Author: Connie Willis
Published: 1992 by Bantam Spectra
Read: October 2013
Categories: Fiction, adult, science fiction
Why it made it to the top of the pile: October selection for The Book Tarts (my book group)
Trivia Tidbit: This is the first book in the Oxford Time Travel Series. Others in the series are To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998) and Blackout/All Clear (2010)
Awards: Doomsday Book won the Nebula Award for Best Novel (1992), Hugo Award for Best Novel (1993) and Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1993)
Full Disclosure: Purchased
Regardless, the planned 'drop' goes ahead just prior to Christmas 2054, with the coordinates for Kivrin's arrival set to 1320, 28 years before the emergence of the Black Plague in England. From this point the story is told from Prof. Dunworthy's perspective in 2054/5 and Kivrin's perspective in medieval England. At the same time as the drop takes place an influenza epidemic breaks out in 2054 Oxford. Many support staff at the university are unwell, as is Kivrin when she arrives in the 1300s. The symptoms include disorientation and fever, which supposedly explains why it takes 3/4 of the book to reveal that Kivrin has in fact landed in 1348 (at the outbreak of the plague) and not 1320. Both Kivrin and Dunworthy realise the mistake at the same point in the book, and the remaining part of the novel deals with Kivrin's efforts to help the villagers and Dunworthy's attempts to go back and rescue her.
The back cover alludes to this eventuality ('In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin - barely of age herself - finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history's darkest hours'), and is hinted at throughout. My apologies if you consider this a spoiler, but as a reader you are aware this is the likely scenario for far too long. And herein lies my major criticism of the novel - it takes far too long to get to the interesting bit. The final 150 pages of the book are fascinating and so much more interesting than the first 400. It seemed to me that too much time was wasted on backstory (and entirely too much space devoted to the looming lavatory paper shortage) when there was such rich ground to be covered once the drop error was revealed.
The last quarter of the book is great, I just wished it had gotten there 300 pages sooner.