Monday, May 16, 2011

Blackout and All Clear

So. I'm back from Florida. And I will have some pictures, just as soon as I have time to get them off the camera and sort through them.

For now, I found the time while away to read Connie Willis' excellent Blackout and All Clear. (Really one book, split into two for the sake of publication costs).

If you don't know, Willis writes historical novels within the speculative frame of time travel. Her characters are historians from 2060, traveling back in time to directly observe events in the past. Of course, it's the common belief that historians cannot affect past events. The continuum will not let them, either by throwing off their temporal-spatial coordinates (called 'slippage' in the books) or by causing coincidental events that prevent them from affecting the past. It's also recorded that if a historian tries to be in two places at the same time, the continuum will not allow them into the past...or may even literally kill them.

There's the background. Blackout and All Clear are set during the London Blitz. Three historians have assignments in the past. Merope, under the name Eileen O'Reilly, is studying the psychological impact of wartime evacuation on children. Polly is studying the Blitz itself, in the guise of a London shopgirl. Michael, calling himself Mike Davis, is interested in heroism and plans on interviewing the fishermen and other civilian sailors who assisted in the evacuation of Dunkirk. Neither of them plans on staying in the past that long, but, of course, everything goes wrong...including, possibly, their cherished beliefs about time travel.

Time travel is the frame here for a brilliant historical novel about the Blitz and the Home Front, and in some ways, it's Michael's assignment that is the most relevant: This book is about heroes. Real heroes. Heroes like the St. Paul's fire watch, the London air raid wardens. The women who drove ambulances, took factory jobs and worked the land. The ordinary Londoners who faced night after night of sheer terror, yet never gave in, never surrendered.

The book is well researched and written in a clear, transparent style. I've always liked Willis' work and this pair of volumes is amongst her best.

(And no, I was not bribed, with a copy of the book or anything else ;))