Historians—time travelers—have already tried to influence history; the failed assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler is one such example. That was in the early days of time travel and historians now accept that their actions don’t influence the future. Now, in the late 21st century, historians regularly travel into the past to experience and record history first-hand.
But then three Historians get stuck in 1940 during the Battle of Britain. With their drop points no longer functioning and no way to contact the future, Polly, Merope, and Mike must keep up their hope of rescue in a time and place where hope is being rationed. If that weren’t enough, it’s seeming increasingly likely that their actions truly are affecting history and that the very outcome of the war may hinge on what they do.
Why is this on our bookshelf?
Blackout/All Clear is sold as two books, but is a single story. The pair was awarded both a Hugo Award and Nebula award; rightfully so in my opinion. Willis focuses on individual struggle, heroism, sadness, and fortitude within the Battle of Britain but since her characters are fictional (and traveled through time to get there) she is able to explore the situations and circumstances that are most interesting.
The result is that Blackout/All Clear is an elegant hybrid of personal memoir, historical essay, and science fiction adventure.
Rating (5 stars)
I fell for Blackout after only a few pages and was gripped until the very last page of All Clear. It clearly deserves the awards and praise it has been given. A lot of science fiction will stay high-level: discussing the technical situation. These books do precisely the opposite: the characters get stuck in Britain early, and the bulk of the book is about these historians getting a hands-on look at what it means to be a “contemporary” in 1940 Britain.
Full disclosure: I have a personal interest in WWII history. Yes, it probably influenced my enjoyment and thus this review. I don’t care, it’s really good!
Read this book:
If you’re stuck in an air-raid shelter—you’ll pass the time quickly!
Don't Read this book:
if you just came through the net. Instead determine your temporal and spatial location and note the amount of slippage.
Once you're done, do this:
Read “Doomsday Book” and “To Say Nothing of the Dog” also by Connie Willis and featuring Oxford Historians traveling back in time. We will be!