Review of The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Doomsday Book by Connie WillisDoomsday Book
By Connie Willis; Read by Jenny Sterlin
18 cassettes – 26.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 2000
ISBN: 0788744151
Themes: / Science Fiction / Time-travel / England / Middle Ages / 14th Century / Near Future / Religion /

For Oxford student Kivrin, traveling back to the 14th century is more than the culmination of her studies—it’s the chance for a wonderful adventure. For Dunworthy, her mentor, it is cause for intense worry about the thousands of things that could go wrong. When an accident leaves Kivrin trapped in one of the deadliest eras in human history, the two find themselves in equally gripping—and oddly connected—struggles to survive.

Connie Willis’ The Doomsday Book is a believable time-travel story, which is ridiculous. Time-travel isn’t possible except as fiction, but the time travel in this story immerses the listener enough so that you don’t mind how you got there. Though soft science fiction, this novel relies on solid storytelling without inconsistencies, it also avoids violence and gadgets in favor of verisimilitude and thorough research. The novel follows two threads, one extremely compelling the other far less so. The first and more interesting thread follows our heroine, Kivrin, a historian sent back into the 14th century to get a first hand account of life in a village close to “Oxenford”. What she discovers there is extremely interesting. Willis dispels the ‘back in the good old days’ mentality with a gritty look at a deeply religious society and thoroughly stratified society with freezing peasants. The characterization here is superb; I actually cared what happened to these fictional medieval characters!

The shorter, secondary thread follows the characters in our near future. Unfortunately this part of the story, like the Harry Potter novels, describes a world where most adults are ignorant and need a youngster to save the day. Also here, apparently, time-travel is no big deal. It generally goes on unsupervised in the universities and without government supervision. It seems any time travel that would cause a paradox cannot occur, thus carefully avoiding the bread and butter of typical time-travel adventures. This is not a story so much about the process, the physics or paradoxes inherent in time-travel as much as it is about something else entirely: Disease and the devastating effects it has when it’s rampant and 90% lethal. Sterile modern hospitals are contrasted with the complete ignorance of infections to good effect, demonstrating just how lucky we are! It’s striking to hear how death was an everyday commonplace occurrence, unlike today when a single death is considered a tragedy. Here’s to tragedy.

The narration, by Jenny Sterlin, was very effective; she made the thoughts and words of Kivrin just like being there. Jenny effectively makes good use of the numerous British expressions in the dialogue. The title is a play on the historical ‘Domesday Book,’ which was an attempt to survey England’s land, people and wealth in the Middle Ages. Without spoiling the plot, I’ll tell you this much, it is an apt title.

Without time-travel this would not be a Science Fiction story, but rather a historical piece. Even though there are no spaceships, robots or groundbreaking or new scientific ideas I would recommend this audiobook for its suspense, mystery, and realism. That said, I still wouldn’t classify this Hugo and Nebula award winner in the same class Neuromancer or Dune, but then that’s a hell of a lot to live up to.

The cover art captures the subject matter perfectly, the compact cassette box is of high quality, but the tapes themselves had a continuous hiss. The introduction should have been an afterword since it didn’t have any impact until I re-listened to it after the novel finished. In the introduction Brother John Clinn, an actual historical figure, invites someone to continue his chronicles before his death in his manuscript. The fictional historian Kivrin, in a sense, fulfills his wishes.

Posted by Jesse Willis

A few updates to give you here… First, please…

SFFaudio News

A few updates to give you here…

First, please check out our Featured Selections pages. These replaced our “New Releases” page, which was getting difficult to maintain. We’ll keep you updated here whenever we find an interesting new release. One upcoming audiobook that I’m excited about is Random House’s unabridged A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. Amazon shows a release date in January. Stay tuned…

Second, Jesse and I have just started a discussion group over on Yahoogroups – find it here. Join and discuss! We’d love to see you there.

Third, there is no third thing!

An old Python joke… I’m listening to a Monty Python album right now on Rhapsody. I see they’ve got some Firesign Theatre there too! Cool – clicking now. I would love your comments on internet music services, of which Rhapsody is just one. $9.95/month lets me play anything I want as much as I want, 79 cents/track to write to a CD. Anyone having a better experience? Mail me!

Other things we’re looking at:

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis and The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber, both from Recorded Books.

The latest Star Trek audiobook from Simon and Schuster, Stone and Anvil by Peter David.

Anne Manx and the Trouble on Chromius, an award-winning audio drama starring Claudia Christian from The Radio Repertory Company of America.

From Audible.com, The Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, Sep-Nov 2003.

Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of 2000X: Tales of the Next Millenia

Another for my list of favorites… almost done!

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audio Drama - 2000X2000X: Tales of the Next Millennia
Hollywood Theater of the Ear
Executive Producers – Andy Trudeau and Stefan Rudnicki
Project Director / Producer-Director – Yuri Rasovsky
Hosted by Harlan Ellison

2000X aired on National Public Radio in 1999 and 2000. It’s a diverse series of 46 dramatized science fiction stories from authors like Robert A. Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, C.L. Moore, Robert Sheckley, Connie Willis, and Octavia Butler, just to name a few. This is audio drama at it’s highest quality – both the scripts and the performances are as good as I’ve heard.

I’ve got two favorites in the series:

By His Bootstraps
From a story by Robert A. Heinlein
Adapted, Produced, and Directed by Yuri Rasovsky
Mixed by Richard Fairbanks
Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Cordis Heard, Kascia Marciniak, and Ira Burton
Themes: / Time Travel / Paradox / Far Future /

This production won the Ohio State Award in 1982, and was included later in the 2000x series. It’s a fine dramatization of the story of time travel from one of the masters of the genre, performed by Richard Dreyfuss. It twists and turns back on itself in a brilliantly paradoxical manner. The production is fascinating to hear, as the stereo levels are managed to provide separation between the characters, which gets pretty complicated during the story. This one is best in stereo, while wearing headphones.

“Repent, Harlequin,” said the Ticktockman
Based on the story by Harlan Ellison
Dramatized, Produced, and Directed by Yuri Rasovsky
Recorded and Mixed by Warren Dewey
Starring Robin Williams, Harlan Ellison, Stefan Rudnicki, Arte Johnson, James Otis, Scott Brick, Hamilton Camp, Laura Kellogg, Melinda Peterson, and Phil Proctor

This is a fine way to experience Harlan Ellison’s classic story. It’s introduced and narrated by an enthusiastic Harlan Ellison. Robin Williams is perfect as the Harlequin, and Stefan Rudnicki’s voice makes the Ticktockman positively ominous. It’s an audio treat, full of sound, energy, and humor.

For a play list of all the productions in the series, click here. The 2000X homepage is here. And don’t forget to support your local public radio station!

2000X is currently available is two ways. First, Fantasic Audio has published a collection of some of the shows on cassette. It includes Repent, Harlequin and By His Bootstraps along with several others.

Second, the shows are available individually from Audible.com.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson