Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

I read this on suggestion of the Women of Science Fiction book club. I might have might have picked it up otherwise. I did not finish this book. Life is too short and the number of book too many…

In both science fiction and fantasy, suspension of disbelief is important. I will admit, I am fairly capricious about what things I’ll let pass (the entirety of Doctor Who, for example) and what things will bug the hell out of me. While it’s not the biggest problem with the show, don’t get me started on octagonal paper in Battlestar Galactica.

This book started off on entirely the wrong foot with me by sending a time-travel newbie back to one of the more trying periods in history. A period that hasn’t even been observed by remote. We can do that in 2054, but we haven’t, because what could possibly go wrong? Commentary on academia and the dumb things that happen due to bureaucracy is fine and dandy, but let’s have a little common sense here.

I started Doomsday Book during read-a-thon. It’s a Women in Science Fiction book club selection. I figured I’d give it a shot. I read half the book (which weights in at about 200,000 words). The characters annoy me, and I don’t think I can spend another 100K on the minutia of their lives. Reading some plot summaries and reviews, I assume that Willis wants us to know and love them. I think you can do that in fewer words. I don’t care about Colin and his gobstopper.

Granted, this book was published in 1992, but the fact that we’re time-traveling and still using paper and pen and landline telephones (video phones though they may be) annoys me. In ’92, we already had 2G cellular technology. Why are science-fiction writers so bad at extrapolating? It’s particularly painful when the details of the past are, presumably, so well worked out.

Also, from reading reviews and spoilery summaries, a few things that I think may be going on aren’t. If I’m wrong and there’s some gorgeous twist to this book, let me know and I’ll plow through. Notes are below the cut.


Pg. 4 – Way to introduce a dozen characters in a three page span.

Pg. 9 – Info dump. And, yeah, why not unmanned?

Pg. 10 – I assume we’re in the future. Pencil? Exercise book?

Pg. 12 – A whole 2.5G??? Wow! (And 2.5? Not 1. Not 4.)

Pg. 26 – No cell phones either. When was this written?

Pg. 62 – I want to smack all these characters upside the head.

Pg. 92 –

“Nothing that would affect the course of history can go through a net,” Dunworthy explained, glaring at Gilchrist.  The man was simply encouraging her with this talk of precautions and probabilities.  “Radiation, toxins, microbes, none of them has ever passed through a net.  If they’re present the net simply won’t open.”

Pg. 116 – Quick. Somebody call House.

Pg. 149 – Agnes has been “infected” and can understand Kivrin

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