Rant: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

10 Nov

Blackout (All Clear, #1)All Clear (All Clear, #2)This is less of a review than a rant, although there is a short review once I’m done griping.

Blackout and All Clear contain one story, split into two volumes.  There isn’t any real arc to each volume, there isn’t an end of one story with a cliffhanger leading into another.  At a total of  1150 or so pages, it was evidently too long to be contained in one book.

Blackout and All Clear should have been two of my favorite books this year.   I’m pretty sure that if I sat down to read them both now, they’d easily make that list.

Unfortunately, I read Blackout last April, not too long after it came out.   Connie Willis is one of my favorite authors.  I hadn’t heard much about it, and I didn’t bother tracking down any information about it, but just took it as a given that I’d read it.

Blackout is a time travel book, set in the same universe as Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog (one of my favorite books!).    The time traveling researchers are trying to learn more about World War II.    All does not go smoothly, and they find themselves unable to return to their own time.  They must balance worries about why this has happened with those of surviving this time in history, all while trying to accomplish their original mission and find a way to return home.

I didn’t realize until about 20 pages before the end of Blackout that there was no possible way to wrap up the book before reaching the back cover.  I had no idea there was another book planned in the universe, let alone that this story was continued in it.

If I could have acquired All Clear immediately, everything would have been fine, but I had a six month wait for its publication.  My memory for names and other details isn’t all that great to start with, and in this case I had time travel and characters using multiple aliases to contend with.  My picking audio for All Clear after having read Blackout on paper probably didn’t help either.

Unfortunately, I spent the first half of All Clear trying to remember that Mary was another name for which other character? why was one character so concerned about a deadline?, and other such details that really, really mattered to following the plot.

I did figure it all out, and settled in to the second part of the book, but by then I felt that my enjoyment of the first half of All Clear had been stolen from me.  That probably isn’t fair, but it is how I felt.

Do I recommend the books?  Absolutely.  Just make sure you are prepared to read the whole thing, both volumes.  The characters are great, I love the view into the day to day life of WWII in England, the reflections on time travel (the usual concerns about altering the space time continuum) are particularly well done.  There’s drama, there’s daily life,  there’s heroic behavior there’s bits of humor.

Do I think the book needed to be that long?  I’m not sure, since I lost track of many of the plot intricacies that the length allowed.  I do know that I had been planning to recommend it to my book club.  We’ve actually read other books that were in the vicinity of 1000 pages, but we’ve been having enough trouble getting people to finish normal length books.

I’d really like to reread both, and maybe I’ll find the time at some point. Right now, I just have too many other books to read.


Posted by on November 10, 2010 in books, reviews


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10 responses to “Rant: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

  1. Lee Whiteside

    November 11, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    It does state at the end of Blackout that it is continued in All Clear. However, the publisher neglected to mention any of that information in the flap copy and such which has irritated a number of readers.

    Once the decision was made to split the story into two volumes, Connie made it known whenever she talked and via her official website that it was one story split into two volumes. Direct the rant at the publishers, please, not at Connie.

    She promises that her next novel she will keep to one volume.

    • Laura

      November 11, 2010 at 5:32 pm

      Oh, I absolutely agree with EVERYTHING you say, and I’m sorry I didn’t make it clear. I’m quite sure its the publisher that I’m upset at!

      It was stated at the end of Blackout, but it was too late to do me any good at that point. If I’d made any effort to find out more about Blackout before picking it up, I would have found the information. But Connie Willis is one of less than 5 authors where I’d see a new book she wrote, and buy the hardcover, no questions asked!

      I think the two books should have been published close to simultaneously, but at very least, the cover should clearly state that Blackout contained only half the story. I would also have appreciated a very quick reminder of this has what’s happened so far at the beginning of All Clear.

      My anger is over not being able to properly appreciate a wonderful book, because of the delay in the middle. I’d never read half a book and pick it up again 6 months later, expecting to resume where I left off.

      I’m still a tremendous fan of Connie Wills, and am looking forward to her next book.

  2. Leslie

    November 11, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    I’m glad to see that ultimately you did like the book. Connie Willis is one of my favorites and I absolutely love the Oxford Historians.

    I was waiting for Blackout to come out in paperback and somewhere along the way found out it was only part one, so I’m glad I waited. Now I can read them together.

  3. Britt, Book Habitue

    November 13, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    I was really glad I read your review of Blackout before reading it. I had no idea it was going to be two volumes!
    Now that I know All Clear is out, I can read them together. 🙂

  4. Nikola

    November 13, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Wow, isn’t this strange. Well,at least they’re good books. The only problem is, I can’t see myself deciding on reading a 1000+ pages book any time soon 🙂

  5. madhaus

    December 4, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    I’m also a huge Willis fan, but at least I only had to wait 2 months not 6. Another book that the publisher split into pieces was Mary Gentle’s Book of Ash, which was published as 4 volumes, but at least they came out simultaneously.

    I don’t know why the publisher decided to wait 6 months between these two books as the story is indeed complex, there are multiple viewpoints, and as you mentioned the characters have multiple aliases and associate with a completely different set of people IN DIFFERENT TIMES when using other names. Except some of the colleagues show up in the different timelines as well. Good luck following who’s who when the disinformation team all goes by code names courtesy of Oscar Wilde.

    That said, this (these) are amazing books. Willis’ love of Saint Paul’s shines through, reminding me of her Oxford Historians novella taking place there, Fire Watch. In fact, doesn’t Dunworthy, much younger, make his first appearance there, in the same place as he does in All Clear?

    Truly a tour de force.


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