I get such a kick out of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril every fall that I’m really surprised that this is the first post I’ve managed, just before all the fun ends on October 31. RIP IX is hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings. The introductory post has all the details and the review site has the links to the over 400 reviews written so far.
Part of the problem, of course, was spending three weeks of the RIP season in England. While I was there, though, I read a book that has perfect themes — time travel and deadly pestilences.
Book: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Publisher: Bantam Books
Publication date: 1992
Source: Purchased from my local independent bookstore, STL Books
Summary: The action in Doomsday Book occurs in the environs of Oxford during two time periods, a near future in the mid twenty-first century (but note the publication date) and the fourteenth century. The Plague haunts the earlier period and an unknown virus stalks the future setting. Modern scholars and medieval villagers fight battles, mostly unwinnable, against these frightening foes. Kivrin, the time traveler, witnesses the old struggle while Professor Dunworthy works frantically to get her home.
Thoughts: As I wrote in my initial post when I got home from England, bell-ringing was one of the themes of my trip. Doomsday Book contributed to my fascination with a major subplot and lots of symbolism involving bells, starting with the quote on the title page of Book One:
“What a ringer needs most is not strength but the ability to keep time . . . You must bring these two things together in your mind and let them rest there forever–bells and time, bells and time.” RONALD BLYTHE Akenfield
The modern bell-ringing in the story is much like what I listened to during my trip. The medieval bell-ringing, sadly, is mostly tolling for the dead. This is not a happy book, but there are many quieter and lighter moments that keep it from being maudlin.
The characters continue to populate my brain, more than a month after I finished the book. Kivrin, the young woman who travels to the fourteenth century has a coming of age story. Meanwhile, in the parallel futuristic plot, Professor Dunworthy develops relationships in ways that he missed earlier in his life. The minor characters are equally entertaining and memorable — a doctor who works heroically to solve a deadly medical mystery, an energetic teenager who fights through abandonment issues while zipping around being (mostly) helpful, a libertine student with great connections and a helicopter mother, an archaeologist who perhaps cares more about her dig than her colleagues, and a medievalist who definitely cares more about his reputation than the danger that Kivrin has encountered.
The book has some inadvertent amusing moments since it was published in 1992 and, presumably, written in the late 1980s. This is a future that has time machines. But the author guessed wrong on the future of communications technology. Video phones are ubiquitous but answering machines, the internet, and cell phones haven’t been invented yet.
Appeal: Doomsday Book is unusual as a book that will appeal to both science fiction and historical fiction fans — doubly entertaining to those of us who love both.
Reviews: The Little Red Reviewer also appreciated the characters and the humor in this serious book. Becky, a regular participant in British Isles Friday, also enjoyed Doomsday Book and put some quotes in her review to give a sense of the writing style in the book.