If you could go back in time, where would you go? What event would you witness? If there are any historians or history majors out there, what would you go study? As a former student of history, I often had day-dreams about how cool it would be to go back in time to witness an event and, yes, gather information. Just think–time travel would be perfect for research! You can’t imagine how excited I was when I discovered that the winner of the Hugo and Nebula Award winner was about time traveling historians.
In Blackout/All Clear–a two part novel by Connie Willis–the year is 2060, and time travel has been invented. Oxford University historians go back in time to study some aspect of a time period. Michael Davies, for example, goes back looking to observe ordinary heroes, while Polly researches ambulance drivers and shopkeepers during World War II, and Merope studies evacuated children. Really obscure stuff, right? It’s okay–this is very accurate in terms of historians. The story focuses on three historians–Polly, Merope/Eileen, and Mike– who go to study events during World War II. They go with the belief that they will be able to return to 2060. However, after they go through, they are unable to return when they’re supposed to. Stuck at one of the most dangerous points of the war, the trio struggle to figure out a way to return home while all the while worrying over what effect they are having upon history.
This two-parter goes fast–I think it took me about a week to read both books. Both are crazy-intense and fast paced. I think Willis gives me the strongest sense of how scary living through World War II must have been. This period was extremely uncertain and frightening to live through, and Willis conveys that very well. I was scared for the characters, and they actually knew when the air raids were! But overall, I found that Willis did a great job of capturing the mood of World War II. I enjoyed the merging of time travel and historical study, although I’m not sure I was entirely satisfied with the portrayal. I didn’t feel like I had a good enough understanding of what this type of time travel’s rules were and how they apparently got “broken”. I wanted to like what she did with these historians’ roles in the story, but I’m not sure I did. However, I think this book is going to be one of those books where I change my opinion of nit-picky things based on my mood. Right now, I’m being critical. I guess I’m not in the holiday spirit. Bah, humbug.
Despite my case of the Scrooge, I enjoyed both books and recommend that you at least check out the first one (Blackout).