Tag Archives: connie willis

Connie Willis is the next Grand Master of science fiction

I just saw the news via Locus and I am so excited! Connie Willis is the next recipient Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master award for science fiction. I love Connie’s books and stories. Doomsday Book was incredible and for a time, I thought unbeatable. But then she came out with Blackout/All Clear which topped Doomsday Book (in my humble opinion) and also won her the Hugo and Nebula for Best Novel in 2010 (and it was the first Nebula that I was eligible to vote for).

I will be attending the festivities at the Nebula Award weekend this May–which is taking place practically across the street from my office and 10 minutes from my house–and I can’t wait to congratulate Connie in person. This is just so cool!

My 2010 Hugo and Nebula nominations

I’ve done my nominations for the Hugo and Nebula awards for 2010. There were several good novels and one superbly outstanding one. I didn’t read a whole lot of short fiction from 2010 so some of those categories are blank.  Nominations within each grouping are listed alphabetically by author.

Nebula Nominations

Best Novel

Best Short Story

Hugo Nominations

Best Novel

  • Echo by Jack McDevitt
  • WWW:Watch by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

Best Short Story

  • “Hope” by Michael A. Burstein (Destination:Future)
  • “What Will Come After” by Scott Edelman (What Will Come After)
  • “I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You In Reno” by Vylar Kaftan (Lightspeed, June 2010)

Best Related Work

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Best Editor, Short Form

  • John Joseph Adams (Lightspeed)
  • Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld)
  • Stanley Schmidt (Analog)
  • Edmund Schubert (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show)
  • Sheila Williams (Asimov’s)

Best Dramatic Short Form

  • “Course Correction” (Episode 19 of ABC’s Flashforward) by Robert J. Sawyer

Best Semiprozine

Best Fanzine

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

A quick comment on Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear. This is a single book that was split into two books by the publisher. This is not a series. There is no synopsis at the beginning of All Clear. All Clear starts exactly where Blackout left off and it is impossible to read that book and make any sense of it without having reading Blackout. I have therefore nominated the entire book, as written, for the Hugo and Nebula. I don’t know if this is allowed. I inquired on this but I haven’t yet gotten a response. It would seem remarkably silly to me to have to treat these books individually, but we’ll see how things turn out.

ETA: I have since learned that Blackout/All Clear is, in fact, being treated as one book.

What to read after Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear

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Last week I discussed how Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear was made of awesome and the problems I have with rebound books after such a terrific read. Well, I finally found something to sink my teeth into after those amazing books:

I am now reading Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm (on the Kindle, of course).

Connie’s rich descriptions of life in London during the Blitz made me want to stay there for a while. I didn’t know of any other science fiction off the top of my head that takes place in this setting, but in addition to science fiction, I love to read history and what better place to go than the first volume of Churchill’s own history of WW-II (which, incidentally, is just about the same length as Connie Willis’ All Clear).

I imagine this will be my main reading for the next couple of weeks, although I’ll be peaking at short fiction along the way. I started the book a few days ago and got distracted with chores, but what I have read so far is very promising. Not quite Connie Willis, but it puts me in the same setting which is part of what I was looking for.

Review: All Clear by Connie Willis (5-stars)

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All Clear is the second part of the book that began with Connie Willis’ Blackout (see my review here) which came out early in 2010. Blackout/All Clear are a single book that was broken into two parts; they are not part of a series and it is impossible to read All Clear without first having read Blackout for the same reason that it would be impossible to read the second half of Tom Sawyer without having read the first half. I mention this because All Clear begins right where Blackout left off, smack in the middle of things and someone coming to the book thinking it is an independent volume would be in for an unsettling surprise.

That said, I worried that it would be difficult to keep up the wonderfully complex historical/time-travel story that Willis began in Blackout, and I was delighted that she managed to make the second half of the book even better than the first.

The story takes place in the same universe as Connie Willis’ brilliant Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Firewatch. It is 2060 and time travel allows Oxford historians to go back in time to witness events first hand and better fill in and understand the historical record. In Blackout/All Clear, historians are busy researching World War II, in particularly the Blitz of London. However, some strange things have begun happening as historians are sent back in time. “Slippage”–which is supposed to prevent historians from going to divergence points–are growing larger so that historians are coming through days, weeks, even months before or after they are scheduled to arrive. And in Blackout, we learn that the drops are no longer opening to allow the historians to return to their time in 2060.

The story is a rich in historical detail from the era. Reading it, I felt like I was living through the Blitz. Willis does a remarkable job of evoking the terror of the nightly bombings, while mixing in the humor the people of London needed to survive. The characters we follow through All Clear (there are mainly three of them) become attached not only to the struggle of the people of London, but they also experience their fears, both directly (through the bombings) and indirectly, in not knowing the outcome, sacrificing themselves for victory over Hitler.

Time travel plays a larger role in All Clear than it did in Blackout as we discover that a mystery is unfolding surrounding the slippages and why they are happening. The time travel plot alone is brilliantly complex. I used to think The Time Traveler’s Wife had the most complex time-travel plot I’d ever come across, but Blackout/All Clear beats it.

When I finished Blackout in March, I could not wait to start All Clear, which came out in early October. I wasn’t able to start All Clear right away, but once I started it, I was not able to put the book down, reading almost all day for nearly two days, breathless at the end of each chapter. The characters in the book become as close as old friends and you experience their joys and pains along with them.  And as the book unfolds and the mysteries are revealed, the sense of wonder, the sense of awe at the entire literary construction is stunning.

It will be interesting to see how Blackout/All Clear ends up on the Nebula ballot: as a single volume or as two separate books. I’ve already nominated Blackout for a Nebula award, but if I could, I would nominate and vote for the combined, complete work. It was by far the best thing I’ve read in many, many years.

Best books of 2010

I read 19 books in 2010 which is a far cry from those early days in the mid-late-90s when I was reading 40 books a year. I know there are people out there who read a lot more and all I can say is: I’m jealous.

The year started out with the fascinating biography of C. M. Kornbluth by Mark Rich and ended (just 20 minutes ago) with the absolutely stunning All Clear by Connie Willis.

Here are my picks for the year’s best reads:

Blackout/All Clear is the finest time travel novel I’ve ever read, and I’ve read plenty of them. I’ll have more to say about the novel (and it is one novel, despite being split into two books) in a subsequent post. Suffice it to say for now that I was absolutely blown away by the scope of the novel, the historical details, and the wonderfully brilliant writing.

Robert Silverberg said he would never write an autobiography but Other Spaces, Other Times is awfully autobiographical–and brilliant. I enjoyed every minute of that read.

Caesar and Christ is the third volume of Will Durant’s “Story of Civilization” and it’s richly detailed picture of life in ancient Rome made for a wonderful summer read for me.

Doomsday Book blew me away and I could barely put it down. The ending was unforgettable and proved to me just how remarkable a writer Connie Willis is.

A few honorable mentions:

There was some pretty good short fiction this year, too, but I’ll write about that in a subsequent post.

Jumping back into All Clear by Connie Willis

I’ve been in one of those “I can’t decide what I want to read” phases. I’ve jumped around and sampled a lot over the last few days, but nothing is sticking. So I decided to go back to Connie Willis’ novel All Clear, which is really just the second part of Blackout which I read earlier this year and loved so much. I started reading All Clear back in October when it was first released but ran into 2 problems: (1) too many other things going on; (2) too confused about where things left off in Blackout.  The problem is that the book was written as a single novel and then split into to parts because it was so long. Starting All Clear 6 months after finishing Blackout, I was lost as to who the characters were and what was going on in the rather complex historical/time-travel plot.

Problem 1 is easy to remedy since I am on vacation and today happens to be a particularly quiet day down here. Problem 2 I just attempted to remedy by reading a synopsis of the characters and plot of Blackout to remind me of who everyone is and what’s going on in the book. I am (according to my Kindle) about 12% of the way through All Clear and I have a pretty good memory of what I have read there so far so restarting won’t be difficult, and now that I’ve refreshed my memory of Blackout, I should be good to go.

And so, without further delay, it’s back to All Clear, beginning from Golders Green–July 1944.

Science fiction mysteries

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I had an epiphany the other day.

There is a certain kind of science fiction story (including novels) that I particularly like. It’s been hard for me to classify what these stories are. In the past I’ve thought of them as space opera, like Isaac Asimov‘s FOUNDATION series or Arthur C. Clarke‘s ODYSSEY series. But I’ve read other types of space opera and sometimes, I don’t come away with the same sense of excitement as I do with others. What’s the difference?

The difference, it occurred to me the other day, is that the stories I like best are science fiction mysteries. Back in the day, these were called “puzzle stories”. It was an epiphany for me in multiple senses because not only are these my favorite type of stories to read, they are also my favorite type of stories to write. (My story, “Take One for the Road”, coming out in Analog in 2011 will be my first published science fiction mystery.)

I enjoy the FOUNDATION stories so much because they are, at their core, puzzles.  I enjoy Jack McDevitt‘s Alex Benedict novels so much because they, too, are puzzle stories. Even a novel like Joe Haldeman‘s THE FOREVER WAR is to some extent a puzzle story. And some of my favorite types of stories involve time travel and those are almost always puzzle stories. Not all science fiction stories are puzzles stories or even intended to be. And it would seem that the trend holds for me. If I got back through the list of science fiction books I’ve read, I tend to rate stories with a greater mystery or puzzle element higher than I do those that lack it. There are exceptions, but the general case is true. For instance, I did not particularly like Vernor Vinge’s RAINBOW’S END. And in looking back on it, I don’t see that as much of a mystery or puzzle story.  On the other hand, I loved Connie Willis’ DOOMSDAY BOOK and there was a definite element of mystery and puzzle-solving in that story.

Other examples:

I didn’t particularly enjoy Lois McMaster Bujold’s FALLING FREE, Samuel Delany’s BABEL-17, or Ray Bradbury’s FROM THE DUST RETURNED. As I can recall them, none had a particularly strong mystery element. However, I loved Joe Haldeman’s THE ACCIDENTAL TIME MACHINE, Barry Malzberg’s BEYOND APOLLO, and Ray Bradbury’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, all of which had stronger mystery and puzzle elements.

It is a great relief to discover this for a number of reasons. First, of course, it better describes what I enjoy reading and I can actively go seek this kind of stuff out more easily, now that I know what I’m looking for. Second, it helps me to understand why I don’t enjoy some of the more–shall we say, literary–efforts in science fiction that many of my friends and colleagues seem to love. I was not blown away by THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS or THE WINDUP GIRL the way others were, and I’ve always thought that to be a problem with me. In fact, those books simply don’t match my taste for the type of science fiction I really enjoy. It is a relief to discover that.  It also helps to explain why absolutely love David G. Hartwell’s mammoth anthology THE HARD S.F. RENAISSANCE.  Hard s.f. stories tend to me more puzzle-oriented.

This is not to say that I won’t or don’t read other science fiction or that I won’t or don’t attempt to write other types.  But for pure enjoyment, for slipping back into my vision of a Golden Age, the science fiction mystery is my drug of choice. There have been a lot of good writers in this subgenre over the years and it solves for me another mystery: why I like Jack McDevitt’s book so much:

He specializes in science fiction mysteries and in my opinion, there is no one better than Jack at this art.