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30 August 2011 @ 08:15 pm
#20, #21  
Blackout, Connie Willis

When I started this, I was waiting for a book by Willis that would live up to To Say Nothing of the Dog. When I finished it, I was still waiting.

This is another Oxford time-travelling book, in that it charts the extremely charming concept that by 2060 Oxford University built a time-travelling machine capable of sending people to the past, making the study of history suddenly a thousand times more exciting - and dangerous. There are simple and interesting rules governing time-travel in this universe, namely that time itself will prevent historians from visiting crucial ‘divergence points’. Therefore, no killing Hitler (which they tried early on). Previous stories in this universe are TSNOTD, which deals with Victorian times and golden age mysteries and is one hundred percent delightful, and Doomsday Book, about the Dark Ages and the bubonic plague and as depressing as the title suggests.

Blackout is 'set' in WWII, in the sense that the three historian protagonists travel there to observe different aspects of life in the era. One of the cleverest parts, to my eyes, was the fact that they aren't just randomly allowed to travel back to the past because it would be cool to see. They have to be history students researching the era for a project, in much the same way as I suppose current students write papers on 'evacuees in 1939' or VE Day or Dunkirk.

I'm not sure how I felt about these particular three. Their contemp names were used in place of their real ones most of the time, making it hard to keep track of who was who. Eileen, in particular, was annoyingly weak-willed. She kept letting people make her work on her half-day out, which if she was a real maid would have been a genuine sore point and was bad enough in this faked situation. Looking back it's obviously a ploy to allow certain events to happen as they did, but it put me off her character in a big way. Polly and Mike seemed to exist just as tour guides to the places they were visiting.

There was no real sense of danger. Worse, Polly's constant and repetitious rationalising of what was happening got super annoying and destroyed any empathy I might have felt for her plight. What I wanted to see more of was survival as opposed to waiting for rescue. I suppose that's what happens in All Clear, but for some reason NO ONE WILL SHIP THE HARDCOVER TO ME, and the paperback's not out till October. Great marketing strategy, actively preventing readers from accessing your books. Jeez.

Devilish, Maureen Johnson

This must be the third book of Johnson's I've read, and it will probably be the last. In comparison to the previous samples of her oeuvre it's actually quite impressive, but the ending isn't just lax, it's criminally lazy. What is it with YA authors? Even the ones who can actually write and plot and characterise, such as in this case, just reach approximately three hundred pages and say 'DONE NOW.' Loose ends, what loose ends? It's a real pity in this case because Johnson was clearly trying to deconstruct the vampire/supernatural entity romance genre and just, like, got bored of it or something. She also ruined Jane's character by making her rebellion secondary to a breakup and hastily pasting on a nice heterosexual relationship to bow out on. I mean, what was Jane not being sure she even liked boys, and finding Allie's ABSOLUTE WHACKED-OUT SHIT PERSONALITY TRAITS 'cute' (!!!), and being willing to die for her ABOUT if not real, romantic love?! Lame! Also, I know it was 2006, but 'my face book'? Seriously? Again I say: jeez.
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(Deleted comment)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on August 30th, 2011 07:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, I absolutely agree. I even knew this going in, but the lure of actually finding Willis in my local bookshop (the last time that happened was with TSNOTD, and I nearly didn't buy it) and also assuming that BY NOW, after being nommed for the Nebula for it and everything that Amazon would pony up All Clear made me buy Blackout. I wish I'd waited, as I have no desire to re-read Blackout; it is, to be frank, far too dull.
scarletscarlet on August 30th, 2011 08:56 pm (UTC)
I read Blackout and All Clear back to back - I really think I would have found it more of a problem had I just read the first. There are some things in the first that become clear in the second, not just plot things, and I cannot actually allude to it more than that without getting spoilery.

Also, I had no trouble finding paperback even in NZ, and we are sometimes a bit shit for getting stuff over here. Have you tried www.thebookdepository.co.uk? There's a paperback for just over 7 pounds here, and they do free shipping: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/All-Clear-Connie-Willis/9780553592887
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on August 30th, 2011 09:14 pm (UTC)
It's pretty obvious from reading Blackout that this is the case, even more so than with a standard book-and-sequel. I just don't know why she split them. Blackout isn't that long, and with a judicious bit of trimming - the Hodbins, maybe, or some hospital scenes - I'm sure they would have fit.

It's still coming up on that site as 'coming out on Oct 25 2011.' That's what it said on Amazon.co.uk too. Amazon.com had one available NOW but it wouldn't ship overseas. WTAF Willis.
scarletscarlet on August 30th, 2011 09:38 pm (UTC)
That is completely fucked; how on earth did we get it over here? I will never understand book release schedules. Admittedly, you buy stuff here, it costs 2-3 times as much as buying it from the UK, but still. MAKES NO SENSE.

And yeah, actually, it probably could have been quite good as just one book. There was a lot of extra stuff shoved in there. I enjoyed it on the whole, but there were certainly a couple of late night reading sessions where I was just drifting through the chapters without feeling like sleepily skimming was costing me anything.
scarletscarlet on August 30th, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC)
Oh, I wonder if you could get a copy via eBay? Though half the time US sellers don't bother with international shipping, boo.
Riakessie on August 30th, 2011 09:46 pm (UTC)
It's probably to do with international rights and distribution rights. (Edit: Yeah, that's a UK edition coming out in October. The one on Amazon.com is the US edition; different cover.) If it's out in the US, but there's a UK edition due out, we're technically not allowed to sell the US edition as it's a rights violation (for general stock, I mean; we can get in customer orders). (US bookshops got into trouble for selling the UK edition of the third Stieg Larsson book months before the US edition came out, for example.)

It various with some shops for reasons I don't know, and sometimes if you order in a US book for a customer who doesn't take it and you can't return it, you might as well put it out to see if it'll sell, etc.


Edited at 2011-08-30 09:50 pm (UTC)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on September 7th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
Maaaaan, see, this is what gets me. The publishers whine about the decline and fall of traditional printed media and the rise of piracy and what do they do to stop it? PREVENT ME FROM BUYING THEIR FUCKING BOOKS. It's the internet age! I'm not going to sit around patiently waiting until YOU decide when it's cool for me to get stuff other people HAVE ALREADY. Only one thing is stopping me from finding a pirated ebook of this, and that is that I hate ebooks.
Riakessie on September 23rd, 2011 10:17 am (UTC)
Er, no. They didn't just "decide when it was cool for you to get other stuff". There were probably already other books in the schedule for the book's US date, and bumping books forward or back can mess up a lot of timing, budgets, and schedules of other books coming out.

A book's foreign rights don't always automatically sell the same time as a book's original sale, and if they sell afterwards to a different publisher then the publisher probably already has something coming out and can't bump it up because the schedules too tight or there's not enough money. It's not just the publisher deciding to be crotchety and release the book later to piss everyone off.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on September 23rd, 2011 10:24 am (UTC)
Well, I didn't actually think they scheduled their book releases specifically to piss me off. :P Nor was I trying to personally attack you, as I'm afraid that might have come off as OMG WHAT PARSING IS THAT. Anyway, I just think that books and films - probably popular ones moreso that genre/cult figures like Willis' - get pirated because of lack of access, and while I'm sure that's a logistical issue more than anything, it's one they want to work on to defeat the dreaded scourge of piracy (or rather, reduced sales).
shadowclubshadowclub on August 31st, 2011 10:08 pm (UTC)
I wasn't sure if I liked Connie Willis' stuff all that much when I read it either. Although it has been sometime, I do remember being bored or annoyed with the story at different points.

Sigh, I do love a well done YA novel, but there are so few nowadays I feel.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on September 7th, 2011 09:42 pm (UTC)
See, I started out with an AMAZING one, and it's kind of been downhill from there. But TSNOTD is so amazing that I'm probably going to keep giving her the benefit of the doubt for a while.