Revisited: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

29 Jul

BlackoutAll ClearMy rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Last year, I read both of these books, which are by one of my favorite authors.  You can look back at my Rant: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis, but in a nutshell, these make up one story, split into two volumes– and this isn’t noted anywhere obvious on the first book.  Which was released  8 months before the second book.  And my terrible memory for the details of what I read is one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place. And this really interfered with my enjoyment of these two books.

Book descriptions via the publisher’s website:


Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place, with scores of time-traveling historians being sent into the past. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser into letting her go to VE-Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, and dive-bombing Stukas—to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past.

All Clear:

[Blackout recap omitted]

Now the situation has grown even more dire. Small discrepancies in the historical record seem to indicate that one or all of them have somehow affected the past, changing the outcome of the war. The belief that the past can be observed but never altered has always been a core belief of time-travel theory—but suddenly it seems that the theory is horribly, tragically wrong.

Meanwhile, in 2060 Oxford, the historians’ supervisor, Mr. Dunworthy, and seventeen-year-old Colin Templer, who nurses a powerful crush on Polly, are engaged in a frantic and seemingly impossible struggle of their own—to find three missing needles in the haystack of history.

I’ve now read these twice. The first time, I read Blackout in print and All Clear in audio. The second time I listened to both books.

All in all, I found my second read, where I went directly from Blackout to All Clear much more satisfying.

These books had:

  • A brilliant picture of life of ordinary people in England during World War II.
  • Some fascinating characters in extraordinary circumstances.
  • A great examination of the issues and paradoxes of time travel.

As well as great writing, humorous bits, touching moments, Agatha Christie, codes, spies, the worst kids ever (or are they?), and courageous people of all ages (male and female). What else can you ask for?

In the end, some of the same confusion I originally had in reading All Clear remained for me.

The book jumped around from early in the war to the very end, and the reader was meant to use the comments on the types of bombs falling on London to help keep the timeline straight, and that didn’t work very well for me.  This was carefully explained several times, and I don’t think it was supposed to be ambiguous, but I was still confused in parts.

On the other hand, I think some of the confusion about which characters were which was deliberate– the reader is not supposed to be certain about the identity of a couple of the characters, until events make some parts of the story clear. I can live with that.

Some of the characters could get a bit whiny. In an effort to be noble they withheld information that would have been better pooled. These and other such character flaws served to make them more real to me, but I could see it getting on the nerves of a different reader.

I really liked that the book was about historians looking into day to day life and about the ordinary heroes of war (of which there were many).  I felt that aspect really came alive for me, but others might be looking for something grander.

I consider the flaws to be minor in comparison to the plusses I listed above.  If the description intrigues you, I’d strongly encourage you to pick up these books– just make sure you have access to All Clear before starting Blackout!

Sound Bytes @ Devourer of Books

For more audiobook reviews, check out Sound Bytes

Audio Notes

Narrator: I thought Katherine Kellgren was absolutely amazing.  This is a really, really demanding book, with a huge number of characters with a variety of accents.  I felt she pulled it off beautifully, and I very much enjoyed listening to her.

Production:  Each book had an introduction by Connie Willis, recorded by her.  I don’t know if the content was also in the print versions– I don’t remember seeing it in Blackout when I read it over a year ago– but I think listening to it in the author’s voice was a definite plus (but I’m glad she didn’t read the entire thing!).  Beyond that, I think the production was solid.

Print vs. Audio?  For Blackout, I’ve now read this book in both formats!  I have to say that I enjoyed the audio, although it works well both ways.  Two warnings:  First, these books are longBlackout is just under 19 hours, All Clear is just under 24 hours!  This is a substantial time commitment– then again, the audio downloads are no where near as heavy as the print version :-).  Second, Time Travel.  These books are non-linear, and if that’s going to confuse you in print, it will likely be worse in audio. Know yourself here.  I wouldn’t suggest these for your first books to listen to, but I was very happy with my choice to do so!

For more audiobook reviews, check out Sound Bytes at Devourer of Books!


Posted by on July 29, 2011 in books, reviews


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2 responses to “Revisited: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

  1. Jen - Devourer of Books

    August 4, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    I don’t think I have listened to Katherine Kellgren and I would like to, but I often do better with non-linear in print, so maybe I’ll stay with that this time.


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