I just finished reading Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book. Let me just say that I am significantly less
than whelmed. If there’s a bar here, about yay high, and it’s got “Whelmed”
written on it in big block letters, this book is significantly under the bar.
Now I understand why it is a popular book. It is conventional. Very few, if
any, science fiction tropes are involved at all (aside from some cutesie
names, such as “vids” for “movies”, all phone calls are videophone calls
[although none of those are cellphone calls; the book was written in the
painfully early nineties, so it gets a pass on that one], and time travel).
The drama of the story is in efforts of the two protagonists, Kivrin in the
1300s and Dunworthy in the 2050s, trying to get Kivrin out of the plague. But
the drama is conventional drama. There is no sensawonder here. Which would be
fine, if there were some Weighty Concepts of Great Literature being explored
here. But there’s none of those either. Here’s what I would consider the
themes of the book (if I was forced to by an English Teacher with a weapon of
- Everybody dies
- Everybody dies sometime
- Although a few good souls help dying people, most people are Fatally Flawed
- And those few good souls will most likely die, as well
The themes aren’t great explorations of the meaning of death or anything cool
like that; it’s just a bunch of statements and restatements that get old after
awhile. Especially since they aren’t handled with anything like subtlety.
The plot drives me batty for the same reason that the plot of Pride and
Prejudice drives me batty: that’s it? Oh, so the whole reason this easily-
foreseen and overly-foreshadowed dilemma has come to pass is for that stupid
reason? Granted, it’s not quite so dumb as Pride and Prejudice, but each
plot element was, when it wasn’t expected, pretty non-surprising (hint: it
often involved people dying you didn’t necessarily expect to die). I admire
Willis for willingly killing off her characters, but fer-cryin’-out-loud, it
I’m one of those people who will not finish a book if I’m not getting enough
out of it. I finished the book. So it’s not a total failure. But the more I
reflect on it, the more I could have done without this book. So I think I’ll
stop reflecting on it.