Thursday, October 4, 2007

Impossible Things by Connie Willis

I am not a huge fan of short stories. I want the in-depth development of a good long novel. There is a reason that I read books that are part of a series – I like to see characters develop over time. However, Connie Willis is such a great author that I will read anything that she writes.

The first Connie Willis book that I read was To Say Nothing of the Dog. I saw it listed on a book list of great science fiction books. And it was great! Hysterically funny. Then I read Bellwether which is more of a fiction book that deals with science and scientists. That one was wonderful, in part because it happened to be about my hometown, Boulder, Colorado. There is so much to poke fun at in Boulder and she captured the idiosyncrasies perfectly. But, I think her style holds her back from being labeled as one of the great science fiction authors. (Which is odd, because she has won more awards than most authors dream of. Yet, you don’t find her heralded on the shelves at bookstores.) She is sentimental, terribly satirical and funny, and not worried about doomsday. All of those characteristics are what appeal to me but might not appeal to a “typical” science fiction reader.

Some of the stories in Impossible Things didn’t interest me overmuch. But I will mention three that I really enjoyed.

“In the Late Cretaceous:” This is a story about academia at its “finest” – I say in my most sarcastic tone. The lack of understanding of good teaching and basic education is such a crucial point in today’s schools that her story transcends time and place. Plus, the humor that she injects about college campuses is right on.

“Jack:” Writing about London during World War II, Willis takes a very different perspective than is often seen in war literature. The basic story is interesting enough, even without the intrigue about Jack. Honestly, the outcome was a bit obvious, but it did not undermine the narrative of war-torn London. (I have to wonder though, if it was so obvious when it was written. In retrospect, her story probably was novel in the 1980s but has been overdone today.)

“At the Rialto:” My guess is that this story was something of a precursor for Bellwether. The story and the book both have a sense of the ridiculousness of scientific theory played out on average characters. Although I’m not a scientist, I will say that by the end of her story, I had a better understand of quantum theory than I did when I started.

This is a book that I will hand to my husband and tell him to read select stories. As a die-hard science fiction fan, I know that he would not find every one engaging. But there are some that he will appreciate.

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