Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

Reading the Chronicles of St. Mary's was fun, but it got me longing to read more about time travel in done in a way that I just like better.  I've only read Doomsday Book once before (as opposed to To Say Nothing of the Dog, which I've read many times) because Doomsday Book will break your heart into bits and then jump up and down on them.  But all of a sudden I really wanted to re-read it, and so I pulled it off the shelf.

In future Oxford, historians can time-travel to observe real historical events, but nobody has ever gone as far back as the Middle Ages.  Kivrin, however, is determined to go and has been training for two years.  She's got it all planned out and will stay for two weeks, seeing the Christmas of 1320.

Nothing goes right.  Kivrin falls ill as soon as she arrives, and as all of future Oxford falls to the same influenza virus, they can't get her back.  She takes shelter at a small manor where the family is hiding out from an unsettled political situation.   We alternate between an epidemic in Oxford and a much worse one in the past, because Kivrin has not gone to 1320 at all.  She has arrived just in time for the plague.

Probably one of the greatest SF time-travel novels ever written.  Read it, but keep your Kleenex close at hand.

Incidentally, over the weekend I visited the antiquarian book fair in Sacramento, where all the book dealers for two hundred miles around congregate to show off and sell their best stuff.  I saw a first edition of Doomsday Book, with the above cover, for a few hundred dollars.  Right below it was a nice set of the unauthorized Ace paperbacks of the Lord of the Rings, which I was inordinately pleased with myself for recognizing.  There was all sorts of great stuff, even a few actually antiquarian pages of incunabula.  (The "antiquarian" is not so much a strict rule as it is a warning that it isn't a Scholastic book fair for children.)  We just went to see what it was like, and it turned out more fun than we had anticipated!


  1. I do agree this is a wonderful book. Calling it sci-fi may put some people off, really it is an an historical novel with time travel (which is not too technical!). Anything to do with the plague is likely to have upsetting incidents, but the early parts of the story are quite amusing. I do hope your recommendation brings it to a wide audience.

  2. It's true that DB is pretty light on the SF aspect! Willis does have a great sense of humor and I always enjoy her comedy. :)

  3. This was a particularly memorable book for me because I read it during my trip to England. I was fascinated by bell-ringing, so I loved that subplot. It was a rather harrowing story to be reading while traveling, though.

    I love that cover. The version that I read was a battered paperback with a much less interesting cover.

  4. Oh wow, this would be quite the book to read on a trip! Yeah, my copy is also the boring paperback.

  5. Okay, I'm now putting this whole loose series on my reread list for the summer. I also really love how Willis does time travel. This isn't an easy read but that just proves how good of a writer she is too!


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