Doomsday Book Essay - Critical Essays

Connie Willis


Although Willis employs the common device of time travel, she is not interested in creating paradoxes or exploring alternate histories. Time travel is for her a means of juxtaposing two societies confronting similar crises, of exploring human nature in the presence of overpowering fear, and of celebrating human courage and generosity.

Following the success of Lincoln’s Dreams (1987), the critical and popular acclaim for Doomsday Book, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best science-fiction novel, established Willis as one of the top American science-fiction writers. Doomsday Book exhibits Willis’ characteristic strengths: thorough scholarship, graceful prose, and a rare combination of profound compassion and keen intelligence. There is even a touch of the humor present in many of her short stories in Dunworthy’s struggles with bureaucratic rigidity and the complaints of self-centered people who do not quite notice that there is an epidemic going on. Also evident is Willis’ ability to realize a time and place and create vivid characters whose joys and sorrows will haunt the reader’s memory.

Time travel is one of the classic plot devices of science fiction. Doomsday Book has antecedents dating back to Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) and H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895). Much of twentieth century time travel fiction has focused on...

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