Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Last of the Hugo nominees —

Blackout, by Connie Willis.

You know, they only sent me an e-copy of Blackout? And it is really the first half of the book. I see why the actual nomination is for Blackout/All Clear: because Blackout has no ending — not even a vague gesture toward the idea of an ending.

Phooey. Now I need to buy a copy of All Clear, pronto, so I can find out what happens!

This is a time travel story, of course: historians go back in time to study things. I like the VERY NARROW studies they do, that seems so realistic! Like a tiny snapshot of evacuated children in one particular manor in the country, for example.

I liked this book a lot, though for me it was sloooow to get started. Normally I don’t mind a slow pace, but it took a while for me to start to care about the characters. It has a lot of point of view characters — five — two important, two medium, one minor — which would probably be why it was a slow-starter for me. But it also sets up an interesting contrast with The Dervish House. Why did the large number of characters work for me here (eventually) whereas I just quit reading The Dervish House?

I think the answer is simple: Willis gives each point of view character more space — that is, more pages in a row before switching to the next character. That gives me a chance to connect to one character before switching to the next. Also, she places each character in a small-scale, intimate setting: dealing with the godawful children in the manor, looking for a job in a department store during the Blitz, like that.

Each situation is easy to understand, and it’s easy to imagine yourself in the place of Eileen or Polly or Mike or whoever. And those places are stressful! You start to really WANT to know how Eileen is going to cope with the mother of those godawful children, how Polly is going to manage when she can’t get a black skirt — trivial, but it all seems to matter.

Willis ramps up the stress level with virtually every chapter. The kids have measles, so Eileen can’t get to her drop site. Now she finally gets to the drop site, but it doesn’t open! She has to go to London (encumbered by the godawful children) and find Polly, only she doesn’t know which department store to look in and SHE’S not the one who knows when and where each bomb will fall . . . and so on.

By the end, Eileen and Polly and Mike have at least found each other (whew!) but nothing has been resolved. I have some predictions!

I bet other historians from the future are thick on the ground. Marjorie, for example. The vicar, quite possibly. Sir Godfrey, definitely — I think he’s actually Colin. Anybody want to bet? No fair reading All Clear first!

So I’ve definitely got to buy All Clear.

Now, the Hugo?

Not sure. I’m going to glance at The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms again first, because it’s been awhile, but I think for me:

1. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
2. Blackout / All Clear
3. Feed
4. Cryoburn
5. The Dervish House

Now gotta think about reading the rest of the short-form nominees . . .

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