All Clear—Connie Willis

It’s nearly May and I’ve only read six books this year? I think we can safely say that I need to get a lot more reading done SOON. That said, there are a few books I read at the end of February that I neglected to write up. So this will all be out of order. I suppose I’m the only person that matters to.

I read Willis’ Blackout last year (time travel, WWII, I’m not going to get into the finer points here), and like many people was forced to turn off my brain for vast portions of it that contained obviously terrible research (stupid things like the Jubilee line existing in 1941). A friend and I were recently talking about authors that write books about places that they’re not native to and the details that end up being “wrong” as a result, but some of those pieces just went beyond that—especially for a book in which the details are theoretically terribly important.

But, I liked her other Oxford time travel books and hoped for a good payoff in All Clear. I wish I could say that I got it. Frankly, these SHOULD have only been one book. She had too many pieces that she obviously fell in love with and didn’t kill during the editing process. I appreciate the desire to show us vignettes of the war—it’s one of the things I really wanted to love about these books. But over time, some of those pieces because self-indulgent, and the fact that there was that much set-up made the “tumbling swiftly to the end” pace of the second book painfully obvious. There was certainly a point halfway through All Clear where it felt obvious to me that she’d gone, “Oh crap, I need to actually end this!” And that ending also felt far too neat and precious as a result. Not to mention the confusion introduced by her choice to use the historians assumed names, in one case theoretically causing a dramatic reveal of a distressing plot point, but it only made me go, “Are you kidding me?” and then care even less about the character in question. In the end, our interest in the characters as people take a back seat to Willis’ ideas, and that makes it a weaker book than it could have been.

Were these two books worth the wait? Not really, and frankly while I’m not surprised they were nominated for the Hugo or Nebula this year—if they win I will be sorely disappointed in the Worldcon fandom and the authors of the SFWA respectively.

I wanted to love this book, and I finished it, which speaks well for how I did enjoy some pieces of it in spite of its issues—hell, if I can’t find any reason to like a book, I won’t finish it–but I didn’t love this book and I can’t say that I’m looking forward to the next thing Willis does as a result.