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SF Masterwork of the Week: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Connie Willis has accumulated an extraordinary 11 Hugo and 7 Nebula Awards during her glittering career. She has twice won the Hugo and Nebula with the same book – in 2010 with Blackout/All Clear, and before that in 1992 with our SF Masterwork of the Week, Doomsday Book.

For Kivrin Engle, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman travelling alone.

For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin – barely of age herself – finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours . . .

 

One of the major volumes of  Willis’s time travel sequence (the others being Firewatch, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and the two mentioned above: Blackout and All Clear), Doomsday Book is an extraordinary achievement by a writer at the peak of her powers. As Adam Roberts says in his introduction:

‘Like Shakespeare, she captures the mood of a time, the feel of medieval England, and she does so with remarkable vividness. To read Doomsday Book is to be drawn immersively into a world that is defined by its difference, both to the present and to the present’s ideas of how the past was. And because it feels real, we care about the people in it.’

If you’d like to discuss Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book – or any of our SF Masterworks of the Week, there’s a dedicated SF Gateway Forum thread here.