DOOMSDAY BOOK by Connie Willis


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 Second solo novel (following Lincoln's Dreams, 1987) from an author best known for her strong stories (the collection Fire Watch, etc.). In the Oxford of Christmas, 2054, time travel is a well- established tool of historical research. Kivrin Engles has labored diligently to acquire the language and practical skills necessary to survive in the 14th century--for her destination is Christmas, 1320. Nearby, an archeological dig is uncovering artifacts from the same period. But problems beset the ``drop'': Kivrin's schedule is advanced by Gilchrist, the professor in charge (he's more concerned with his reputation than the safety of his researchers) before her immunizations (irritatingly called ``inoculations'' by Willis) can take full effect; and the technician in charge of the time- calculations, Badri, falls mysteriously ill just as the drop goes ahead. Dunworthy, Kivrin's academic mentor and friend, his place usurped by Gilchrist, suspects something has gone wrong--but the delirious Badri can provide only forbidding hints. Soon a full- blown influenza epidemic is raging. Meanwhile, in the 14th century, Kivrin overcomes initial obstacles (she comes down with the flu; her mental translator doesn't work) to become absorbed in the life and people of a tiny village--in particular she admires Roche, the priest, a simple and illiterate Anglo-Saxon despised by the local Norman aristocracy. But as an enigmatic ``blue sickness'' takes hold in the village, Kivrin realizes that she's not in 1320 but 1348--the year bubonic plague ravaged England. Soon, the entire village lies dying, nursed only by Kivrin and the saintly Roche, who, ironically, thinks she's a saint sent by God to restore the faith. Meantime, up in the 21st century, Badri hovers near death; Dunworthy, desperately worried about Kivrin, himself succumbs; plague dominates both centuries. Solid characters, crisp, almost perfect detail, and excellent subplots that maintain the tension at an almost unendurable level. Splendid work--brutal, gripping, and genuinely harrowing, the product of diligent research, fine writing, and well-honed instincts, that should appeal far beyond the usual science-fiction constituency.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1992
ISBN: 0-553-08131-4
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1992


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