I wish I could remember how I first stumbled upon Connie Willis, but I have to admit that I do not. I know I somehow ended up with Doomsday Book from the library, which I finished and enjoyed but didn’t necessarily rave about–although Connie’s style interested me enough that I wanted to read more. I then read To Say Nothing of the Dog, which remains one of my favorites, and is my first recommendation for someone who has never read Willis before:
“Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest. He’s been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop’s bird stump. It’s part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years earlier.
But then Verity Kindle, a fellow time traveler, inadvertently brings back something from the past. Now Ned must jump back to the Victorian era to help Verity put things right–not only to save the project but to prevent altering history itself.” [from Amazon.com]
I then moved on to the laugh-out-loud hysterically funny Bellwether, the eerie and somewhat morbidly compelling Passage, the suspenseful and hauntingly gripping Lincoln’s Dreams, and her latest, the two-part WWII novels Blackout and All Clear, which depict the London Blitz with stunning and vivid detail and masterfully reflect the eight years of meticulous research she spent while writing what is perhaps her most compelling tale yet.
Connie Willis is typically classified as a science fiction author, since many (though not all) of her stories deal with time travel and other science fiction themes, but her stories hold far more depth than a typical sci-fi title. She possesses a sharp, intelligent wit and sense of humor, which caused me to assume at first that she was a British author rather than an American–what a delightful surprise. Her use of technology and time travel serves merely as a vehicle to drive what truly matters: her characters. She is, more than anything else, a masterful storyteller, and she weaves compelling tales with larger-than-life characters that practically leap from the pages into the reader’s imagination. It’s simply a fine coincidence that she also happens to present one of the most coherent and “believable” (as much as it can be believable!) explanations of time travel that I have ever seen in literature.
Although I tend to gravitate toward “dead authors” whose works have already stood the test of time, I do also enjoy a handful of truly remarkable modern authors, who will, without a doubt, stand the same test of time, and Connie Willis most emphatically falls into this category. She has won 11 Hugo Awards, 11 Locus Poll Awards, and 8 Nebula Awards, and anyone who reads her impressive body of work will immediately understand why. There are several modern authors who I would absolutely die to meet in person, and Connie is one of them.
I love what she says about her own writing in an interview after winning another Nebula award in 2012:
“I know what I like in books and movies, which is characters who are in over their heads and trying to do their best in impossible circumstances; mysteries that need to be solved; no-win situations; people who care about each other and about the world more than they do about themselves; revelations (both good and bad) that hit you right in the stomach and knock you off your feet; and irony. And I try to put all those in my stories.
I adore [a long list of her favorite authors] and try to write like all of them. And fail miserably. But whatever’s good in my books probably comes from them.”
Has anyone else read Connie Willis? How would you describe what makes her such a terrific author?