Monday, March 26, 2012
Book Review: TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Connie Willis
Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog introduces readers to a near future when Oxford historians routinely travel through time for investigative purposes. Their work is underwritten by a wealthy, overbearing American – Lady Schrapnell – whose pet project is the rebuilding of the Coventry Cathedral to reproduce its appearance on the day her revered Victorian-era grandmother saw it for the first time, and thereby changed the course of her life, as well as the whole family’s. But the small-scale interactions of the historians and their environment set up the possibility of large-scale disasters down the proverbial road: like the possibility of the Allies losing World War II. The book represents a loving homage to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, whose subtitle was “To Say Nothing of the Dog.” Ned, the time traveler tasked with finding an artifact from the Coventry Cathedral called “the bishop’s bird stump,” has made so many time jumps that he has a form of the bends, and misunderstands the mission he’s on. And like Jerome’s crew, Ned and new found friends Terence St. Trewes and his absent minded Oxford don Professor Peddick travel the Thames in a skiff, and find more adventure than the relaxation they so desperately need. I think it’s taken me seemingly forever to review the book because this Hugo-award winning novel defies simple description. Yes, it’s a time travel story. But after reading it, I’d probably categorize it under “humor,” before “science fiction.” Because unlike other novels that might focus on the mechanics of voyages in time and space, this book shoves those aside, focusing instead on the truly hilarious consequences of unintended actions. I adored the way Willis took a beloved classic and retrofitted it – even allowing the characters from the original to make a cameo appearance! Oh, and there’s even a couple of love stories. In fact, if there’s any downside to the book, it’s that Willis seems to gloss over some information about the “world” she’s created that the reader could really use. For example, what is the new time traveling ability based on? Why do individuals react to it so differently? If I was in a mood to be particularly persnickety I’d call it somewhat troublesome that the book’s ending reveals that one of the science fiction “premises” the story was based on was completely unfounded. But it feels like quibbling, because those things didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book. If you’re looking for a light and amusing sci-fi title, this is definitely it. I’d also suggest it to those who love contemporary humor titles, especially Douglas Adams (although I’m certainly not promising you’ll love it as much as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and Christopher Moore (and I’d call this a clear winner over his Fluke). I was planning on counting this for Carl V’s Science Fiction Experience in January, but couldn’t get my act together to get the review up in time. Reading this did inspire me to seek out a few more sci fi titles, so it’s still a win! In 140 Characters or Less: Time travel hijinks, in search of a cantankerous cat.