All Clear (books, Connie Willis, 2011)
From SFX #216.
TWO AND A HALF STARS
Author: Connie Willis
Publisher: Victor Gollancz
Part two of acclaimed WWII time travel caper
Blackout, the first tome in this series, won a Hugo. SFX missed it, sorry, it came in late, so here’s the sequel.
Lucky for us, both books are similar. Indeed, in Blackout the author tells us that they were originally one book.
And this is the problem. Blackout/ All Clear is monstrously overstuffed. The tale is a good one – chrononauts with shredded nerves stuck in the blitz, capped by a touching twist. But it goes on, and on, and on. Willis did a lot of research, and she tells us all about it. An example (trimmed) paragraph: “I’m not sure the programme’s called ‘Ultra’ at this point. ‘Ultra’ stood for ultra-top-secret, the most classified category… in 1940 it may just have been…Enigma.”
“It doesn’t matter,” says another character. He’s right, it really doesn’t. Willis also inflicts upon us an endless procession of farcical comings and goings where people are frantically trying to connect, and only just miss each other. Fine, but there’s just so much of it. Someone like Dick or Moorcock would have had this polished off in a fifth of the space, to far greater effect.
It’s a shame. Blackout keeps you reading, it’s well-written, and there’s a clever, if slightly cheaty, deployment of Agatha Christie mystery. But a quarter of the way in to All Clear you get tired. This is a story where a great deal occurs, but precious little happens.
Did you know?
Why did it win the Hugo? We reckon the Americans may have been won over by its detailed depiction of English life. For us it is normal, so the story is naked before us. [This book also won a ton of awards, as it happenss]