Friday, May 9, 2008

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

The only reason To Say Nothing of the Dog is considered Science Fiction is because it deals with Time Travel. The rest of it reads like an homage to Victorian-era mysteries, comedies of manners, and Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog. Ned Henry is a historian at Oxford University, where they are trying to re-build Coventry Cathedral as it once stood. (Not WHERE it once stood - that's now a shopping mall.) In Ned's future, a researcher can go back in time to locate various items - but! cannot bring them forward. One of the last pieces to be located is this large ornate, ugly vase called "the bishop's bird stump." Ned and his colleagues keep going back to the time of the Nazi bombing that destroyed the original Coventry Cathedral, trying to watch who carries what out of the burning church.

It is not going well. Ned is exhausted. He gets ordered to bed rest by the Infirmary but the folks re-building the Cathedral are determined to find him and send him on more 'drops.' His boss decides the best place to recuperate is Victorian England, just up the river from Oxford and several decades before Coventry is bombed. In Victorian England, Ned meets quite a cast of characters: a retired Colonel who collects very expensive goldfish; his wife who is enraptured by spiritualists; her very silly daughter who owns this dainty kitten with a taste for expensive goldfish; an Oxofrd don who gets into fights with Darwin (THE Darwin); a hapless young undergrad named Terrence and his canine Cyril; plus assorted village folk and spiritualists. The reader starts out as confused as exhausted Ned, but we quickly come up to speed as he gets some sleep.

This is a beautifully written book, with a great climax.

Note that Connie Willis is visiting Baltimore at the end of May for Balticon. She will also be discussing and signing her work at the Southeast Anchor Branch on May 22 at 6:30pm.

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