Doomsday Book

Connie Willis

Hodder & Stoughton 1993
A book review by Danny Yee © 1993
In general I strongly dislike time-travel stories with their attendant implausibilities, but sometimes they have other qualities which redeem them. Doomsday Book is set in 2054, when time travel is run of the mill but everything else is, rather implausibly, pretty much like the present. The only real exception is a random collection of tech gadgets such as video phones and laser candles.

Kivrin, a female undergraduate history student at Oxford, is to be the first person sent back to the Middle Ages (to 1320), because — wait for it! — no qualified historian is available. Everything goes wrong with the mission — the bungling incompetence of the academics organising it is, unfortunately, quite plausible — and she is delivered instead to 1348, the year the Black Plague reached England. Meanwhile a flu epidemic has hit 2054, and Oxford is quarantined. The bulk of the book consists of parallel accounts of the two epidemics, which are worked out much better than the time-travel setup.

Despite the weaknesses in the science and the implausible 2054 Oxford, I enjoyed Doomsday Book a lot. I much prefer well-written books with lousy science to engineering manuals dressed up as novels. I'm not sure it deserved its Hugo and Nebula award double, but Doomsday Book is definitely worth a read, especially if you are interested in epidemiology (used to produce a rather clever detective problem) or medieval English history.

December 1993

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%T Doomsday Book
%A Willis, Connie
%I Hodder & Stoughton
%D 1993
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0450579875
%P 650pp