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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Science Fiction That Is Also Historical Fiction - A Tremendous Piece Of Storytelling

Doomsday Book - Connie Willis

Set in a future in which time-travel is part of an academic historian's discipline, The Doomsday Book tells the story of Kirvin, a history student whose visit to mediaeval England goes badly wrong when she arrives twenty years after her intended date and finds herself in the midst of the Black Death.

Aware that something has gone wrong with her mission one of her tutors, Mr Dunworthy, is desperately trying to discover what; but he is constantly frustrated by academic in-fighting and by the outbreak of a virus, ironically enough originating in the past and released by a tutor conducting an archaeological dig. The virus rapidly reaches epidemic proportions and very soon the academic community is completely paralysed. Meanwhile, lost in the past, Kirvin is struggling to cope with a population who are dying in appalling agony all around her.

Reportedly having taken five years to complete, The Doomsday Book is a remarkably convincing imagining of what the mediaeval world must have been like and the description of the way bubonic plague impacts upon the community is utterly compelling. No punches are pulled in the depiction of the suffering endured by people who have not even the most basic understanding of the workings of the disease nor any medication that might lessen its symptoms.

This novel won both the Hugo and Nebula awards and was short-listed for a number of other awards; deservedly so in my opinion. Connie Willis is far more than a writer of genre fiction and The Doomsday Book is far more than just a work of science fiction. Intelligent, well-researched and profoundly moving, it's a tremendous piece of story-telling.