GBR 1.5: All Clear by Connie Willis


True confession: I ditched my original reading schedule for my Great Balticon Readathon because I simply had to finish the duology of Blackout/All Clear.

The second book was a much faster read. I suspect this is because I was already familiar with and could recognize characters, places, and situations. Another factor may have been that I was burning through pages, waiting to see what happened next.

I recommended this book specifically to a couple of my friends who will likely love it. I did not recommend it to others: this writing will have very little middle ground among readers. While there’s a lot of action, there’s a great deal of introspection as well. The plot, rather than following the direct line of narrative we are taught in writing courses, ignores the expected linear nature of stories and follows its own way. Not everyone is going to enjoy that. There’s a great deal of humor here, too. It reminds me of Shakespeare: some of  the humor is overt and situational, while some of it’s very subtle. Again: not everyone appreciates the knowing wink, the knowing nod that shifts a scene from tragic to comic. Fortunately, there are as many different flavors of speculative fiction as there are writers. If you don’t care for the style of one, it’s easy to find another. I happen to have greatly enjoyed Blackout/All Clear. If I hadn’t other commitments pressing, I’d be scouting another Willis book to read.

If it does nothing else, the Great Balticon Readathon has brought me these books, and I’m happy for having read them.

After finishing the book, I looked at some reviews online. Some claim that the characters are thinly drawn. I disagree with that. However, they are portrayed indirectly. It’s very easy to miss that development if you’re attentive, or skimming through to get to the next plot point (which can also be easy to miss). For example, if you’re a person who prefers reading, “Character X was distractable,” rather than watching Character X being a distracted, and finding your own conclusion from that,  this may not become your favorite book.

i love the complexity of the minor characters too. No cut-and-paste villains here, no flawless saints. The greedy landlady is also capable of kindness. Heroes are bad listeners. The verger is presumptuous (in the kindest possible way, but still interfering).  A city, a community, is a complex and changeable thing, and our author has reflected this in her characters.

Last thing in my notes to point out is how real Connie Willis made WWII Britain for me. I’ve watched movies, read a few eye-witness accounts. But I don’t think I ever really had an inkling of the day-to-day reality of the Blitz before this immersion. And as painful as it was, at times, to vicariously experience it, I was reluctant to leave that world. Well done, Connie Willis!

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