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May 5, 2011 / Leslie

Review: The Doomsday Book

The Doomsday Book
by Connie Willis

Genre: Science Fiction, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Spectra
Publish Date: June 1st 1992
Format: Hardcover | 445 pages
Format: Audio Book | 26 Hours 30 Minutes
Rating: 5 of 5

The Doomsday Book is not your typical science fiction novel. Historical fiction and science fiction are woven together alternating between the near future and the medieval past. Set in Oxford in the year 2048, time travel is now possible and a student historian is preparing to travel back to a 14th-century English village to conduct research.

Once Kivrin, our historian, goes through the time travel network the story accelerates quickly. Soon after her departure for the past, the technician responsible for operating ‘the net’ becomes ill with a virus that cannot be immediately identified. In 2048 everyone gets their antiviral shots and no one gets the flu. As a result Oxford is under quarantine; it’s Christmas break, they are understaffed, tense and nerves begin to fray. Meanwhile Kivrin arrives in medieval England with a horrible headache, quickly falls ill and becomes disoriented. A local family takes her in but once she recovers she isn’t sure where she is or what day it is. And how will she ever find the rendezvous point to get back home again? Then to make matters worse, the local villagers begin getting sick. Everything that could go wrong does in both the past and the future.

Overall the book holds up well considering it was written in 1992. The future created for 2048 back in 1992 feels a lot like today but with time travel and poor communication devices. The flu virus and potential pandemic could have been ripped from recent headlines. The sniping and arguing among the academics and placing blame on the outsiders and foreigners transcends time. Other reviewers have criticized the lack of cell phones in the future. I originally read the book in the late 1990s and never thought about the lack of cell phones. Reading it again now it did stand out that they had time travel but no internet or way to communicate through their ‘net’, but it wasn’t a major distraction for me. I read a lot of science fiction and I am able to suspend any disbelief and accept the world created for us in the book. A lack of communication was essential to the plot.

When my online book club choose this for their April discussion I wanted to read it again because I had forgotten a lot of the detail but I didn’t have time to re-read a huge book. My library had the CD version so I opted to listen to the audio book. There are a lot of characters in this novel and there was only one narrator. It was often difficult to know who was speaking. When she attempted a child voice it came out whiny and annoying. When she used a normal voice it was fine. When she would speak as one of the men it often sounded as if she was shouting. Perhaps 26 hours is just too long to listen to one book. When reading a long book such as this one I will speed up my reading if a chapter gets boring or slow down for better comprehension. With the audio version I didn’t have the luxury of skimming and parts of the book seemed to drag. I was surprised that happened because on my original reading I found the book to be very compelling.

I highly recommend the book (not the audio version) to everyone. You don’t have to like scifi to enjoy this one; there are no space ships, aliens or other planets. If you like time travel or historical fiction, give this a try. The Women of Science Fiction book group is discussing the novel this month. All are welcome to stop by and join the discussion. This book is also one of my choices for the 2011 Time Travel Challenge and the Audio Book Challenge.


Leave a Comment
  1. Suko / May 5 2011 3:50 pm

    Leslie, this does sound like something I’d enjoy, a mix of sci-fi with time travel and historical fiction. I had not heard of this book before venturing here.


  2. Beth F / May 6 2011 6:08 am

    I don’t find 26 hours too long for an audiobook (but that’s just me; I’ve listened to 40+-hour books with no problem). I loved the one Willis book I read and I’ve always wanted to give this one a try.


  3. Julie @ Knitting and Sundries / May 13 2011 8:46 am

    This one just went straight to my to-buy list! Thanks for a great review!


  4. Joanne / May 16 2011 8:30 am

    This was one of my favorite time travel books — highly recommend it to anyone as just a great story.



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