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!

Dispatches from the Front (Page)


Laundry VS reading: the winner is clear


You may recall, dear reader, that I recently rather blatantly suggested that Connie Willis might be a supernatural creature. Well, she has revenged herself on me for that outrageous statement, and IN SPADES. I have just finished Blackout… and it ended with a cliffhanger. Do yourself a favor. If you’re going to get Blackout, then go ahead and acquire All Clear at the same time. Trust me on this one. You are going to want to know what happens.

And now I’m left with unanswered questions of my own! HOW will Nancy be able to resist continuing into All Clear, and keep to her schedule by beginning a different author tonight? CAN she finish the Great Balticon Readathon before the convention actually begins? WHO will replenish the family tea supplies so she can keep reading? WILL Nancy be crushed by the growing mounds of unattended laundry surrounding her?

A quick reader response to the book itself: In Blackout, Willis has created a world that one can fall into. (The difficulty is climbing back out: I find myself resenting household mundanities that keep me from pursuing the story.) We learn about the characters organically through their speech and action, and the reactions of other characters to them. Willis is an expert at creating full-fleshed characters without heavy-handed description. You learn about the people of the book by watching them, listening to them, working with them, rather than being told who they are and how you ought to feel about them.

I note that this book took me longer to read than I’d planned. In addition to my broken schedule, I think my very real memory issues impacted my reading. When I create my own work, no matter how real the characters may be to me, I create a dramatis personae chart to refer to as I go along. It would have been helpful to me to have done so with Blackout, at least for the beginning section, as my inability to process made it harder for me to track which character was who, where, when. (This is a feature, not a bug! It replicates the environment of the book. Meta reading experience. I only mention it so that folks with memory or focusing issues will consider making themselves a cheat sheet to refer to.) This is a very dense plot, with intricate patterning.

So: vivid setting, excellent character building, dense and compelling plot. What more could one want from a book? Obviously: Book 2. Unequivocal thumbs up for this fascinating, complex tale of WWII Britain, time travel, and a threatened near future. Bonus points for Shakespeare, and plenty of references to The Tempest (my favorite play). Bonus points for synchronicity, as I have been working on a Tempest-inspired short story for Shakespeare’s birthday.


GBR #1: Connie Willis


Why Willis Comes First

I fell right out of reading Speculative Fiction for adults, and the world surrounding it, for a few years; why is for another day. One author that did make it into my consciousness, via the fine folks over at Metafilter, was Connie Willis. Her time travel novels are favorites over on the blue, and for very good reason. They are beautiful and heart wrenching betimes, and also funny, which is so very hard to do well. And Willis does funny brilliantly.

She’s first on my Great Balticon Readathon list, though, because I need to tell her to tell her that the jig is, frankly, up. In 2015, she survived being bitten by a bat. She jokingly alluded to vampires, and her relief at not being transformed. Ha ha, Connie. You can’t be transformed into a vampire … if you are ALREADY some kind of supernatural creature! I developed this theory during my research for this Readathon.  I looked at many, many images of Connie Willis. It is obvious that, other than the cleverly recolored hair, the woman has. not. changed.  I offer the following images as evidence:


Connie Willis, Circa 1996



Connie Willis, circa 2016

See what I mean? Unchanged. Something uncanny is afoot!

After the Readathon, in fact, I may go search through historic paintings to see if I can’t spot her. It’s a shame there are no paintings of Shakespeare’s wife. Because I have Suspicions there.


Aside from my fangirling, I discovered that she is a fellow Shakespearian and has in fact one-upped me by naming her daughter Cordelia. I adore this. Also,  I learned that in addition to the rest of her very substantial backlist, Blackout and All Clear exist. And I really want to read them. So my first selection for the Readathon is the Blackout/All Clear combo for Kindle (Two books for $23.98: less than the cost of going to a movie and will last hours longer. Bonus, I can eat this cauliflower I just roasted instead of buying overpriced popcorn. I can’t afford NOT to buy them!). If you have not read the previous books in this series, I highly recommend the award-winning Doomsday Book (funny, but heartbreaking) and To Say Nothing of the Dog (a delightful comedy of manners).

You can find ConnieWillis online or join the Fans of Connie Willis page on Facebook. She’s charming wherever you find her! Also, she’s a fellow chai tea aficionado and can sing in a choir (which I have never managed to do), can smile naturally in every known picture (another skill I don’t have) and has survived being bat-bitten (which I have also never managed to do. I have, however, helped raise an orphaned bat to release to the wild. Sincerely hoping these two events are not related … if so, my most sincere apologies, Connie Willis!) Watch for Connie’s newest book coming in October 2016: Crosstalk