Author: Connie Willis
Genre: Science Fiction
Recommendation: Fun read for those with a taste for snarky humour.
Summary: Kirvin is sent back to 1324 to observe medieval England where no other historian has gone before (since it might be dangerous!). Mr. Dunworthy can't stop worrying about all the possibilities of what can go wrong. What he doesn't guess is that the Doomsday is coming for him and for Kirvin both.
Reactions: I've read To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis earlier this year and was really impressed with her writing and sense of humor. Doomsday Book seemed to be mentioned quite often as one of her best, so I decided to continue exploring Willis's writing. Since I expected this book to be enjoyable, I suggested to Chad that we do a group read of this book. You can find his thoughts on it here.
The book is set in the same world as To Say Nothing of the Dog. It's mid-21st century Earth where historians use time machines to travel into the past and spend time there undercover to learn how the contemporaries lived. Scrapes and adventures ensue. In this case, the book carries two parallel story lines. One follows an Oxford professor Mr. Dunworthy and the other follows a young historian Kivrin that travels to medieval England.
Both main characters have their own set of troubles, adventures, and new friends that they make. The book's plot is fairly straightforward, but it sucked me in early and I stayed up late reading to find out what happens next. The book turns much darker than I expected and I felt quite emotionally involved with the story towards the end of the book, especially when it came to the Kivrin's plotline. Somehow I didn't feel the same connection to the characters surrounding Mr. Dunworthy (with the exception of Colin, I liked him a lot).
The main strength of the book is the variety of quirky characters, funny conversations, and absurd situations that abound. It strikes a good balance between serious and frivolous and yet there's more to the story than just the events on the surface. At the same time the book is really easy to read and enjoy.
One of the themes Chad suggested when we were discussing the book was how ignorant we often are (and just as often unaware of it). I tend to agree with a sentiment as a whole -- you finally know something when you realize how much you still don't know. In the book this is particularly evident in Kivrin's handling of her trip to the past. She can't speak the language she thought she knew and many other details are not as they seem. I think the best judgement you can make of the person is from the way they handle the situation and we do learn a lot about Kivrin this way.
Moving on to the futuristic part of the story, I find the depiction of it somewhat funny since the book was written 20 years ago. There are a number of things that I can see as an inaccurate prediction now, but generally this didn't bother me. It is rather surprising how un-advanced their state of technology is, but I suspect it's a result of trying to provide the reader with a "familiar future", one they can easily relate to with only minor changes. Other reviews mention historical inaccuracies in depicting medieval England, but these didn't bother me either. Altogether it was a really solid and enjoyable book for me. I expect to read more Connie Willis.