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Customer Review

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Poorly Researched, Frankly Boring, 15 Jun. 2013
This review is from: Blackout (Kindle Edition)
I bought this as I thought Hugo and Nebula Awards equal rip roaring science fiction. Never having read Connie Willis before, it was a punt in the dark. A mistaken punt. I got a World War 2 observational novel with a superfluous time travel pretext that added zero. It seemed highly detailed but some really stupid and obvious factual errors show very sloppy fact checking. Nelson's Monument in London. You mean Nelson's Column. Nelson's Monument is in Edinburgh. Nelson holding his hat - check the bloody photo, it's on Wikipedia. The 'at is on 'is bleedin' 'ead. Quote from Queen Mary that came from Queen Elizabeth (mother of Elizabeth II). What the heck is a train butcher. Turns out they sold stuff on trains. In the USA not England. Tokens to access the London Underground? Nope, never. 5 minutes on the Internet tells you there were no automatic barriers until at least 20 years later. The Notions Department? What? Chiefly US and Canadian English for Haberdashery it seems.

If you are not going to bother with minor stuff like facts and words then do some whopping big changes to create an obvious alternate history novel that is proper sci-fi and you can get away with the wrong landmark, Queen, and the stuff others have picked up on. You can also get away with a Year 2060 where it seems no-one has invented the mobile (cell in American-speak) phone, text messaging, the Internet or email, and Oxford sounds like it might have been pre-1960. This isn't alternate history, just plain wrong history.

Inflation calculators are easy to find online so there is no excuse for a plain black skirt supposedly costing the equivalent today of £275, over $400, a pair of stockings inflated by 400% to £60, $90, and a weeks double bed and board being around the same price as the stockings with a single room being less than 1 leg's worth. For goodness sakes, basic stuff to look back a few pages to check for inconsistencies. I only bothered to check because I remembered the bed and board price.

Saltram. Amidst all the real places we have a fictional town. There is a real Saltram but it is an historic estate 250 miles away. Makes no sense. This is also a town with apparently no transport, 30 miles from anywhere, yet has 2 postal deliveries a day so how do letters get in and out?

There were other inconsistencies that caused me confusion until I remembered not to expect consistency and moved on. One character who has never learned to drive gets in a vintage car and off he goes wishing he'd taken some lessons. How long did it take you to coordinate clutch and gear lever? A bit more than 5 minutes I'd say even with an instructor. Did you know that Dunkirk is on the other side of the Atlantic to Dover. That was one hell of an evacuation.

I struggled with this complete tripe of a novel that is neither compelling sci-fi nor accurate on the historical facts that are critical to a novel about wartime London and England involving historians trying to observe events as they unfolded. Perhaps because my own childhood was dominated by the war stories of my parents, who were evacuees, and grandparents who lived and worked through the Blitz, I actually find the lack of proper research on content clearly intended for the reader to take as factual, offensive. I think a decent author of this genre should either put the work in or do alternate history in an obvious way and it may have worked. Or better still, as an American author, choose an American subject you can't botch.

I would not recommend this book, especially to British readers with some personal connection to the era, events, places and landmarks being described. It will irritate the hell out of you. For non-Brits or younger readers, take the whole thing as fiction and don't be fooled into thinking Ms Willis has done her homework thoroughly or properly.

I did get to the end but only due to curiosity about how may more pieces of misinformation might be passed off as factual. Masochism basically. At least I knew this was half a book in advance and bought the second tranche at the same time. Stupidly. Half a very long book that is 1/3rd story and 2/3rds interminable padding. Some books bore me but this is the first book ever that has made me angry as well as bored. I can see why other people are fuming about where the book ended. Abruptly on the closest Willis gets to a cliffhanger. With a notice saying you've got to wait and buy another book to find out what happens. Disgusting tactic to sell a second book. No sympathy for Ms Willis' long suffering secretary in the acknowledgements; at least she got paid to suffer.
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