Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Passage by Connie Willis

I ADORE Connie Willis' books. She is an amazing writer. I could wax poetic about her incredible ability to juxtapose believable science fiction with incredibly witty humor - and not in the punny Piers Anthony style either. As a rabid er avid fan, I picked up Passage and anxiously started reading.

It's... different.

In so many ways.

I enjoyed Passage but it is truly a strange book.

The book revolves around death. What happens when you die - or nearly die. The main character is a psychologist studying near-death experiences. She begins working with a medical doctor who is medically inducing near-death experiences in order to study how the brain chemically reacts. Both characters hope that by understanding such experiences they will be able to help victims who have cardiac arrest. Willis points out in witty terms that it is NOT a retelling of the move Flatliners.

The plot takes 800 pages to unravel. One person described it as a medical procedural which is accurate as there are moments of plodding scientific experimentation, rejection of ideas, repeated testing and final proof of hypothesis. Willis is unfailing in her ability to prove her ideas convincingly. But for once I wished she had hurried a bit. I felt the story lagged in the middle as the characters ran back and forth reasserting their beliefs and disagreeing with one another about motivations. In the middle of the characters rambling, Willis does introduce a number of memorable characters who are worth getting to know.

After finishing Passage I searched out Willis' website. I figured there had to be some motivation for her to have written the book. In a Locus excerpt, she explained that after her mother died she found grief texts to be horrible and unhelpful for the grieving individual. Her book is an attempt to respond to the lack she found. I'm not convinced she succeeded - it would never occur to me to hand Passage to someone dealing with grief. However, I can imagine how writing the novel helped Willis herself.

In an aside, Willis has an extremely novel take on Alzheimer's patients. She suggests an interesting premise on *where* someone from Alzheimers goes when they lose track of current reality. It is Willis' ability to convincingly create realities like this one that makes me appreciate her books so much. It also made me guess she has personal experience with Alzheimers based on how she wrote.

If you like Connie Willis and haven't read Passage it is worth a read. But do not expect to feel uplifted while reading.

If you liked this book, I would recommend:


cathy said...

I read To Say Nothing of the Dog years ago and loved it. Which of Willis' books would you recommend reading next?

g.n.a.t. said...

There is a *brand-new* book - Blackout - coming out the end of this month that takes place in the same world as To Say Nothing of the Dog. I'm looking forward to that one.

Doomsday Book is also in the same world but it is much heavier and doesn't have the humor of To Say Nothing - it's about the Plague.

Although not her greatest work, I would probably recommend Bellwether. It is set in Boulder and she has some great Boulderites in the story. And its one of her funny sci fi.