I chose the SF book club’s May selection: “Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis. The first question of the evening will be directed to me, to defend my choice of books. The more I think about it, the more I have to say in its favor.
Defend your choice: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
I began reading Science Fiction with the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. G. Wells and the Groff Conklin anthologies—all that were available in my small hometown library. We were just emerging from the Age of the Machine and approaching the frontiers of micro-miniaturization, electronics, computers, waldos, robots, space travel, deep space telescopes and laser technology. These things, and more, threw open the doors of our imagination and Science Fiction enjoyed its Golden Age.
The BACH quartet: Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein, were in their prime. I enjoyed stories about exploring Mars, sending unmanned probes to dip into the atmosphere of our gas giant planets, changing the weather by creating sunspots, space travel and the delicate balance of consumables needed (Tom Godwin’s The Cold Equations), time travel, first contact stories (Murray Leinster’s First Contact), other forms of intelligent life (Fred Pohl’s Heechee universe); invisibility, Faster Than Light travel, solar instability (Inconstant Moon by Larry Niven) and of technological marvels we take for granted today: cell phones, computers, etc. The robots of today do not have the humanoid form of early SF, but that’s all right. We still have C3PO and R2D2. We haven’t time or space to name all our favorite books, ideas and stories; we would be here until doomsday!
I read all these things and more, and they were wonderful. They piqued the imagination; they appealed to our sense of wonder. The movies were great, too. But in no book, story or movie did the author imagine that the first man on the moon would have live video communication with Earth. Radio, yes; video, no. Dick Tracy had a wrist radio, but he didn’t have an iPhone.
Today, we live in the future. Ideas that were purely fictional in the last century are being seriously studied today. SETI is alive and well. A lot of the old ideas have either come to pass or have been put aside as untenable (FTL drive). Many questions have been answered: we think we know how old the Universe is, and those who study the Universe are leaning toward the theory of the Big Rip: an expanding universe rather than an oscillating one.
So: the only old idea we haven’t worked out (and who knows what we haven’t even thought of yet) is Time Travel. Connie Willis has created a world in which time travel does exist, a world about 50 years in our future. The stories set in her reality may be termed ‘time-traveling historians’ but they go much deeper than that. Willis gives us parallel stories of academia and a caretaker society beside stories of WWII, the Victorian age, or Medieval England, depending on which of her books you read.
Connie Willis is a good writer who makes us care about the people in her stories. Some characters, Mr. Dunworthy, Finch and Baldri, appear in several of her time travel books. Some of her stories are light-hearted, even ironic if not downright farcical (To Say Nothing of the Dog), while others make you just want to weep. (Passage)
In a nutshell: I chose Doomsday Book because it is about Time Travel, and I want to go!