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Worlds Without End Blog

GMRC Review: All Clear by Connie Willis Posted at 9:57 AM by Greg Zehr


WWEnd Grand Master Reading ChallengeGreg Zehr (Greg), is a discontinued nerd-jock hybrid model and a cave-dweller who possesses slightly more than a passing knowledge of what a blog is. He is proficient at reading science fiction books made of paper, and has been to the used book store near your house many times. He admires and respects people who make computer thingies go, and is younger than you think for being so technologically stunted. This is his first GMRC review.

All Clear

It’s 2060.  Time travel is used for intellectual purposes.  Think The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card, as opposed to Timecop starring noted thespian Jeanne Claude Van Damme.

Protagonists.  Merope Ward, an Oxford historian, is playing nanny with English (child) evacuees during the blitz.  Misbehavior, mischief, and confusion ensue.  Big surprise there for Connie Willis fans.

Polly Churchill, an Oxford historian, is posing as a shop-girl during the Blitz.  Fabulous idea.  Whatever could go wrong Polly? Capital idea!

Colin Templer, a teenager-with-a-rager who is enamored with Polly, devises to spend research time in the middle ages in order to catch up in age to Polly.  Space-time continuum stuff.  Chronological trickery.  Janeway could never quite get this stuff right.  Digression.

Michael Davies, another Oxford historian, attempts to witness some thrilling heroics (Jayne Cobb, REPRESENT!) during the aftermath of the battle of Dunkirk, where fishermen and octogenarians and various other non-combatants assist in the evacuation of soldiers, who, thanks to them, live to stab Nazis another day.  Good times.

Mr. Dunworthy, thesis advisor – slash – Indiana Jones – slash! – hopelessly confused Englishman comes to the rescue (not really).

Trouble with the timeline!

Time travel affecting the past!

Goddamit Janeway, stop messing with the continuum!  Sorry, wrong story.

The once widely-held truisms of time-travel (historians cannot affect the past) are suddenly questioned by these endearing characters.  Small discrepancies start to crop up.  Things may be able to be altered.  This could turn out really badly, you see, because the good guys won WW2.  It would be… uh… not good to mess that little detail up.

Grand Master Connie WillisI apologize right now if you are under the impression that this book is anything but excellent.  It is excellent.  Connie Willis’ ‘who’s on first’ narrative could become tiresome if it wasn’t so damn well done.  I shall be clear.  It is damn well done.  I was in a tube station rehearsing a play during the Blitz.  I was bombed by Stukas, which sucked, as you might surmise.  I fell in love with a girl in a pub, whilst trying to figure out where and when the bloody hell I was.


Annoying British children!

Unexploded ordinance!


This is a very good book.  Get Blackout first, ‘cause it’s a two-parter and you’ll be confused if you start with this book.  It is worth it.


Danny   |   31 May 2012 @ 08:22

I got the impression from some other reviews that these long books were ultimately not up to the standards of the Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, that Willis piled on so much minute detail in the 1,100 pages that it overwhelmed the narrative and resulted in overlong, disappointing books. Not true?

Greg   |   31 May 2012 @ 08:58

I’d be right there with you Danny, if the minutiae were not so damn interesting. I think they are certainly on par with Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog – and if you like Willis’ (admittedly repetitive) keystone cops style, they’ll not disappoint you.For me, long stories with extensive detail can be done well, like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, or…Turn out like the slime-that-leaks-from-a-rusty-hole-in-the-bottom-of-a-dumpster (Forty signs of rain, Fifty degrees below zero, Sixty… who cares).

Jeremy   |   31 May 2012 @ 17:50

That is one heck of a bio Greg 🙂

Emil   |   01 Jun 2012 @ 02:13

A very coo and entertaining review, thanks! I had a good time reading "To Say Nothing Of The Dog," particularly Willis’ humor. "Doomsday Book" was much more brawny as the main protagonists are really put through the ringer. I could recognize it as a good book, but there was something unpropitious about it that I still can’t lay my hands on. I guess the jumps between the time periods and the plot about the modern day infections were somewhat disjointed. I have no choice but to read "Blackout/All Clear" in my quest to complete all the Hugo Award winners, and if I could languish through "Hominids" I’m sure I’ll survive this trudge. @Greg you mention the fact that the first-person narrative is extremely well-done, so I guess this gives me some hope towards a positive reading experience. From what I’ve explored on the interwebs it appears that "Blackout" is the more solid book of the two. "All Clear" may taper and diminish the promise of the first. I’m intrigued to hear your views.

Wintermute   |   04 Jun 2012 @ 17:54

The comments are just as valuable as the review itself! Thank you all for posting, helps me decide whether or not I want to add this to the reading list. Sounds like Doomsday is what I need to add if I want to expose myself to Willis.

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