Doomsday Book Mass Market Paperback – Aug 1 1993
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Connie Willis labored five years on this story of a history student in 2048 who is transported to an English village in the 14th century. The student arrives mistakenly on the eve of the onset of the Black Plague. Her dealings with a family of "contemps" in 1348 and with her historian cohorts lead to complications as the book unfolds into a surprisingly dark, deep conclusion. The book, which won Hugo and Nebula Awards, draws upon Willis' understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering and the indomitable will of the human spirit.
From Publishers Weekly
This new book by Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning author Willis ( Lincoln's Dreams ) is an intelligent and satisfying blend of classic science fiction and historical reconstruction. Kivrin, a history student at Oxford in 2048, travels back in time to a 14th-century English village, despite a host of misgivings on the part of her unofficial tutor. When the technician responsible for the procedure falls prey to a 21st-century epidemic, he accidentally sends Kivrin back not to 1320 but to 1348--right into the path of the Black Death. Unaware at first of the error, Kivrin becomes deeply involved in the life of the family that takes her in. But before long she learns the truth and comes face to face with the horrible, unending suffering of the plague that would wipe out half the population of Europe. Meanwhile, back in the future, modern science shows itself infinitely superior in its response to epidemics, but human nature evidences no similar evolution, and scapegoating is still alive and well in a campaign against "infected foreigners."p. 204 This book finds villains and heroes in all ages, and love, too, which Kivrin hears in the revealing and quietly touching deathbed confession of a village priest.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
The idea of time travel is a real warhorse in SF and often yields interesting results. I liked the premise of making the travellers history students; the added attraction was making the period under surveillance the Plague Years of medieval Europe. This may ring your deja-vu bell by now but Willis tackled this issue before and far better than Michael Crichton (Timeline, for those who aren't Crichton fans, covered similiar territory.)
The story involves the journey of Kivrin, an Oxford student of British history in the mid 21st century. Due to some complicated coincidences between past and present, her time travel goes off course and she lands in England 100 or so years earlier than planned at the height of the plague. Meanwhile, a mysterious illness is wreaking havoc on modern-day England which complicates rescue efforts. Kivrin is cut off from the present and attempts to save her host family and village with what modern medical knowledge she possesses and the aide of the village priest.
I expected an adventure tale and I got it but the real gift of Willis' writing is the incredible pathos she inspires toward her subjects. The story moves quickly and expertly between the present and the past and never loses steam. What I most enjoyed was the transition in Kivrin's mind from her subjects being abstracts ("contemps") to real people who love and strive and suffer. The realization is one the best historians must of necessity arrive at but most of us rarely contemplate when sitting in the comfort of a classroom or armchair.Read more ›
I started Doomsday Book the day after I finished reading Michael Crichton's Timeline. At first glance, the books seem to have the exact same plot: Technology enables historians to travel back in time to the 1300s, and a crisis in the present day threatens to strand the time-traveler(s). But, I noticed differences in the two books immediately. Gone are the dull characters. Gone are the images of the middle ages as pretty or romantic.
The plot could be told in a short story. But every page of Willis' book is worth reading. The plot isn't so important as the characters. They are so wonderfully three-dimensional; I cared about the characters and their feelings as the plot slowly revealed itself. The characters were dynamic people.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I really couldn't put it down until the very end.
The plot centers around a young scientist (Kivrin) who is part of a team at Oxford in the year 2050 that time travels to various periods in the past in order to learn more about them. The story bounces between the Britain of the near future and of the 1300's where Kivrin is supposedly gathering cultural information in the years before the Bubonic Plague struck Europe (1347) with its culture changing devastation. Unbeknownst to her colleagues in the 21st century (except for a suspicious mentor) she has actually dropped in right as the plague is making its way through England. But plot complications ensue in the Britain of the future, primarily in the form of virulent influenza that threatens to reassert itself on the heels of a recent worldwide pandemic that was apparently the plague of the early 21st century.
So Kivrin is alone as we watch her deal with the dawning knowledge that she is WHERE she should be but not WHEN she should be. And that is the brilliant part of the book: how she and the contemporaries deal with a killer that is indiscriminate, horrific and invisible (except to Kivrin who has no antibiotics and little hope of explaining the concept of bacteria to people with a 14th century knowledge of the world.)
What isn't brilliant (and why this book only got four stars) are the cast of characters inhabiting 21st century Oxford. They are either excitable, paranoid, crippled by arrogance, two-dimensional or some combination of the four traits.Read more ›
Science fiction as a whole tends to allow little character development or its character development tends to seem gratuitous. This is because science fiction necessarily concerns itself with the effect of scientific technology and that effect tends not to be an effect on individuals in particular. Since, despite its marketing, THE DOOMSDAY BOOK is obviously NOT science fiction, it is not so constrained, and its characterization ought to be judged by the the standards of mainstream fiction, not by the standards of a genre that has other, compensating, attractions. Judged thus, it falls very short. No character in the entire book is "rounded" or fully developed. The only character that ever interested me, as a character, was the younger of the two children of the medieval household, and she interested me only briefly, in passing.
(American Heritage, first edition: "disinterested, adj. Free of bias and self-interest; impartial." "Disinterested" does NOT mean "uninterested"; "UNINTERESTED" means "uninterested", and when this BOOK means "uninterested" it should SAY "uninterested". In my opinion, we are fully justified in rating a book that abuses the simple, common term "disinterested" and others, as this book does, one star only, and on this basis only. There is NO excuse for it. This is not, however, as it happens, why I have rated THE DOOMSDAY BOOK one star only.)
Most recent customer reviews
Today it's Ebola, yesterday it was Aids and in the fourteenth century it was the Black Death. Kivrin is an ardent student of the middle ages and is traveling back to the 1320 for... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Heather Pearson
This is a classic Science Fiction novel about time travel, which makes it a cool blend of 21st century sensibilities and 14th century history. Read morePublished 13 months ago by librarian on the lake
Fascinating book. I couldn't put it down. But then, am very fond of time travel genre!Published on Oct. 18 2014 by Kimberly Evans
A really exciting read and as a historian I loved it. I have read many time travel books but never with historians as the main characters. I can't wait to start on the next onePublished on July 21 2014 by goodpepper
This book is by turns powerful, sad and silly. The time travel story taking place in the near future is a little fussy and silly; the time travel story in the medieval past feels... Read morePublished on May 29 2014 by Richard Schwindt
Those expecting a predictable SF story may be puzzled by this novel. While ostensibly using a SF framework, this book captures the human condition as well as any work in the... Read morePublished on Oct. 18 2011 by lexie2
It's an interesting concept, but there's not really anything there. The characters are uninteresting placeholders, the plot *incredibly* slow, and several key story components are... Read morePublished on Feb. 15 2011 by C. Samuelsson