about it!

      Like

      • jameswharris says:

        Well, it did win many awards and has been translated into many languages, so a few people like it. But that’s not important. It’s fine that you didn’t like Doomsday Book, as my recent blog post points out. Art can’t be objectively measured.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Andreas says:

          Thank, that’s true! I often found, that my literary vibes often don’t swing in harmony with the awards. And in this case with yours.

          Like

          • jameswharris says:

            I’m not sure it tells us much when we don’t intersect on a story. What we need to find is a story we both love. It is where we’re on the same wavelength that we might find some useful information. You have given a number of stories 5-stars that I would rate equally well, such as Hyperion, The Man in the High Castle, and A Canticle for Leibowitz.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Andreas says:

              That’s a better ground, yes!
              I‘m drawn in by more literary, intellectual, more complex stories. Stories that stay longer, pass a message that I‘d like to remember.

              Like

  4. piotrek says:

    Wow, that’s harsh… I liked Doomsday Book a lot, but I read it over 20 years ago and cannot comment on your review… it probably is too long, that much I remember.

    I love To Say Nothing… that one I re-read recently and it was still great fun, but if Doomsday doesn’t work for you on so many levels, it might not be worth trying.

    I think Blackout/All Clear is the pinnacle of Willis’ time travel books, and characterization is better there. I’m often enthusiastic, but even Ola gave it 9/10 – https://reenchantmentoftheworld.blog/2015/11/04/connie-willis-blackoutall-clear-2010/ .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andreas says:

      Look, there are writers one cannot connect to for whatever reasons.
      In Willis‘s case, it were the endless repetitions. I don’t trust that author to deliver something worthwhile for me. I’m spoiled

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dina says:

    I loved this one! 🙂
    You are so right about the repetitions in the 2054 story line and I felt like I should have hated it as well but for some weird reason, I completely loved this book. I did start reading it during the first lockdown of last year, so that may have helped. You can say what you want, the toilet paper shortage was actually realistic.
    Anyway, I always apreciate your reviews even when we have different opinions. And I think it’s fine not liking authors who are generally well-loved. I just bounced off Asimov hard this year. Sometimes that’s just how it goes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andreas says:

      Thank you, Dina! It’s ok that you loved this book 😁 I have only shallow memories now, but enough to refrain from reading other books by her.
      With Asimov, we have common grounds!

      Like

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