Blackout / All Clear
Blackout (512 pages), February 2010 & All Clear (643 pages), October 2010 by Connie Willis are a book that won the Nebula for best novel for 2010 and are nominated for the Hugo for best novel for 2011. If that sentence seems a bit awkward, then it also indicates my feelings for the pair. They were published as separate volumes, but really form a single story. My first problem was that it certainly seemed to me that the books could have stood a good trimming and been reduced from two big volumes of 1155 pages to a single quite big book of say 800 to 900 pages. In other words, it seemed to get repetitive at times.
The second awkwardness is that while there was a great deal of historical detail in this book parts of it didn’t seem quite right even in my limited London exposure (I’ve only spent a week there.) Distances and details seemed off. After reading, I see that Jo Walton also mentioned this in her review over at Tor.com. When a book is that is supposed to be rich in historical details gets enough of the little things wrong to be noticeable, I start wondering about the bigger details. Wondering about the validity of details is one of the things that disrupts a story for me.
The third awkwardness lies in both the characters actions and in the ultimate resolution of the story. The characters actions seemed a bit strained at times even given the constraints in which they were acting. The final resolution seemed both a bit obvious and not quite in the direction I prefer my time travel stories to be.
So, unnecessarily long, not quite accurate, characters making obvious mistakes and an ending not to my liking–all of that would seem to mean that I really didn’t like the book(s). Interestingly, while it wasn’t my favorite book on the Hugo list, I’ve got to say that even given all the prior faults, it wasn’t a bad book. Willis does certainly know how to write in dramatic tension and the overall feeling of the Blitz and London were quite well done. It really does keep you reading. I can see why people were perturbed at the publishing gap between the two books (I waited for them both to be out before reading) and I would recommend reading them both at once. So, not a bad book, but it somewhat missed for me. Your mileage may vary, of course.
Jo Walton has another (spoilery) post over on Tor.com that pretty much nails my third awkwardness and has the spoilers that I didn’t want to include in this post.