Wednesday, June 8, 2011

All Clear (Book)

No one person or thing won the war. People argue whether it was Ultra or the evacuation from Dunkirk or Churchill’s leadership or fooling Hitler into thinking we were invading at Calais that won the war, but it wasn’t any one of them. It was all of them and a thousand, a million, other things and people. And not just soldiers and pilots and Wrens, but air-raid wardens and planespotters and debutantes and mathematicians and weekend sailors and vicars….Canteen workers and ambulance drivers and ENSA chorus girls.
All Clear—and Blackout—speak to that part of us that wants to know what our role is in the greater play of life. All Clear refers to the signal that was used during WWII to indicate that the danger was over and people could come out of their shelters. In All Clear Connie Willis concludes the story that she began in Blackout. The Blackout/All Clear* combination won the 2010 Nebula Award and is nominated for the 2011 Hugo and Locus Science Fiction awards. After finishing All Clear, I have to agree that that the combination is very good, enjoyable, and award-worthy.

Throughout Blackout/All Clear Willis refers to solving puzzles: Mike’s crossword puzzles, Agatha Christie mysteries, and the code breaking of Ultra. In some ways Blackout/All Clear is a 1000+ page puzzle to be solved. What is really going on? How do the individual pieces all fit together? The books are both composed of chapters —clearly titled, thank goodness— that take place at specific times and places in history and the future. But the chapters are not in chronological order. Compounding that are the paradoxes of time-travel. In addition, Willis does not always identify the characters in the chapter, and when the characters travel to different time periods, they often use different names. Much of the plot of Blackout revolves around the characters and the reader trying to solve the puzzle/mystery. Even what seem to be some irritating scenes in Blackout turn out to have a role in the bigger picture. By the end of All Clear, Willis tells us the fate of Polly, Eileen, Mike, Mr. Dunworthy, Colin, and even Alf and Binnie Hobdin. Blackout is a faster paced book than All Clear.

The day after finishing All Clear/Blackout, I am still thinking about the story in terms of how the pieces fit together and of the greater themes. Blackout/All Clear is not only a story about WWII; it is also a story about our humanity. We look for meaning in our lives. We wonder whether we have a purpose. We wonder whether being good or kind matters. We feel abandoned and alone. We suffer and we triumph. The combination of Blackout/All Clear is a wonderful story.

*Note: Blackout and All Clear are two parts of one total story or novel. They are not even remotely independent from one another. All Clear will not make any sense to a reader who has not read Blackout. In addition, I highly recommend that anyone read them immediately after one another, so that the plot will be fresh.

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