How do you feel about science fiction? A great science fiction novel is one of my favorite guilty pleasures and I’ve recently joined a second book club just to indulge. We didn’t intend to limit it to women, as we thought we’d find few female science fiction lovers, but one by one, the group grew and there’s now over a dozen sci fi loving women on the list. Science fiction novels foster great discussions, lifting social taboos on politics and religion for a little while. This month’s book pick is Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, a delicious page turner featuring time travel, the plague, and scheming historians.
Doomsday Book was published in 1992 and won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, but I had never heard of it. The blend of science fiction and historical fiction was the perfect hook for me, and I plunged deep and quickly. The novel begin in the history department of Oxford University in 2048 as competing department heads prepare to send a student back in time to the Middle Ages. Now that principles of time travel have been mastered, history can now be viewed first hand, the culmination of years of linguistic and historical study.
This journey will be taken by Kivrin, a female master candidate who has always dreamed of seeing the Middle Ages. She’s fluent in Latin and Middle English and in addition to her historically accurate costume, she’s even broken and dirtied her nails. Her cover story is in place and she’s ready to travel back to a relatively safe year in this dangerous time, a textbook trip to yield rich data. As soon as she disappears back in time, the technician controlling her trip faints with a high fever, casting serious doubts on Kivrin’s destination and safety.
Danger is everywhere, both in the present and in the past. The novel alternates between the two time periods in two intertwined thrilling narratives. It’s a book that I could not put down, and can’t wait to discuss. Fans of historical fiction and science fiction will really enjoy this detailed account of living through a massive epidemic.