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Worlds Without End Blog

WoGF Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis Posted at 11:30 AM by Clare Fitzgerald


WWEnd Women of Genre Fiction Reading ChallengeClare Fitzgerald (thecynicalromantic) started reading feminist deconstructions of fairy tales in elementary school and grew up to major in literature and something called “discourse studies.” She reads a lot of teen fiction, gothic novels, and retold fairy tales, and is especially interested in feminist issues in fantasy and sci-fi. She reviews books at A Room of One’s Own because otherwise she is liable to forget what she’s read and what she thought about it. She currently works as a technical editor, but aspires to be a vampire witch queen pirate sorceress when she grows up.

Editor’s Note: This review counts for November.

To Say Nothing of the DogSo, recently, in Adventures of Being a Gothy Cliché, I joined a SF/F meetup group specifically to attend their Halloween party. And then I didn’t like any of the other stuff the meetup group was doing. Until I got a message saying that their book for their December book club was going to be Connie WillisTo Say Nothing of the Dog, which has been on my TBR list for a while.

Things I knew about To Say Nothing of the Dog:

1. Its title is a reference to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog…), a book I have not read, but which is supposed to be very funny, and is a travel narrative about… well, exactly what it says on the tin: three men in a boat.

2. Somehow it’s a SF/F book despite being based on a Victorian travel narrative. (I thought it was going to be maybe about three men and a dog on a space boat? So unprepared.)

3. ???????

It turns out, To Say Nothing of the Dog is about TIME TRAVEL, which I would have known if I had read the subtitle of the book, which is “(Oxford Time Travel #2)”. I have not read whatever Oxford Time Travel #1 is, but whatever. It is also about THE VICTORIAN ERA, which is one of my favorite eras. Overall, it is a sci-fi, historical fiction, mystery, comic novel, with a side of romance.

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WoGF Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis Posted at 1:31 PM by Rae McCausland


WWEnd Women of Genre Fiction Reading ChallengeRae McCausland (ParallelWorlds) was raised on speculative fiction and dedicated most of her teenage years to the dream of writing fantasy novels. During her college years, her interests shifted toward science fiction thanks to Star Trek and Isaac Asimov’s robot stories. She writes reviews for Parallel Worlds Magazine as a way of building connections between the perspectives of fellow sci-fi nerds and people of marginalized gender and sexual identities.

To Say Nothing of the DogIntended Audience: Adult
Sexual content: None
Ace/Genderqueer characters: ?
Rating: PG
Writing style: 4/5
Likable characters: 5/5
Plot/Concepts: 3/5

In Ned Henry’s day, historians are very much involved in time travel, but unfortunately their main source of funding happens to be a tyrannical woman who is obsessed with renovating Coventry Cathedral. Lady Schrapnell will stop at nothing to find the bishop’s bird stump, a particularly ugly metal urn, and Ned has been coerced into making more time-jumps than is healthy.

So what is the cure for time-lag? A long break from changing time periods, hopefully far away from where Lady Schrapnell can order him around. Summer of 1888 in Victorian England, for example. But Ned isn’t about to get much rest, because it seems an incongruity has happened due to a certain fellow historian saving a drowning cat. Now Ned and Verity (the cat-rescuer) must try to correct all the impossible details of the timeline—if they don’t, marriages may never have happened, children may not have been born and grown up to fight in wars which may not have been won after all.

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WoGF Review: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis Posted at 9:01 AM by Brett Ellis


WWEnd Women of Genre Fiction Reading ChallengeBrett Ellis (Brett72): My interest in reading was spurred by my father reading to me before bed when I was a boy. I developed my reading skills because I wanted to know what happened next and the nightly sessions were too slow. My parents took me to see “Star Wars” when I was five and I’ve been hooked on sci-fi and fantasy ever since. Yes, I am part of that generation for whom “Star Wars” was a life-shaping experience. When not reading far too many “Warhammer” novels, I enjoy miniature wargaming and action flicks.

Doomsday BookThe two main characters of the Doomsday Book are Kivrin, a graduate student, and Mr. Dunworthy, a university professor. Kivrin has always wanted to travel to the Middle Ages, but that time period is off-limits due to the danger posed. An ambitious professor seizes his chance during Christmas break, when he is functioning as acting head of the department, opens the Middle Ages and organizes a trip to send Kivrin to England in 1320. Mr. Dunworthy, an expert in the 20th century and Kivrin’s former mentor, opposes the trip to no avail. As soon as Kivrin arrives in the past she comes down with a mysterious illness. Back in the 22nd century the tech working the trip falls ill with a similar sickness. The sickness spreads and soon becomes an epidemic, then a pandemic.

The novel follows Kivrin as she attempts to survive the Middle Ages and return to the drop point in time for the return trip and Mr. Dunworthy as he attempts to survive the pandemic, determine if Kivrin’s drop went as planned, and open the “net” in time to retrieve her. As Kivrin and Mr. Dunworthy each have no way of knowing what is happening to the other, the Doomsday Book reads like two books. Two related books, sure, but each with its own distinct feel.

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WoGF Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis Posted at 1:05 PM by Jack Dowden


WWEnd Women of Genre Fiction Reading ChallengeJack Dowden (JDowds) doesn’t review Sci-Fi/Fantasy books on his blog 100 Stories 100 Weeks. Instead, he’s set himself the unbelievably naive task of writing 100 short stories in 100 weeks. The results are often disastrous. He came to WWEnd to talk to people about Sci-Fi/Fantasy books though, and is having a wonderful time doing it!

To Say Nothing of the DogI finished To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis last night. After I read the last page, I closed the book and looked out the window at the stars. I said, “Wow. What an amazing b…”

That was as far as I got, because then my girlfriend walked in and asked why we weren’t engaged yet.

“Uh…. What?” I said, naturally.

She said some things.

Then I said, “Why can’t you be more like Verity Kindle?”

Turns out, that was the WORST POSSIBLE THING TO SAY. Not only because my girlfriend has never read To Say Nothing of the Dog, but also because she took the book, and happened to open up to the page where the main character describes Verity as the most beautiful creature in the world.

So yeah, I was a little fried when I sat down to review this book and I certainly hope the recent NUCLEAN EXPLOSION of a conversation I had with my girlfriend doesn’t affect my reactions to the book.

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GMRC Review: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis Posted at 1:36 PM by Jeremy Frantz


WWEnd Grand Master Reading ChallengeJeremy Frantz (jfrantz) reviews SF/F books on his blog The Hugo Endurance Project where he has given himself just 64 weeks to read every Hugo Award winner. This is his ninth GMRC review to feature in the blog.

Doomsday BookTime travel happens. And if you’re an excitable undergad historian that means you can have the chance to visit your very favorite times throughout history. For Kivrin Engle, that means the Oxford of medieval England – 1320 to be exact. When the drop is botched and the entirety of Oxford-Present comes down with a deadly virus, Kivrin’s professor, James Dunworthy is racing against the clock to save her, whether she needs saving or not. Meanwhile, Kivrin herself must cope with translation issues, debilitating sickness and some pretty intense experiences of humanity.

Kivrin or Dunworthy?

The key to whether one enjoys Doomsday Book is in the narrative shifts.

Despite overwhelming sickness, darkness, dirtiness and you know… the possibility of being raped, burned at the stake, or contracting the plague, the tale of Kivrin’s journey to the fourteenth century was so vibrant and emotional, and the townsfolk so distinctly human, that it was probably one of the more compelling stories for me. Mostly, Kivrin herself was just a great experience.

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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.

GMRC Review: Bellwether by Connie Willis Posted at 9:13 AM by Allie McCarn


WWEnd Grand Master Reading ChallengeGuest Blogger, Allie McCarn, reviews science fiction and fantasy books on her blog Tethyan Books. She has contributed many great book reviews to WWEnd and has generously volunteered to write some periodic reviews for our blog. This is Allie’s third GMRC review.

Note: This review was originally posted on Allie’s blog and was submitted last month but got overlooked.

BellwetherBellwether by Connie Willis
Published: Bantam Spectra, 1996
Awards Nominated: Nebula Award, 1997

The Book:

“What makes something become a fad? That’s the question Sandra Foster wants to answer through her research for HiTek Corporation. HiTek’s bureaucratic atmosphere isn’t making her task any easier. Sandra is constantly derailed by overcomplicated paperwork, meetings, HiTek’s obsession with acquiring a prestigious grant and her supremely incompetent fad-following office assistant, Flip.

Thanks to a mis-delivered package, Sandra gets to know her fellow HiTek researcher Bennet O’Reilly, who works with monkey group behavior and chaos theory. Sandra is initially interested in him due to his strange immunity to fads, but their acquaintanceship quickly moves towards a closer collaboration. As their research spirals out of control, Bennet and Sandra search for the link between chaos theory, romance, fads, and a flock of sheep…” ~Allie

I’ve read a lot of Willis’ work, though this is the first book I’ve read outside of her time travel novels (Doomsday Book, Blackout / All Clear, To Say Nothing of the Dog). Bellwether is definitely characteristic of Willis’ style, but it is also a light, silly romantic comedy. This is also the third novel I’ve reviewed for the Grand Master Reading Challenge, hosted by, a fantastic website I recommend highly for any fans of speculative fiction.

My Thoughts:

Bellwether does feature scientists, but it doesn’t really seem like a science fiction story. I can’t help but wonder if it was simply labeled that way out of habit, since most of Willis’ work is science fiction. Bellwether is mostly a light, satirical romantic comedy about fads, scientific discoveries, and office politics. Willis’ familiar style is present here, as she draws humor out of obnoxious side characters, miscommunication, incompetence, and all the little frustrations that crop up in everyday life. Bellwether is more in the vein of To Say Nothing of the Dog than Doomsday Book or Blackout / All Clear. It is by far the shortest and fluffiest Connie Willis novel I’ve ever read, but it was a very pleasant, light read.

Throughout the story, Willis includes little facts about real fads and circumstances around unexpected scientific breakthroughs. I really enjoyed these inserts, though I think this attention to historical and recent-to-publication (1990s) fads dates the book. It happens to be just the time period to invoke nostalgia for me, but I’m not sure how well this would fly with people who aren’t in my generation. There are a lot of ‘current’ fads introduced in the novel as well. Most of these are believably ridiculous, but some of them seem unlikely to occur in our current times. I think that it is the nature of fads to become obsolete very quickly, and the fad-focused setting causes the book to be very much a product of its time.

Grand Master Connie WillisAside from the fads, there was a lot of satire of office culture. Having dealt with bureaucracy extensively, I found this satire ridiculously stressful to read. To ‘help’ their employees’ productivity, HiTek had constant meetings and workshops, and a lot of time was spent describing their required paperwork, which was so ridiculously complicated that it actually obstructed employee progress. Included in this satire is also one of the major ‘obnoxious characters’, the office assistant Flip. Flip is a trendy young woman who doesn’t really do anything useful, and instead seems to damage productivity everywhere she goes. Sandra tries to make the best of things by befriending her, but this only makes her behavior worse. I think many people who’ve worked in an office environment have probably been stuck at some point with someone as lazy and incompetent as Flip.

Most of the plot featured Dr. Sandra Foster as she went about her daily life, attempting all the while to find the origin of hair bobbing. This may sound boring, but I think that describing daily life in a light, humorous way is Willis’ forte. Sandra goes through children’s birthday parties, cafes, libraries, and HiTek, observing everything with an eye towards fads and absurdities. The romance in the story is pretty obvious and predictable, but adorable all the same. The conclusion was as chaotic and ridiculous as expected, and the whole story left me in a cheerful mood. Bellwether is certainly a light read, but it was a lot of fun.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Bellwether is a satire of fads and office culture and a romantic comedy, but it didn’t really seem like a science fiction story. The story is much lighter, shorter and more carefree than many of Willis’ other novels, but her style was still here in full force. There’s no time-traveling Oxford (as in Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, etc.), but her characters still come up against irritating minor characters, minor frustrations, and ridiculous bureaucracy. The focus on fads, and some of the attitudes of the main characters, left the story feeling firmly set in the 90s, and it will likely feel even more dated to readers who haven’t lived through that decade. The writing was light and humorous, the characters were likeable or likeably obnoxious, and the predictable eventual romance was very cute. It may lack the depth and gravity of some of her other works, but Bellwether is a funny, cheerful book that made for pleasant light reading.

2011 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master, Connie Willis Posted at 6:18 AM by Rico Simpkins


Grand Master Connie WillisOh the heels of our Grand Master Reading Challenge, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America has added Connie Willis to their Grand Master rolls. Ms. Willis is the fourth female author to gain the honor, and her addition is no surprise. Over the years, Ms. Willis has won an impressive 10 genre awards, putting her third in our all-time winners list (only just behind China Miéville and Ursula K. Le Guin).

As Willis is such a prolific writer, your Reading Challenge options are about to expand greatly, as we add her canon to the database. If you have already selected your twelve authors, but would like to add her, feel free to switch up! Right now, we only list the eight most honored Willis books, but Dave is working feverishly to include her entire canon for you to peruse.

Congratulations to Connie Willis for this great honor. I’m sure we’ll be seeing her face on the GMRC status board, soon!

Hugo Winner Announced! Posted at 12:34 PM by Jonathan McDonald


The winner for 2011’s Hugo Award is Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis. Here’s a synopsis from the WWEnd database entry:

Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place, with scores of time-traveling historians being sent into the past. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser into letting her go to VE-Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz.

But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, and dive-bombing Stukas-to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past.

Congratulations to Connie Willis on winning this year’s Hugo!

COSine 6 Posted at 5:54 AM by Rico Simpkins


George R. R. MartinIf you can get to Colrado Springs this weekend, you have a chance to meet several sci-fi legends at the 6th annual COSine science fiction festival, January 23-25. Several award winning authors from the WWEnd database will be present, including:

George RR Martin, a three-time Locus Fantasy Award winner, and an 18 time nominee for virtually every award in our database, will be the guest of honor. You can catch him on Friday at 3:00 when he’ll be part of a panel on science fiction literature with Connie Willis and Mem Morman, and then at the opening ceremonies at 7PM with Ted Monogue. Both Mr. Martin and Ms. Willis will be around pretty much all day on Saturday and Sunday.

Wil McCarthy, a Phillip K Dick and double Nebula nominee, will also be present on Sunday, with appearances at 10 and 2.

Check out the full schedule for these authors and many other guests. We’d suggest a Sunday ticket, if you want to meet all three award winners/nominees (it’s only $10 on that day), but you can hang out all weekend for $45. By the way, if you snag a pic of Wil McCarhy, we’d like a copy.