Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday BookDoomsday Book by Connie Willis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book with the worst cover in the world.   I had the choice, at my used bookstore, to pick between the plain white with medieval style lettering cover and a cover that looked like a fantasy romance. A beautiful blonde girl with a gold fillet and starry eyes adorned the cover, and below her a handsome dark haired man on a powerful steed smiled at the audience. In the corner a guy sat at the computer and two people in white lab coats pointed at a helix of DNA. Essentially, it shouted BODICE RIPPER, with maybe some swordfights and some sci fi, possibly?

Ha ha ha. Nope.

Even though I had read Connie Willis before, that cover still shook my expectations, and when the breaks came off, I was unprepared, and the revelations hit like a punch in the stomach.

Doomsday Book is vicious and beautiful and hilarious. And Connie Willis is an incredible writer. But be prepared:

1) Yes, there's time travel, it's not flashy. Yes, the book is sort of set in the future, but it is not our future (we would be lucky if it were). There are no cell phones and no internet. And it's so much more interesting because of that. It's a world where cutting edge historical research is going on at Oxford. It is a world that values the past.

2) This is not an adventure story. No one saves the world. No one falls madly in love. People do their jobs, and get into snits, and argue, and protest, and get sick, and ring bells. This is a good thing! Every single character is unfailingly, unflaggingly real. And Kivrin, with her innocent and selfish confidence, grows up, even if she wishes she didn't.

3) This is a book about disease. If the madness of horror of quarantine and epidemic, the search for the source of a mutating virus, and intradepartmental politics don't interest you, go away. Also, it's about the stupid things that people worry about when they have no power. Sometimes, that's lavatory paper.

Being an academic brat, and someone who has a fierce faith in the importance of history, this book hit all the right buttons. This isn't an adventure story, or a romantic story. It is, in fact, the least romantic story I've ever read. But above all it is a story about people, and how they keep on living their lives, doing their work, playing their roles, doing the right thing or the wrong thing, sticking to their bells, or turning on others, even under dire circumstances. If you're not interested in people, don't read it. But if you are, go ahead, you're in for a wild ride. :D

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