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If Connie Willis could travel back in time, would she ever have started writing this book?
"I keep telling people it grew like Topsy, but actually it kind of grew like the blob," laughs the well-known science fiction author, whose fans have been waiting years for this month's Blackout, another time-traveling adventure for her Oxford historians, which the author started writing in the aftermath of 9/11. And it turns out that Blackout is, really, only half the story. The tale will conclude with this fall's All Clear.
"I have been a little concerned that people who don't know me, who just pick up
a book at the airport, will think this is just one of those post-modernist things, where there is no resolution to anything," jokes Willis, who leaves her characters in quite
a mess at the conclusion of Blackout. "They're not literally hanging off a cliff,
but it's real close.
"I got myself into a terrible mess with so many characters and so many things going on," adds Willis. "I set out to do the civilian parts of the war. I find World War II fascinating. Really, I find all wars fascinating because they're sort of like pressure cookers -- the stakes are so extraordinarily high. On an ordinary day it wouldn't matter if I took off five minutes later to the grocery store, but in the Blitz, it was a matter of life and death," the history buff explains, her enthusiasm for taking real events from history and spinning her own tales around them apparent in her voice.
It's the coincidences that have far-reaching consequences throughout history that thrill Willis most when she's researching and writing. "My readers have always known that I stick with real history, that no matter how unlikely the historical facts sound, they really did happen," she says, launching into the story of how the Blitz began, when two German pilots got lost in the fog and accidentally bombed a London suburb, causing an escalation of violence that eventually resulted in Germany's defeat.
"Basically, the fog and two lost pilots caused the loss of the war," Willis says.
The author also uses her own trademark finesse when throwing her time-traveling characters into the past. Her books utilize a conceit, called slippage, which means that no one from the future can change the past, and that her historians are physically unable to travel to a point in the past where their presence may influence events. For example, no one
can travel back to the scene of
the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Willis recently had a chance to run her time-travel theories past a physicist and was pleased to discover her plotlines passed muster.
"He liked the idea of slippage and that
I used the chaos theory to justify it," says Willis. "He doesn't believe in multiple time strings, but I told him, we authors get to do whatever we want until the day we actually discover time travel."
-- Elissa Petruzzi
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