Twenty-first-century Kivrin has painstakingly prepared for her on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in history: the early 14th century. But a crisis in present-day 2054 leaves Kivrin stranded during one of humanity’s darkest hours, while her colleagues struggle with a modern-day epidemic as they attempt to rescue her.
Obviously, my initial attraction Connie Willis’ “Doomsday Book” was the author’s name, in addition to the science fiction genre. But I honestly had a difficult time putting this book down. Others were out celebrating New Year’s, and all I wanted to do was sit and read.
I did think it was fairly obvious — within the first couple of chapters — what the source of the epidemic in 2054 would turn out to be, as well as the nature of the problem with Kivrin’s “drop” (travel back in time) into England in the 1300s. Still, Willis tells an engaging story with well-developed characters and detailed story lines that kept me turning the pages — nearly 600 of them. Her descriptions of life in the Middle Ages were very well researched, and she has no trouble making this world come alive for the reader.
The story, coincidentally enough, is set during the winter holidays — which happened to be when I’d picked the book up. All the while that I was reading, I kept thinking about the bitter cold and the rain that the characters have to contend with, at a time when I was having difficulty keeping warm myself. I imagine the book made me feel somewhat colder, even though we are currently in the midst of a mild cold snap. My reading left me wondering — not for the first time — how I would have fared in the Middle Ages simply from a health standpoint, and my guess is that I wouldn’t have done too well.
One of the really interesting things about reading “older” science fiction is to see where the author’s vision of the future was inaccurate, and where it was right on the money. For instance, Willis did foresee the European Union, yet completely missed the advent of mobile communications (e.g., cell phones, text messaging) and the internet — the people in 2054 do have video phones, but they’re landlines — and the absence of wireless phones plays a fairly large role in the crisis that arises in 2054.
For me, one of the signs of a good read is how disappointed I am when the story comes to a close. As I saw the pages counting down to the end of the book — which also had a somewhat predictable conclusion — I couldn’t keep myself from plowing ahead with it. I wanted to keep reading, even though I knew I would feel suddenly empty when I came to the end of the last sentence on the last page.
I’d not read any of award-winning Willis’ books before, but I’ll be sure to look for them now that I’ve gotten a taste of her talent and skill.