Hugo Blogging – Connie Willis May Be The Worst Writer In Existence

(Before I start, I *will* be doing my guest posts for Liberal England and Thagomizer soon, and will be posting a review of the Beach Boys gig, probably tomorrow, but I’ve had writer’s block for a few days after finishing writing my last book while ill. But I needed to get this off my chest).

I own a book – a rather good one – called How Not To Write A Novel. It takes you through the most common, and most awful, mistakes made by budding authors, and if you read it and manage not to make any of the mistakes it talks about, you might not end up with a *great* novel, but you can be sure to have something at least not obviously, blatantly, godawfully incompetent.

However, I have now discovered a way to produce a masterpiece. Just read Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis, do the exact opposite of what she does, and you will have the greatest work in the history of English literature.

I talked a little about Blackout before, the first half of this two-part so-called novel. To recap – it had nothing at all in the way of plot, had appalling errors of dialect where all the supposed English people had American speech patterns, and it just *stopped* with a ‘read part two to get the end’ – no sort of resolution or conclusion at all. It was a bad book and it made me angry.

However, the Hugo awards people added part two – All Clear – to the downloadable Hugo Packet a couple of weeks ago, and I am trying to get through everything nominated (though I doubt I’ll be able to – I’ve been extraordinarily busy the last couple of months). So I thought I’d at least give it a go.

I am two hundred pages into this 600+ page excuse for a book (or 700 pages into the 1100 page total) and will not be reading any more.

Here is a list of things you can do if you want to write just like the multi-Hugo-Award-winning author Connie Willis:

Write a 600 page book with no conclusion at all, and tell your paying customers to buy another book if they want the conclusion to the story.

Have at least the first 200 pages of that other book continue the pattern of having absolutely nothing happen.

Make a *MASSIVE HUGE DEAL* about your detailed research, filling the book full of details, but then do things like have a character go to visit a barmaid who lives in Manchester, in the Midlands. He goes to her flat on King Street, but she’s moved and so he has to go all the way across town to Whitworth Street. [Manchester is not in the Midlands. King Street is not a residential area, and if it were it would be far too expensive for a barmaid, being at the time the book is sent the centre of Manchester’s banking industry and now the most expensive shopping street in the North of England. Whitworth Street is less than five minutes’ walk away from King Street, and at the time had no residential properties.] Willis has clearly just looked at the Wikipedia ‘list of Manchester streets’ without realising that that list only covers a circle around the city centre with only about a quarter-mile radius. And these details were not necessary to the plot – the character could have turned up, been told she lived ‘the other side of town’ and gone there, without mentioning the streets. Or, indeed, the character could just have gone to the right house with no damage to the story whatsoever. Instead, Willis chooses to show off her research, and gets it laughably, ludicrously wrong.

Assume that all English-speaking people speak in American Standard, and then make sure you have all your British characters repeat phrases like “go look”, “go see”, “go do” and so on. This will ensure that any British reader will want to go *and* return your book to the shop at the earliest opportunity. If you make a special effort, you can put one of these “go verb” sentences in straight after making a gigantic deal of how Englishily English your characters are. If you do this enough you should be able to induce a nervous tic in your reader.

Repeatedly have it look like people have uncovered your characters’ secrets, by having chapters end with people saying things like “Wait a minute, I know what you’re doing…”, then cut to chapter about a different character, then cut back to the original characters, to reveal that there is a perfectly innocuous explanation and they don’t really know anything. Phew! Crisis averted! This trick works especially well the twenty-third or twenty-fourth time it happens in your book.

Have a British character think things like

“Which had been a dreadful idea ever since the days of the American Pilgrims, when John Alden had attempted to persuade Priscilla Mullins to go out with Miles Standish, and Priscilla had said, “Speak for yourself, John.” The last thing she needed was for Stephen to say, “Speak for your-self, Isolde.”
She wondered if John Alden had been a time traveler, who’d then had no idea how to get out of the muck-up he was in.”

– because of course when a British person is thinking to herself, she will immediately think of the kind of cultural reference that every American schoolkid knows but which no British person has a clue about. (This is not me saying this is a bad book because she’s American, by the way. If a British writer were to have an American think about King Charles II in the oak tree, or Alfred burning the cakes or something, I’d have a similar contempt for it. It’s not “ha ha Americans don’t understand British people” but “ha ha bad writer doesn’t bother to think through her characters’ thoughts).

Have all your characters, all the time, talk incessantly about how great Agatha Sodding Christie is, for some reason.

While, obviously, your major characters should all speak like proper Americans, you must ensure that any minor character who is meant to be working class should speak in Dick Van Dyke Cockernee that occasionally slips into something like phonetic Mummerset – “Gor blimey guvnor that’s a rum do and no mistake, bain’t it?” might do for a typical line of dialogue [NB not actual dialogue, I can’t bear to look through the book for an actual example].

Place your major characters, all of whom are friends and care about each other, in a life-threatening situation in which they all need to share all relevant information and work together. Then have them all hide information from each other so as not to worry them. Doing this can easily add five hundred pages of misunderstandings and complication to your book.

And finally…

Have the entire plot of your book depend on the idea that a historian, at Oxford University, whose specialist period is the Second World War, is completely unfamiliar with the names ‘Bletchley Park’ and ‘Alan Turing’.

This is someone who has apparently had a successful writing career for as long as I’ve been alive. On the evidence of this utter, appalling, piece of shit, this travesty, this disgrace that makes Dan Brown look like a more elegant and refined version of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I can only assume that she has incriminating photos of the head of publishing at Spectra, her publishers, and of the people who choose the Hugo shortlists. In which case, I can only say to let her release the photos – they could hardly do more damage to your reputations than these books do.

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49 Responses to Hugo Blogging – Connie Willis May Be The Worst Writer In Existence

  1. Wesley says:

    The sad thing is that the cultural reference in question isn’t even the kind of thing that every American schoolkid knows. (Although it’s just possible that it was, back when Willis was a schoolkid.) I just barely remember the existence of Miles Standish, I don’t recall ever hearing about John Alden or Priscilla Mullins, and I haven’t the slightest idea what Willis is referring to. And I speak as someone who reads history books for fun…

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      To be fair, the character in question is an historian – but we’ve already established that in WillisWorld historians don’t even know the most basic, rudimentary general knowledge trivia quiz things about their own specialist area…

      As for it being the kind of thing every schoolkid knows, Holly said that too, and I pointed out to her that pretty much nobody knows the things ‘every schoolkid knows’ ;)

  2. misssbgmail says:

    “Place your major characters, all of whom are friends and care about each other, in a life-threatening situation in which they all need to share all relevant information and work together. Then have them all hide information from each other so as not to worry them. Doing this can easily add five hundred pages of misunderstandings and complication to your book.”

    aka the JK Rowling plot device.

  3. Emily says:

    Bravo, I can only applaud this beautiful rant (and avoid the book like the plague)!

  4. Kmusser says:

    I enjoyed the rant, but didn’t find the book that bad – confess I didn’t even notice the dialect, but then again I’m American and I did get the impression that the book is targeted at an American audience. Main thing I didn’t like was the plot did indeed move slower than mud, that could have been one book without losing anything. What I did like was the setting, I thought she did a nice job of capturing the atmosphere of the Blitz and took thought the book to be a sort of homage to the survivors.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I do notice that looking over reviews of the book, there is a definite US/UK split, with USian reviewers mostly saying, at worst, “oh it’s not that bad”, while the British ones are mostly talking about exactly how far they got before throwing the book at the wall in disgust.
      And I think that may well be because the setting does seem OK to an American. But not only is pretty much every detail about Britain wrong (though actually less so in the PDF version I’ve got than in the hardback of Blackout, judging from the reviews – at least some of the most egregious errors have been fixed) but the setting itself is problematic.
      The Blitz is very much the foundational myth of modern Britain, and the version of it being portrayed by Willis is not especially close to the actual historical events, but is *extraordinarily* close to a particular pop-cultural version of it, as put about by a particular right-wing nationalist type of politician. It’s not *quite* the same as if someone from Britain had written a book about the American Civil War in which gangs of cheery black people willingly signed up to fight for States’ rights, and Gettysburg was in Minnesota, but it’s that level of ickiness. Maybe, actually, a better comparison would be a story about September 11 2001 where the World Trade Centre towers were about twenty stories high and in New Jersey, and which was all about the heroic efforts of the firefighters, but with the firefighters all talking in half-remembered lines from John Wayne films (“Goldarnit, pilgrim, we ain’t gonna not let no towers burn down on my watch, by criminy!”) because that’s how the writer thought Americans talk. She has no understanding of things like the British class system, which are absolutely *essential* for anyone writing about that time period. The whole ‘tribute to the survivors’ thing doesn’t help in that regard – we’ve had 70+ years of mawkish shit thrown at us in the UK about the ‘Blitz spirit’, singsongs in tube stations and so on. And while there is an *element* of truth in it, it’s very much the official line that gets pushed at us as evidence of Britain’s Special Greatness. So Willis’ book manages to be both culturally patronising *and* politically dubious *and* factually wrong.

      Nonetheless, I think that I could have overlooked those flaws had the book had anything resembling an idea, a plot or any kind of characterisation. The wrongness of the British stuff is mostly just annoying because it could have been fixed by a competent editor, and is thus just a symptom of a deeper underlying problem with the book – an utter contempt for the reader which, to me at least, seeps through in every word.

      (Sorry, I get angry about this stuff quite easily).

      • Oh, don’t get me started on that. The myth of Dunkirk is even worse. May 1940 was actually one of Britain’s worst military disasters ever. The casualties weren’t as bad as WW1, but that was mostly because ‘our boys’ ran away or surrendered before they could be killed. In strategic terms it was much worse than the Somme or Third Ypres or Loos because the BEF was totally kicked out of France in a few weeks. In this confusion, British soldiers summarily executed civilians whom they suspected of being fifth columnists (obviously wrongly, because fifth columnists didn’t actually exist). About 2/3 of the men who made it out of Dunkirk were taken off in Royal Navy warships, but who cares about that, because the ‘little ships’ are just so much more romantic. Churchill realistically said that wars aren’t won by evacuations. And yet the right-wing press consistently spins this is one our finest hours. At least Americans don’t go on about the My Lai spirit or the Tet spirit.

        • Yeah, I didn’t mention the scene in which a retired sailor with a tiny boat that lets in water is told not to help by the military but goes off to Dunkirk anyway and saves hundreds of soldiers’ lives in his little boat, prompting our time-travelling historian character to rhapsodise to himself about the true meaning of heroism, did I?

          As a historian, please, for your own sanity, never consider reading this book – all the major characters in it are ‘historians’ who travel back in time to observe events, and I think you may end up actually hunting down Willis and murdering her for her slanders on your profession…

        • TAD says:

          The evacuation of Americans off the roof of the US embassy in South Vietnam, in 1975……before the oncoming North Vietnamese could slaughter them. America’s finest hour!

          • Andrew Hickey says:

            Exactly. The stuff about Dunkirk in the British national myth is very much on that level of wrongness.

            • TAD says:

              The victors historically tend to romanticize the truth, I suppose.

              I’d be interested in your thoughts about the News of the World affair. Do you think Murdoch’s US media companies (Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and a couple others) were engaged in something similar?

              • Andrew Hickey says:

                I’d be astonished if they weren’t, Fox News at least. Murdoch’s never been one to have any form of corporate ethics.

      • Nah. I’m American, I think Connie Willis is a very nice person (having interviewed her more than once) and I think this is a baaaad book.

  5. Don Alsafi says:

    It’s the tags in your post that had me laughing the most. :)

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  7. Paul Treadaway says:

    For what it’s worth, the Hugo shortlist is decided democratically, by vote of members of the current and previous World SF Convention:

    I don’t think it would be practical to blackmail all of the hundreds of potential voters, so we must assume that this genuinely reflects the popularity of the book (or at least the author) among those sf fans who voted.

  8. What a fantastic, and hilarious, review. I haven’t read the book, but now I think I’ll stay well clear.

  9. lensaddiction says:

    I kindof enjoyed the first book, the characters were interesting, and the plot ok, not being either a UK or a US Im used to adapting to the language either way and glossing of needless geographic details.

    But Blackout lost me with the multiple multiple plot POV, a plot that ended up like a ball of string after a kitten attack, and in the end I never really understood what happened other than a lot of authorial handwaving. I flicked thru Blackout after first 1/3.

    Was crap and badly written. Shouldnt have been nominated let alone won.

  10. Zander Nyrond says:

    But it was, and it did, and as Paul Treadaway points out the Hugos are decided by at least a portion of fandom at large, so somebody must have liked it. Just goes to show that a book does not have to be flawless to succeed. Which, in fact, is true of pretty much everything from books to baking to people, and a good thing too, or none of us would ever get anywhere.

    I’m not going to risk my life by suggesting that popular = good, but the thing must have some quality that kept people reading long enough to form a positive opinion. If that quality could be isolated and combined with good research and all the other things this book patently lacks, then we’d have a real masterpiece on our hands. (I’ve certainly given up on a number of meticulously researched, well-plotted and painstakingly authentic stories that just didn’t grab me.)

    Anyway, that’s my £0.02. Backing away now, hands in the air.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Don’t worry, this is a blog that actively welcomes disagreement, of the reasoned type at least.
      I get the impression from other reviews I’ve read (and I’ve seen a lot, because a lot of people have linked to this post and I like to see who’s linking me) that what got the book its success was the personal popularity of the author. Apparently she’s very popular with the con-going public in the US, and is apparently a delightful, witty and charming person in real life and on panels. From this, I actually suspect that a lot of the voters haven’t read the books at all, and are voting on past performance or general like for the author.
      Of course, some people genuinely enjoyed the book, but I can’t actually see what they enjoyed, and the positive reviews seem almost sarcastic, singling out precisely the things she does badly, like research, as things she does well.

  11. zack says:

    While I have not read Blackout/All Clear I have read her Doomsday book. It was a painful endeavor that I rather not repeat.

  12. C W Rose says:

    Reference “The Dunkirk Spirit” – the British have always celebrated their defeats, from the Battle of Maldon onwards. Something perverse in the national character.

    In fact Dunkirk wasn’t as bad as it might have been, since 340,000 soldiers, even without equipment, were a useful force when nothing else was available.


  13. Jennifer says:

    This came up in a Google search. I only this morning told my eldest son about this book and how much I enjoyed it, but then I am neither a yank or a brit. As an australian, I am totally used to overseas authors totally stuffing up our history and our speech patterns, not to mention word usage.
    I liked Domesday and enjoyed Black/All Clear. If you didn’t, well, so what? If it had been written as an historical treatise, I could understand your chagrin. So find a book you love and read it instead.
    As for awards, It seems to me that awards are rarely made on merit but on emotion (sort of like the stock market ups and downs)

    • mccmomof3 says:

      I agree heartily…I found this site b/c I suspected that the Brit reaction wouldn’t be so positive and wanted to see what they thought.

    • Nix says:

      I don’t ask that works are a historical treatise. I ask that they not get trivial things like the nature of the bleeding coinage wrong, when that sort of thing could have been solved by handing the book to one single British test reader or asking any of several tens of millions of human beings one email away ‘what sort of currency did they use in 1940’, or, indeed, reading any book at all on the history of the war.

      The existence of pounds, shillings, and pence is not exactly a secret. But she didn’t get even *that* right. This is not just terrifying levels of lack of research: this is outright contempt for history. It’s not like this is ancient history, either: the coinage changed in *1971*. There are people only ten years older than me who remember it, and I’m only in my thirties. This is a degree of lack of research that triggers distancing that rapidly turns into active loathing in basically anyone from the country in which the book is set who reads the book.

      That can’t be a sign that the book is particularly good, in my eyes.

  14. Tom Udo says:

    Willis thinks the clutch has something to do with starting a car’s engine, that the choke is used to start an already warmed engine, that the RAF had only forty aircraft remaining at the beginning of September 1940, and that the flight of a V-2, from liftoff to impact, took only four seconds. So much for research and common sense.

    In a book that is about English people in England, she mixes British and American spelling and word usage.

    Her main characters can’t be distinguished from one another, except when their names are included in the text. Her supporting characters are all stereotypes, some of whom (Alf and Binnie, for example) are so irritating I kept wishing a bomb would fall on them.

    For a few hundred pages, overlapping the end of ‘Blackout’ and the beginning of ‘All Clear’, she can’t seem to keep straight whether it’s Polly or Eileen/Merope who has the VE-Day deadline.

    She inexplicably changes Mary’s last name from Douglas to Kent, then back to Douglas.

    Her characters do almost nothing for 1,132 pages but run about frantically, trying to save themselves and the fate of civilization, but at one point they set this seemingly important goal aside to avoid disappointing a child who is pouting about having to leave a pantomime early.

    No matter how important anyone’s errand is, or how essential it is for him or her to speak, any verbal interruption by a peripheral character is an inescapable trap or an insurmountable obstacle to communication.

    If all of the repetitions of the phrase ‘but this is time travel!’ were excised, the overall length would be reduced sufficiently to fit into a single volume instead of two.

    Hugo awards seem to have become meaningless.’Blackout/All Clear’ is an inept mass of crap, and I want my $32.00 (plus tax) back.

    • Canadian says:

      “Douglas” was not her name, it was a nickname. After the motorcycle incident, she gets called by all sorts of motorcycle-related nicknames and “Douglas” is one of them (it was a British motorcycle company).

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  16. dnapl says:

    I know that I am ages too late, but thanks. This review made me feel better since I just got around to reading these books. When I finished my husband asked me what I thought and I said “I am pissed off.” The only thing missing here was a mention of the plot holes that you could drive a tank through. Heck a battalion of them – this is probably why the book was so long. Someone realized that if you cut out all of the extraneous stuff and tightened the writing, the plot holes would stand out like sore thumbs. Sigh. I loved To Say Nothing of the Dog and didn’t mind the insanity there – it was a book of reasonable scale and I don’t demand realism of the Three Stooges either. With this “masterwork” sanity/facts were critical. On the plus side, it has made me read about the realities of the Blitz.

  17. says:

    Very late on the comment train. I just read Passage by Connie Willis and it just …sucked so very badly. And every review of it was glowing. “layered with meaning”…”deep”….gah. It was full of one-dimensional characters who couldnt stop interrupting and boring each other to death. News flash: An NDE is an SOS that the dying brain sends to the body. Thanks for bringing that gem out too late in the game. Too little too late. Wrong book I know, just had to vent here.

  18. Robert Walker says:

    Actually, I think that the comparison to Passage is quite appropriate. As I read All Clear/ Blackout, my dying brain was, indeed, sending an NDE as an SOS to my eyes, begging them to stop reading. I have loved everything else that Connie Willis has written (and I have read it all) and that includes Passage, which I thought was excellent. With AC/B I was so confused all the way through Book 2 that I blamed my own lapses of memory about the what the hell the plot and characters were doing. Thanks for setting me straight – I thought I was the only one who was disappointed. Now I’m disappointed that my signed, numbered editions may not realise the small fortune I anticipated… *sigh*.

  19. Clifton Clover says:

    The thread that won’t die. I just finished blackout after wishing it dead at page 350 and only pushing on through the final 250 out of respect for my hard earned dollar and the poor trees that were inked with this garbage. I can’t imagine enduring the tedium, sophomoric narrative and paper-doll thin characters for another 650 pages that All Clear would require. I’m not a history wonk, so at least i was spared the apparently abundant inaccuracies – but i wasn’t spared this flimsy plot and utterly embarrassing storytelling.

  20. Mehmet says:

    Rather interesting critic for an award winning book. You obviously point out details which non-british people can not notice. Which i did not notice the most for my part, since i am not a native speaker of english, neither british nor american. However I spent so much time with watching QI :-) , I must have subconciously gained an “ear” for UK english. So even I found some dialogues unconvincing.

    I should say that I think the book ( I am reading only the first volume yet) is full of “fillers” as they say in tv-biz. Unnecessary details, dull conversations, pointless descriptions like a soap opera filling the minutes. It feels like a student trying to impress by the volume and detail of the study, or as if she is kind of embarrased to write sci-fi therefore trying to cover it like a boring historical drama novel and tolstoyish descriptions. It is hard for me to get bored while reading, yet most of the time i switched to the audio book version, easier to digest and narrators accent makes it even easier. But I am not sure If I can finish the book. Also i should mention, it irritates me when a book goes “…. she tought” “…….she said” “……he wandered” “…. said to himself”, it screams “narrators wanted”, but this is a personal preference.

    So who gives these awards and on what basis. She has a good idea on time travel (not so original, reminding end of the eternity and so on), a good plot, writing skills enough to complete a 1000 pages. However this is not a web forum which you give +rep for the effort. Where is the brilliance that makes you thrill. Don’t let me count the greats who get these awards.

    I hoped for excellence yet all I have is a long boring book where I constantly try to pick the main treads from a pile, and a feeling “it could have been better”. I have a dozen unread books on the shelf, and started to wonder if have time for this one.

    Thank you.

  21. Brian Lucid says:

    Had to look on google and find out why this was a Hugo winner after listening to the audio for 2 hrs. Apparently Connie is a nice lady and popular and that’s why people voted her in again. Listening to the book is painful and I won’t suffer through the remaining 30 hrs for blackout-all clear. Thanks all! Going to go back to some classic SF to sooth my aching head.

  22. George Lucas says:

    Get real, this is a novel not a history book. Just finished both Blackout and All Clear and enjoyed them both. Yes it is not a accurate description of the war years but I have read worst, some pretending to be actual history books. The only thing that really bugged me was that one of the characters paid for postage stamps in cents not pennies. And before you ask I was born in England during the war and am now living in Canada.

  23. Helljin says:

    I just found these comments by trying to google the reason why this two tome story won awards. I barely made it thru both books and found it to be a complete mess. I should have been at best a 350 page book. The level of science fiction in it was minimal and nonsense.

  24. dkechag says:

    Very amusing review. It did not deter me from reading the book(s) and I did enjoy them. Not as good as the Domesday book IMHO, but still I read both in a week and that’s saying something. Of course I am a geek, so I enjoy any historical trivia (which I then go look up etc) and that fact meant I did not think there were 200 pages without anything going on.
    The book has its flaws, for me reading the protagonists going through the same exact circular train of thought again and again and again was the biggest problem. I can read pages after pages of (interesting to me) trivia and details, but I could shave off one or two hundred pages of reading about a character trying to figure out what is going on and repeating the same thoughts over and over.
    But in general the review apart from amusing is a bit unfair. Ok, as a non-native English speaker I did not even notice about the American speech patterns, I have to take your word for them. However, having read this review before reading the book, I had assume part of the action is in Manchester. And it is not. Manchester is just a paragraph in a 1200 page work. I’ve seen glaring mistakes on much shorter works. Not to mention that I’ve heard many non-Mancunians think Manchester is part of Midlands (since it is just marginally north of Midlands), the character in the book could have made the same mistake – or not even such a mistake since she was replying on Michael’s comment about having to return through Stoke-On-Trent, which IS part of Midlands.
    And finally, you should not be finding hard to believe that a historian from 2060 would not know about Turing. May I humbly remind you that LESS THAN 10 YEARS after WW II, the British had forgotten Turing enough to condemn him to chemical castration and drive him to suicide? Oh, you conveniently forgot that? Well, one historian in the book also was not paying attention in class and did not know basic facts about Turing either…

  25. vintmac says:

    I’m certain that when the review was written — and perhaps even now — the reviewer was writing with what is known as a chip on his shoulder. Yes, BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR is far from the best Willis books (and likely not the best novel, or novels, for the years in which the Hugo and Nebula were awarded — I’m thinking there was some nostalgia involved in the voting), but Willis is definitely a VERY fine writer. Anyone who read DOOMSDAY BOOK, “A Letter From the Clearys”, “All My Darling Daughters”, “Firewatch”, “Even the Queen”, “Inside Job”, etc., etc. (award-winning stories all) already knows that.

    The thing is, Willis can go from dead serious to flat-out comedy in a keystroke. And the comedy she most enjoys is farcical/whimsical/1940s screwball-style. Not everyone enjoys the 1940s screwball style comedy — set a character on a difficult path, set obstacles in his or her way (which adds to the farce). Not everyone enjoys farce. And very FEW people “get” whimsy. Willis’s comedy is generally enjoyed by people with a “wide-palette” (or palate) when it comes to one’s sense of humor. Those types of people are a lot rarer than I used to think they are (or were).

    DOOMSDAY BOOK was largely dramatic, with a few moments of comedy. TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG was largely farcical and whimsical, along with the screwball-comedy set-ups, with moments of drama usually handled in fairly comedic ways. BOTH books deserved the awards they won. BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR was a book in which Willis mixed in more of the farcical/1940s-screwball formula of comedy, I don’t think it worked for just a LOT of people (the screwball comedy formula purposely throws up roadblocks — generally in the form of humans doing dumb and/or annoying things — which always slows things down. Had the novel (and that is what BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR was written as — one single novel; the publishers simply deemed it too long to make a profit in one volume) been a LOT shorter, I believe it would have been worthy of the awards it was given.

    On the whole, I don’t think BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR is the disaster giant mess that Hickey seems to believe it is; but it could have been a lot better, given more time under the editing pen.

    And I KNOW Willis is a far better writer than Hickey would have people believe.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      No, it isn’t that I had a chip on my shoulder. Nor is it that I don’t “get” whimsy. It’s that the book is insulting, badly-plotted, badly-researched, overlong, tripe without a single redeeming feature. It manages to insult an entire country while thinking it’s praising it. It is quite grotesquely awful, and a quick look through the comments on this post will see I am far from alone in that view. Four years on from reading this book, it still actually gets me angry at how bad it is.

  26. Missy says:

    I loved Blackout / All Clear. I have read both several times and listened to them both at least twice. While the street names might be wonky and apparently cell phones don’t exist in the future, I love the characters. I love the camaraderie. I love the time period. Reading sometimes requires a suspension of disbelief, and I am willing to do this for Connie Willis every time.

  27. James says:

    You’re out of your freaking mind. Blackout/ All clear is one of the BEST NOVELS I’ve read all year!! You must be part of the “Have to have something blowing up every 5 seconds” idiots. No doubt this mistake for a critic will love the new Mission Impossible movie.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      If you read my most recent blog posts, you’ll see they’re reviews of works by Borges and Eco. Disagree with my taste all you want, but it’s not a lack of action that made me dislike this book.

  28. I have read several of Willis’s books and enjoyed them. However, I just finished”Blackout”, and found it rather disappointing. Many people have already said that part of the problem is that of pacing that nothing really happens for a long long time. I agree it takes forever to get anything done in this world of the book. In addition, I was tired of nearly all of them whining about something. The all caps worrying about getting back to their drop, which I can understand was important, but when they realize the drop was closed then all they did was whine about the retrieval team where was it? Have I missed it? When will they show up? Etc.

    But one of the things that bothered me most was, apparently people in 2060 don’t know how to drive cars. I suspect that by that time most cars will be electric, and may even be automatic and self driving, but there will be times when the person will need to actually drive the car, so why is it Eileen doesn’t even know how to open a door on a car?

    I haven’t started the next book yet but I expect more of the same slow pace, whining, and each of them keeping secrets from the others.

    I forgot the count how many times Willis uses the phrase, “to say nothing about”. I bet you she grinned every time she wrote that phrase.

    Oh one more thing, since I haven’t read the next book I’m really wondering who those two little urgent that are running around the subway tunnels stealing things are? Who could they be, I wonder?

  29. Steve Dunham says:

    I read Blackout and All Clear after seeing positive comments about them, and I was disappointed in the books. Later I spotted her short story Firewatch online; I read that and thought it was pretty good. A few weeks ago I was browsing in the public library for paperbacks to take on a train trip, and I noticed To Say Nothing of the Dog. I figured what the heck, and I had another book to read in case I didn’t like To Say Nothing of the Dog, but I enjoyed this one.

  30. breakingshaker says:

    I am not a fan of Science Fiction or any fiction for that matter. However I do know Connie. She was the best man at my wedding because she was my ex-husband best friend and it was wonderful having her give the toast. She had everyone laughing and she does a great job at the microphone. So with that being said I love Connie as a person and I’ve known her since the early 1990s. She’s always been generous and when a new book comes out she’s always giving us a copy with a lovely inscription and my my ex-husband absolutely loves her work. I am a historian by profession and I do a lot of research and I only read non-fiction. So when it came time to fulfill a self-imposed obligation to read one of Connie’s books it was a challenge both and I don’t like fiction and I’m confessing for the first time now that I don’t enjoy her writing. I couldn’t get into the story I didn’t understand the characters and I never got past 30 pages of any of her books. Her short story all my darling daughters at least that’s what I think it was the title was fabulous. Only thing I’ve ever liked by her. But just let me say she is a kind and wonderful woman and I know you need much more than that to win Hugo’s however this rant really seems to tear her a new one and I just wanted to say something good about her.

  31. renosnave says:

    Very late to the party, I know… I just finished Blackout and All Clear. I loved “To Say Nothing of the Dog”, tolerated “The Domesday Book” and hated/didn’t finish “Lincoln’s Dreams”. Blackout and All Clear are long exercises in frustration and missed connections and communication that make you want to throw the book through a wall. I agree with one previous poster who makes mention of a ridiculous plot device where an educated historian of WWII trying to remember a location/station that starts with “B” and “P” and not immediately knowing it’s Bletchley Park is nonsensical! I suspect most readers knew before the character… which wastes time and weakens the character. At this point, I’m just glad it’s over.

  32. Cressida says:

    What I find hard to understand is why mobile communications simply don’t appear to exist in 2060. Apart from the fact that mobile phones were becoming commonplace by the early 1990s, has the author never seen Star Trek where they had communication devices? The Americanisms drove me mad too. Fire pumpers instead of fire engines for example. The premise for the book was a good one but the execution was very lacklustre and in some parts just plain daft whether you are British or American or anything else for that matter. Enjoyed Domesday Book more.

  33. Sara says:

    Having just finished Blackout/All Clear, this was a delight to read. As an American it was particularly helpful to see spelled out the ways in which Willis gets the British cultural fabric wrong. Thanks!

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