Bad Times

It may be true that I've lost my sense of humor, but I don't get what's so funny about the plague. Well, Monty Python was funny about the plague, but why Connie Willis felt compelled to splice slapstick comedy into an otherwise perfectly fine time travel tale is beyond me.

Nevertheless, not only got away with it but also won both the Hugo and the Nebula for 1992.

I'm a sucker for a time travel tale. And Doomsday Book should have been - in many respects was - right up my alley. It had time travel to one of my favorite centuries - the 14th. The heroes and heroines were one of my favorite kind of humans - historians. Nobody wanted to change history - they wanted to learn it. And to make things even more enticing for people like me - the time traveler went to visit a village that was currently being excavated by an archaeologist. So - Time Travel, Historians, and Archaeology. Jackpot!

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Ghosts of the Heart by Barbara Stoner

Ghosts of the Heart

by Barbara Stoner

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If only.

Unfortunately I found myself skimming past pages of pointless details in the present: petty feuds, American bell ringers, a domineering mother, her serial-lothario son, and an endless search for toilet paper. All of which completely undermined the very real dramatic realities taking place on this side of the time line.

Moreover, I can't figure out for the life of me why solving the mystery of what went wrong is drawn out until we are within shouting distance of the end - page 386 in a 578 page paperback. Especially when any reader with two brain-cells to rub together has figured it out 200 pages earlier. And that's not the only "mystery" easily solved by the reader long before the characters catch on.

Those caveats aside, my favorite century is treated, in all its grimy glory, with all the loving, exacting detail for which a history/archaeology buff could wish. And I'm glad I reread the last pages. You see, the reader can become so frustrated with the characters that she begins to skim ahead - when, when, when is someone going to figure this out? And by the time they do, well, the novel has ended. I did, and almost missed some of the best writing in it.

There was nothing slapstick about my historian's last days in the 14th century. Nothing sentimental, either. The realities of the time were treated with respect for the people and the horror through which many of them lived and many more died. I'm glad I went back and reread those pages slowly, word for word, with no skimming. I'm glad I spent a little time in the worst of times of my favorite century.