SF Masterworks- Doomsday Book by Connie Willis: Review

I had never heard of this book until recently. It was part of a recent prize that I had won from Gollancz at christmas. I was in one of those moods in which I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to read next I picked up two books from Mount Toberead and after reading a few pages I knew that I wasn’t particularly in the mood for them at that precise moment in time. As I was perusing my shelves I spotted Doomsday Book and took it down and read the synopsis on the back.

When Kivrin Engle travels back through time to complete her doctoral thesis, due to an accident, she lands in the middle of the Black Plague of 1348.
Meanwhile the Oxford she left behind is laid low by a mysterious strain of influenza and, with no one willing to risk arranging her rescue, time is running out …

I love stories about time travel and enjoy all the paradox theories and connections between past and present or past and future etc. And as soon as I started reading I was hooked.
The story takes place in Oxford UK, in the year of 2054. The story begins with Mr Dunworthy, a lecturer at the university and a caring tutor, who is anxious at the prospect of Kivrin going back in time to the middle ages. There is something very father-like about the character of Mr Dunworthy which the reader can see develop more over the course of the novel.
Time travel is done in a way that protects the era in which the participant goes to, and also the participant themselves are prepared in a thorough manner before they embark. When a ‘drop’ is made the machine places a net around the precise location as well as the participant this is done in a way to not let anything come through from the past as well as ensuring minimal paradoxical effects. With me so far? Its not as complicated as I’m probably making it.
Kivrin has undergone intense lessons in etiquette of the 1300s as well as tutelage in the language and “adjectival inflection” of the period. Before the drop happens Kivrin also has to have inoculations against the diseases of the 14th Century and also her immune system is enhanced. So all bases are covered, the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, right?
Instead of being sent back to 1320, Kivrin has, allbeit unknowingly, been sent back to 1348 the year of the Black Death. And it would appear she has landed in Oxford at the precise time the horrific epidemic struck.

This book is ideal for fans of SF and historical fiction, the elements of both are beautifully intertwined that makes a book that is pretty hard to put down.
The characters are beautifully detailed and I genuinely cared about my favourites throughout the story. The events that unfold around all the characters bring them closer together in both past and present and poor Mr Dunworthy (with help of the over enthusiastic Colin), are run ragged trying to help in their time and also to save Kivrin.
This book will make you laugh and cry and hold your breath at the most surprising moments. I cannot give this book enough praise, all I can say is, THOU MUSTE READE THIS BOOKE!

Doomsday Book is part of the SF Masterworks series available from Gollancz now. If you are from the 1300’s you probably have a bit of a wait, and if you are lucky enough to partake in the joys of time travel, you can go back to 1992 and get it before anyone else!


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