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50 Book Challenge: #6

Connie Willis, Blackout

Connie Willis is one of my absolute favourite sf authors, always reliable, but sadly not prolific - I can't remember exactly how long it's been since the last novel, but I do remember that my mother was still alive when I was reading Passage. This long-awaited new novel did not disappoint, except to the extent that we are left with our characters in dire straits at the end of it. But we know that the next one will be out in the Fall, so there's not too long to wait. It is set in the future of The Domesday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog; time travel is real, and Oxford historians are queuing up to make trips into the past to do research. This time, our main characters are visiting different events in WWII, except that somehow things don't go quite as planned. There are as always very likeable characters and a zippy, almost too breathless plot, with wrong turns and mistakes and suspense. It is as always meticulously researched, which made a few details that I think are probably errors stand out rather: I don't think a WWII nurse would have used a centigrade scale to describe a person's temperature, or that a British person would use the term "blocks" in London (as in "just a few more blocks, and we'll be there"), or that someone would have bought grapes for someone in hospital without having to do some black-market dealing, or at least mentioning queues or coupons... But these are forgivable in the overall context of a very enjoyable and un-put-downable book. I can't wait for October!


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC)
Yay! I hope you like it.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 09:25 am (UTC)
I tend to agree about reading Willis in general, but haven't read The Domesday book, or this, partly due to having met comments my friends make before getting round to them, e.g.:

http://drplokta.livejournal.com/121650.html and http://drplokta.livejournal.com/121426.html
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:41 pm (UTC)
Oh my - how much worse it is!! I wouldn't catch all that stuff about the Underground, but I missed the 5p reference :( Yikes. You have to blame her editor(s), really, too - who ought to have done some fact-checking.

However, I adored The Domesday Book; I guess I don't know enough details about medieval history to be able to quibble ;-)
Feb. 22nd, 2010 10:21 am (UTC)
They're all errors. Though I suppose you might be able to get grapes. If you had a hothouse and lived in Cornwall. And then the garden would probably all have been grubbed up for potatoes, anyway.

We don't say blocks, and while people would understand it now, I don't think it would have been understood then. Especially as London doesn't actually have blocks, because it's not laid out on a grid...
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:33 pm (UTC)
That's what I thought - and the grapes were suggested very casually "oh, why don't you buy her some" and then she did, as though just dropping into Tesco's. I thought that if it happened there should have been some mention of how difficult it was.

And I knew that about the blocks - when we came to Canada, I had to learn the term, and then got teased for it when using it on visits "home."
Feb. 24th, 2010 08:43 am (UTC)
Hadn't noticed the grapes, which is odd, now I think of it. Now I'm wondering how the growing of grapes would have fared during the War. AFAIK they grow pretty easily in (unheated) greenhouses, and don't actually take much ground space, so it seems wasteful to dig up productive vines ... But on the other hand, they might not have been seen as offering much bang to the (relatively small) buck, because most would have previously been used for jam. Damn, now I'm really curious!

(All irrelevant to the grapes in the book, if whassername's dad tells her to buy them for Mike.)
Feb. 24th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
No it was the women at the shop telling Polly (I think) to buy them for the girl that was injured in a bomb blast, so in London. Unless they were growing them in Kew ;-)
Feb. 22nd, 2010 10:40 am (UTC)
I haven't read Blackout yet, though some people have expressed similar quibbles about The Doomsday Book.

I get around these errors by regarding them as small hints that we're looking at a story set in a slightly alternate history. :)

Re London and blocks, growing up in Manchester, we didn't talk about something being, "A few blocks further on," we would say, "A few streets further one." However, we would say, "I'm just going for a little stroll around the block."
Feb. 22nd, 2010 11:31 pm (UTC)
Aha! I was just about to ask, "well, what do you call those block-shaped things when you're giving directions, then?" For some reason, the idea of just saying streets didn't even occur to me - I guess 'blocks' is too much a part of my idiom to allow for alternatives.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 08:59 am (UTC)
Blocks? What are these "blocks" of which you speak? :)

No, seriously... I grew up in an inner-city residential part of Manchester, which is about as block-like as a British city ever gets. The houses in that area were all built at the same time, in the early part of the 20th century, before the First World War, but we called them rows not blocks because the properties were in long thin rectangles, not square blocks. And then this pattern was overlain over the older settlements that had been there previously, so anything called "lane" rather than "street" tended to wander and wiggle with the new regular grid pattern doing its best to fit into it.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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