Thursday, December 4, 2008

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

The Doomsday Book has been sitting on my bookshelf for probably three years. I have been waiting for the perfect moment to read it. I have read all of Connie Willis' short stories and most of her other novels but sat on The Doomsday Book. The timing was never just right. For whatever reason, I finally picked up Willis' chef d'oeuvre a couple of weeks ago and spent much longer than normal working my way through it (Thanksgiving and a visit from parents slowed down my reading, but this is NOT a quick book.) I have no idea what mad the time "right" this time, but I'm thrilled that I did finally pick it up and read.

Doomsday Book has the honor of being one of the only books to have won both of Science Fiction's coveted awards The Hugo and The Nebula. This 500-plus page story tells of two worlds involved in medical crises and looks at how they deal with the problems that arise. Taking place in a world that Willis revisits in other novels and short stories, Doomsday Book tells the story of historians in the future who travel back in time to watch their era in the first person to gain a better perspective of bygone eras.

My first Connie Willis book To Say Nothing of the Dog resides in this world. I adored this book and became an instant fan of any Willis books. But, where To Say Nothing of the Dog uses humor to point out idiosyncrasies about our society, The Doomsday Book uses drama and pulls at the heartstrings. There is humorous moments, especially in the future Oxford of her creation. But overall I would NOT describe Doomsday Book as funny. Touching, engaging, fascinating, but not funny.

If you are an ardent science fiction fan, this book will not fit a stereotyped model. The science fiction is light and the drama and historical context are heavy. This story relies on medical knowledge and historical knowledge to tell the tale. The characters are what make the book. Connie Willis endures you to her characters through their realism and their faults. Her descriptions of their internal dialogue are so realistic that you can't help but be drawn in.

I would strongly recommend this book to any ardent science fiction/fantasy readers mostly because it did win the two highest honors a science fiction book can read. However, if you have never read any of Willis' books, this might not be the book to test her out on. She has other lighter, funnier, and more engaging books to start with.

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