Doomsday Book (1992)
Spine Front Cover Book Details
Connie Willis
Publication Date 2001
Format Leather-bound (235 x 160 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Science Fiction
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Science Fiction
No. of Pages 445
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on
Rating 8
No. of Reviews 305
Frontispiece/Illustrator Jerry Vanderstelt
Introduction/Foreward Pamela Sargent
Original Details
Original Publisher Bantam Spectra
Original Publication Year 1992
Connie Willis labored five years on this story of a history student in 2048 who is transported to an English village in the 14th century. The student arrives mistakenly on the eve of the onset of the Black Plague. Her dealings with a family of "contemps" in 1348 and with her historian cohorts lead to complications as the book unfolds into a surprisingly dark, deep conclusion. The book, which won Hugo and Nebula Awards, draws upon Willis' understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering and the indomitable will of the human spirit.
Collector's Notes

It's about time.

Connie Willis has written a great many stories and ten novels. Three of those novels have dealt with the past, two of them by means of time travel. The first of these, Lincoln's Dreams (1987), involved a young woman disturbed by dreams, bordering on reality, about the Civil War. It won Willis the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for the best SF novel of the year. The second was Doomsday Book, which won both the Hugo Award for best novel presented by the fans attending the World Science Fiction Convention and the Nebula Award voted by her fellow science-fiction writers. The third was To Say Nothing of the Dog (1997), a light-hearted romp through Victorian England, which won a Hugo Award. And a short story, "Fire Watch," published in 1982, won both a Hugo and a Nebula. Clearly time is the road to travel. At the end of it lies, if not fame and fortune, at least an award and the approbation of readers and peers.

Doomsday Book was published as a 445-page trade paperback by Bantam Books in July 1992. It had its first hard-cover edition two months later by the Science Fiction Book Club and a second hard cover edition (527 pages) by New English Library. The first mass-market edition was published by NEL at 650 pages in August of 1993, and the second at 578 pages a month later by Bantam. It was reprinted by Bantam a year later with a new cover design.

Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog presume the development of time travel but not in the isolated-inventor mode of H. G. Wells's 1895 The Time Machine. Instead, in the Willis novels, time travel has been developed some years or even decades earlier; the procedures and the protocols have been established. These stories are not about paradoxes, which have been ruled out by the nature of time, but about the impact of the past on contemporary human lives, and the present on the past. The process is controlled by university history departments (curiously in Oxford, England), which is both a blessing and a curse - a blessing in that it is used for legitimate research and governed by cautious procedures, and a curse in that it must suffer through academic bureaucracy and incompetence.

Most of the problems in Willis's novels (problems, of course, are what make stories engrossing as well as revealing) occur because of human errors. That's what happens in Doomsday Book, when a young woman obsessed with a desire to study medieval England just before it was engulfed by the Black Death is transported without the necessary technical preparation, and what has happened to her and how to retrieve her is handicapped by an epidemic that hits contemporary Oxford. Kivrin Engle struggles to survive in a vividly realized medieval English village, and to get back to the retrieval site, while Kivrin's distraught mentor fights quarantine and circumstances and uncooperative colleagues to rescue her. Both stories are woven together into a gripping counterpoint.

About her preoccupation with time Willis commented for The St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers: "I have always been fascinated by the problem of time and our place in it, and science fiction has allowed me to explore that theme in a variety of ways.... Time travel can be a wonderful aid to history, but the lessons to be learned are not always simple or painless ones. The theme of time is one of endless possibilities, and I find the stories unfolding one after the other as if I hadn't begun."

Willis was born in Denver, educated at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley (B. A. in English and elementary education in 1967), taught elementary and junior high classes in Branford, Connecticut, from 1967-69, and substituted as a teacher in Woodland Park, Colorado, from 1974-81. She has been a full-time writer since 1982 and now lives in Greeley.

She published her first story in 1971, "Santa Titicaca" in Worlds of Fantasy, and a scattering of stories in subsequent years. "Fire Watch," however, marked the beginning of her full-time writing career and the onslaught of awards that has accumulated, at last count, to eight Hugos, six Nebulas, a Campbell, and another dozen Locus, SF Chronicle, and Asimov's Readers' Poll awards. Willis also is much in demand as a witty toastmaster at science-fiction and fantasy conventions.

Pamela Sargent, the accomplished SF author and anthologist, herself an award winner, in the introduction specially commissioned for the Easton Press edition, comments on how hard Willis works to make her writing seem effortless. To the casual reader, Willis's career may seem like an overnight success, but to Willis it must seem as if - it's about time.