CONNIE WILLIS – All Clear. Spectra, hardcover, October 2010; trade paperback, October 2011.

   This is the second book in Willis’ story of the British home front during WWII; the first was Blackout. Originally written as one big novel, because of the length it was split into two novels by the publisher.

   Between the two of them they are over 1200 pages long — and that is the major problem. There is just too much happening — too many characters, too many events, too many disappointments. The combined novel should have been titled The Perils of Polly, who is the main character in a cast of thousands. She keeps flitting from one disaster to another, just like Pauline in the movie.

   In this novel, set in the same time traveling universe as Willis’ award winning Doomsday Book, three historians from 100 years in the future are trapped in England during WWII. For some reason the time gates that let them go back home at the end of their studies will not open.


   Ellen had been trapped in a mansion caring for children shipped out of London when an epidemic of measles broke out and she was quarantined and missed her pickup date. Polly worked as a shop girl in London during the Blitz. Matt had been badly wounded at Dunkirk. The three had finally found each other, compared notes, and resolved to find a way home at the end of the first novel.

   And in this novel that’s what they try to do — for over 600 pages, futilely trying to find other historians, put messages in newspapers, and desperately try to get a message back to the future so they can be rescued over and over and over again, with completely futile results.

   Isn’t the definition of insanity trying to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result?


   This whole thing, both novels together should not have been more than 400 pages long. At some point in writers’ careers, they lose the ability to edit themselves. It happened to Robert A. Heinlein in the 70s. It happened to David Weber seven or eight years ago. And now it has happened to Willis.

   There is a lot of good stuff here — just too much of it. I found myself skip reading by the end of the first 200 pages. If you can manage to slog through it, this novel is worth reading, but be prepared to budget a lot of time doing it.

   And let me also say here that I like Willis. To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of my favorite novels of the last ten years. I wish I had liked this one as much.

Rating:   B minus.