Winner of six Nebula and five Hugo awards, Connie Willis is one of the most acclaimed and imaginative authors of our time. Her startling and powerful works have redefined the boundaries of contemporary science fiction. Here in one volume are twelve of her greatest stories, including double award-winner "Fire Watch," set in the universe of Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, in which a time-traveling student learns one of history's hardest lessons. In "A Letter from the Clearys," a routine message from distant friends shatters the fragile world of a beleaguered family. In "The Sidon in the Mirror," a mutant with the unconscious urge to become other people finds himself becoming both killer and victim. Disturbing, revealing, and provocative, this remarkable collection of short fiction brings together some of the best work of an incomparable writer whose ability to amaze, confound, and enlighten never fails.
Contents: Fire Watch (1982) Service for the Burial of the Dead (1982) Lost and Found (1982) All My Darling Daughters (1985) The Father of the Bride (1982) A Letter from the Clearys (1982) And Come from Miles Around (1979) The Sidon in the Mirror (1983) Daisy, in the Sun (1979) Mail-Order Clone (1982) Samaritan (1978) Blued Moon (1984)
Constance Elaine Trimmer Willis is an American science fiction writer. She is one of the most honored science fiction writers of the 1980s and 1990s.
She has won, among other awards, ten Hugo Awards and six Nebula Awards. Willis most recently won a Hugo Award for All Seated on the Ground (August 2008). She was the 2011 recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA).
She lives in Greeley, Colorado with her husband Courtney Willis, a professor of physics at the University of Northern Colorado. She also has one daughter, Cordelia.
Willis is known for her accessible prose and likable characters. She has written several pieces involving time travel by history students and faculty of the future University of Oxford. These pieces include her Hugo Award-winning novels Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog and the short story "Fire Watch," found in the short story collection of the same name.
Willis tends to the comedy of manners style of writing. Her protagonists are typically beset by single-minded people pursuing illogical agendas, such as attempting to organize a bell-ringing session in the middle of a deadly epidemic (Doomsday Book), or frustrating efforts to analyze near-death experiences by putting words in the mouths of interviewees (Passage).
Short story collection contains these stories, along with my rating for each and some song lyrics that may or may not be insightful or amusing:
Fire Watch - 3/5 - and the man in the back is ready to crack as he raises his hands to the sky Service for the Burial of the Dead - 3/5 - love and life are deep Lost and Found - 3/5 - let's tell the world we're in that crazy mood All My Darling Daughters - 3/5 - I just wanna have some kicks, I just wanna get some chicks The Father of the Bride - 2/5 - behind the wall of sleep A Letter from the Clearys - 3/5 - yeah, watch the world die And Come from Miles Around - 3/5 - it's a beautiful day, don't let it get away The Sidon in the Mirror - 2/5 - it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas Daisy, in the Sun - 2/5 - Here comes the sun Mail-Order Clone - 4/5 - my heart is broke, but I have some glue Samaritan - 3/5 - you turn me every which way but loose Blued Moon - 4/5 - and if your head explodes with dark forebodings too...
The last story, Blued Moon is the star - very much in the same vein as To Say Nothing of the Dog (my favourite Willis novel). It's a sparkling celebration of coincidences and technical jargon. The kind of story that makes me want to shout, "Yes, Connie! Yes! Write more stories like this!"
As with all short story collections it's a mixed bag. Despite kicking off Willis' superb time-travel series (which I love), I was surprised that the title story, Fire Watch didn't do all that much for me. All My Darling Daughters however, was genuinely VERY creepy and will (unfortunately) live long in the memory... *shudder* I also enjoyed The Sidon In The Mirror - a fascinating setting and character concept with far more potential that Willis had the chance to mine (no pun intended if you've read the story) here. Mail Order Close was fun - and just perfect for the short story length. Daisy In The Sun reminded me a lot of another Willis book - Passage with it's use of dreamscapes and memory echoes - actually more effective here than in Passage
The rest... were a little lightweight for me - all well written, but without the spark to really make me want to talk about them!
Overall, I'm actually very impressed. I'm a tough audience for short stories, but there were enough gems here to keep me happy and, like I said, Blued Moon was a 5-star smash hit and worth the £3 I paid for the book all by itself :-)
I decided to finally read this, the first of Connie Willis's books about a group of hapless time-traveling historians. I picked today because my library copy of her new book, All Clear, is very large and heavy and impractical to haul around New York on my back along with two dozen bagels, which is impractical enough on its own. I had expected that she might have given some background in this first novella that I had been missing ever since, but I should have known better. She tells us what we need to know, then concentrates on the real story at hand, which has nothing to do with time travel and everything to do with human resilience and the true costs of history.
The title story, "Fire Watch" is a bittersweet tale set in the same universe as Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, but written earlier. It was published in 1982, and won the 1983 Hugo & Nebula Awards for Best Short Story. The narrator is a time-traveling grad student from a future Oxford University, who is sent to the London Blitz due to a clerical error. (He was supposed to travel with St Paul for his practical exam, but instead ends up assigned to the Fire Watch for St Paul’s Cathedral.) Of course, he is completely unprepared and has no idea what’s going on. The epigraph for this story comes from Sir Walter Raleigh: "History hath triumphed over time, which besides it nothing but eternity hath triumphed over."4 stars **** This story is available online here: http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories...
"Service for the Burial of the Dead" is a ghost story from the perspective of the former girlfriend of a dead man who attends his funeral. She meets him there, apparently still alive.***
"Lost and Found" - The end of the world, and the search for the Holy Grail. Like "Samaritan" below, this is a religious story. I don’t have much to say about this one. **
"All My Darling Daughters" is the most disturbing story in the collection. Set on a boarding school in L5 orbit, it is told by a female narrator who has just been assigned a new roommate. The story revolves around the mystery of her roommate and the strange animals (“tessels”) that the boys are carrying around… this is much nastier than the other stories, but I thought it was powerful. ****
"The Father of the Bride"- Sleeping Beauty’s father reacts to being awoken in the Middle Ages. Short and clever. ***
"A Letter from the Clearys" - This tale of a family in a post-apocalyptic world won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story in 1982. It’s hard to describe this one to someone who hasn’t read it, so I’ll just say that the 14-year old girl is an excellent unreliable narrator. Like "All My Darling Daughters" this is a slowly unfolding horror story, although it’s not quite as dark as that one.***
"And Come from Miles Around" - A family watches a solar eclipse.**
"The Sidon in the Mirror" - A 'Mirror' - a mutant with the uncontrolled ability to become other people - tries to discover who he’s copying, as he can’t tell while he’s doing it. ***
"Daisy, in the Sun" is another apocalyptic story, told in a series of flashbacks. In the introduction to this story, Willis writes, "During the London Blitz, Edward R. Murrow was startled to see a fire engine racing past. It was the middle of the day, the sirens had not gone, and he hadn’t heard any bombers. He could not imagine where a fire engine could be going. It came to him, after much thought, that it was going to an ordinary house fire, and that that seemed somehow impossible, as if all ordinary disasters should be suspended for the duration of this great Disaster that was facing London and commanding everybody’s attention. But of course houses caught fire and burned for reasons that had nothing to do with the Blitz, and even in the face of Armageddon, there are still private Armageddons to be faced." ***
"Mail Order Clone" is about, well, a mail order clone, and the problems it causes for the man who orders it.**
"Samaritan" - A young assistant pastor plunges the church hierarchy into a storm of controversy when she brings forward an orangutan who can use sign language to be baptized.**
"Blued Moon" - A romantic comedy interwoven with an sf plot which involves a controversy over a project at chemical plant to restore the ozone layer and a series of coincidences with a scientific cause.***
The title story of this collection is a prequel to Willis' classic Doomsday Book and is well-worth reading to learn about Kirvin before her middle ages adventures as well as seeing a younger version of some of our other favorite characters from this series. I found several of the other stories really great as well.
I just read the title story, not the whole collection. I've been meaning to read Connie Willis' stuff for a long time, since several friends in one of my groups are very enthusiastic about her work. Fire Watch was easy and fun to read -- available online, here, by the way. You get thrown in at the deep end a bit at the beginning: it helped me to know that it was a story about a history student going back in time as part of their studies. But it was very readable, and reasonably easy to catch on to once I'd read a couple of 'entries'.
Emotionally, I didn't engage with it until the end, until the narrator saves Langby -- and suddenly I cared, quite a lot, and was hurt that Langby gets everything wrong...
I liked the glimpses of the 'modern' (for the narrator) world. Looking forward to hopefully seeing more of it? We'll see.
After reading the titular novella of this book, I was sure it would be five stars all the way through... but, not surprisingly as this goes with the territory for short story collections, it was a variety of hits and misses. The first and last stories stand out: "Fire Watch" is a breathtakingly well-constructed narrative that withholds just the right amount of information, giving the reader glimpses at a future world through the protagonist's interactions with the past. Of all the stories in this book, this one had the best reveal and narrative tension. "Blued Moon" comes close, though it falls into humor more than drama. After those two, "Daisy, in the Sun" has the next strongest ending.
The rest are somewhat weak, which could just be me - I have a strong preference for longer-form stories in terms of narrative structure - or it could be that the seeds of explanation are planted too early (making the 'reveal' obvious) or too late (making it seem shoehorned). Though actually, reflecting, I think this is a case where one of Willis's biggest strengths is also a weakness. Her worldbuilding in these stories is fantastic, filled with offhanded little details that flesh everything out and make it feel more real - but this often ends up detracting from the emotional content of the story. "A Letter From The Clearys", for instance, was an emotional story related in a detached manner which robbed the ending of much punch. "Samaritan" gave information on the world's background, but seemed to lack crucial details about its present. "Lost and Found" felt like more of an exploration of concept than a real story; had it had fewer characters, it might have come off a little better.
That said, I'm definitely going to read more Willis. I picked this up as a manageable (compared to Doomsday Book, I mean) introduction to her work, and I'm thoroughly impressed despite my specific misgivings.
(necessary warning: the reason this gets shelved as 'trigger warning' is for the story "All My Darling Daughters". you can put the title + shelf together to guess why it goes there. It's a very, very unpleasant reading experience and I recommend skipping it if you're wavering.)
I first read this many years ago, though I did not remember that. The best stories: the eponymous ' Fire Watch ,' ' Daisy in the Sun,' 'A Letter From the Cleary's,' 'And Come from Miles Around have all been anthologized several times (mostly being Hugo and Nebula winners or nominees.)
Many of the lesser stories in the collection were forgettable and, indeed, forgotten. It wasn't until I reread the introductions that I realized I had, in fact, been here before. But it's worth the return trip. Even Willis' minor efforts usually have some "redeeming social content," in terms of imagination or originality, such as her screwball rom- coms ( Blued Moon) or her Christian moralizing (Samaritan).
My least favourite story was 'Mail Order Clone.' Willis openly confesses her love of True Confessions type stories, of which she has penned a few. In the introduction to the story she says "whenever (she) can get away with it" she still writes them. It's not gaggingly awful, just not my cup of tea. Too silly, mostly, with a somewhat patronizing view of poverty.
When Willis is firing on all cylinders however, as with the first stories mentioned, she's one of the best writers in science fiction today.
"Fire Watch" by Connie Willis won the Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette presented in 1983; it also won the SF Chronicle Award. "Fire Watch" is set in almost the same universe as Willis' later novels Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog; a future Oxford whence students are sent back in time for research purposes. It was the first of the three to be written, and indeed the first story by Willis to win either Hugo or Nebula, back in the days when one might have reasonably doubted that anyone would ever surpass Poul Anderson's seven Hugos or Delany and Silverberg's four Nebulas each (though this year alone brought Willis halfway there).
The narrator of "Fire Watch" is sent to guard St Paul's in 1940 during the Blitz, rather than to accompany St Paul as he had anticipated. This failure to communicate vital information is a recurring theme in Willis' work; think of the incapacitated computer technician in Doomsday Book, the appalling interdepartmental assistant in Bellwether, the messages which may or may not be from the dead in Lincoln's Dreams, To Say Nothing of the Dog and Passage. In this case it seems a little odd that the narrator claims to have spent four years preparing for the wrong mission, and I was thrown by his reference to the time he'd wasted learning Latin - surely Greek would have been more appropriate? - but most readers are prepared to go with the flow.
Another Willis theme that one can track from "Fire Watch" through most of her later work is death; horrible, unfair, untimely death. Death is a major player in all the above-mentioned books except the comedic To Say Nothing of the Dog and Bellwether. Death and the imminent threat of death are ever present in the London of the Blitz; every relationship the narrator forms is coloured by the knowledge that death is quite possibly just around the corner. The narrator knows, as the citizens of London do not, that St Paul's Cathedral will survive the Blitz but be destroyed in a surprise terrorist attack by Communists in 2007. (In 1982, Communist attacks on Western cities were plausible, even if the idea that major buildings could be utterly destroyed in single acts of terrorism still seemed far-fetched.)
For me, however, no matter how convincing Willis' portrayal of the Blitz or how moving her sense of the impermanence of it all, the entire story is completely ruined by the implausibility of 21st century Oxford. The narrator, who is a final year undergraduate, has a room-mate called Kivrin, a woman graduate student. In our world, Oxbridge student accommodation practices are completely different; individual accommodation rather than room sharing is prevalent; it is rare to get an opposite-sex couple sharing accommodation unless they are sexual partners (which does not seem to be the case here); it is almost unheard-of for graduate students to share with undergraduates (because their fees are different, their expected time of residence in the college is different, and they basically don't want to). On top of that, the narrator refers to himself as a "history major"; I don't know any UK or Irish university which uses the term "major" in that sense, and I confidently predict that even if it becomes fashionable in the future Oxford will be among the last to adopt it.
The result was that I spent most of the story picking up on the deliberate hints about the fate of St Paul's and at the same time wondering what the author was trying to hint about the fate of Oxford. This sort of thing happens all the time including in some of my favourite writing - in Mary Gentle's Ash, A Secret History, the historically inappropriate Gregorian calendar is used, for instance; or indeed Shakespeare has striking clocks in Julius Caesar, followed by Cleopatra playing billiards and wearing a corset - but in this case I just couldn't overlook it. By making her 21st Oxford so similar to yer standard 20th century US campus, Willis no doubt intended to propel her readers from a familiar environment into an alien war-torn city, and it probably succeeds for most of them. For this Oxbridge graduate who grew up in Belfast, it just didn't work that way.
This time around, I was even more infuriated by the academic setting. The idea that someone would spend four years preparing for (and being prepared for) the wrong mission is simply ridiculous; the investment of resources for a time trip is surely significant enough to make certain that the person sent back in time is fully prepared for their environment. On top of that, it's not even very clear what the mission is in the first place; can the narrator change the course of time, or not? If not, what's the point? It's a story where Willis has written a heart-wrenchingly sentimental account of a confected history, and it worked for Hugo and Nebula voters, but not for me in 2002 or on rereading in 2021.
I have already read some of these stories, but it was very nice to re-read them. Connie Willis is a master of storybuilding, and while, the longer stories are much better than the short ones, some of the short ones do pack a punch.
I liked best "A letter from the Clearys" and "All my darling daughters", two very uncomfortable stories, that will stay with me for a while, and "Blued moon" was very, very fun to read. I also can add that the titular story, while very good, is not the best I've seen from her time-traveling historians.
Fire Watch (1982) - 5 Stars Service for the Burial of the Dead (1982) - 4 Stars Lost and Found (1982) - 3 Stars All My Darling Daughters (1985) - 4 Stars The Father of the Bride (1982) - 2 Stars A Letter from the Clearys (1982) - 3.5 Stars And Come from Miles Around (1979) - 3 Stars The Sidon in the Mirror (1983) - 3.5 Stars Daisy, in the Sun (1979) - 3 Stars Mail-Order Clone (1982) - 3 Stars Samaritan (1978) - 3.5 Stars Blued Moon (1984) - 4.5 Stars
This is a 1998 reissue of a 1985 collection of short stories by Connie Willis who has won six Nebula and five Hugo awards for her sci-fi fiction. Her "Doomsday Book" of 1992 was one of the best science fiction novels I've ever read. There are a number of interesting stories among the 12 in the book, including the title story, a precursor to "Doomsday Book." "Blued Moon" is a humorous look at language and coincidence, and "A Letter from the Clearys" is a story that slowly transforms itself from mundane to horrific in 12 pages. The most eye-opening story was the only one not previously published in a magazine. I can see why. Science fiction can be the most subversive of genres but has tended to be prudish as well. "All My Darling Daughters" takes place on an orbiting college campus and hints at parental abuse, bestiality, and kinky sex. It also features an excellent vocabulary of expletives worthy of college students of the future.
How had I missed knowing about this book? I am most of the way through Fire Watch, the first story, and have put down my Kindle because I don't want my fictional world to end. (Well, the Blitz can end - let say not even start, but I want the Historians to stay around.) Why did it take so long to read this book? I read the stories around library books. The time involved is not a quality indicator.
What a wonderful and varied collection from this marvelous author. Fire Watch, the historian story, of course was close to my heart. But others were dystopian, or humorous, romantic, post-apocalyptic.
Strongly recommnended. And of course, even though all the stories are excellent, if one doesn't appeal to you, just skip it and go on to the next story.
I really enjoyed most of these short stories, but there's one I strongly dislike-- "All My Darling Daughters." I would say definitely skip that one. It's gross. Otherwise, these are clever. I like how Willis gives a little origin-of-the-idea description before each story. I'm definitely a fan of Willis and look forward to reading more of her work.
It took me a while to read this one because I used the stories as rewards. I read a hundred pages of a difficult book and then allowed myself to read one of these stories. It helped me push through. I really enjoy the short story format. It's almost like watching a short episode of a TV series: diverting, but not too interruptive.
To say the least, I was disappointed. I read the first short story in this collection, the title work, for its affinity with the Blackout series. It was OK. As I read further I became less and less pleased with the stories. A few were OK, a few were really terrible. I even skipped one. I didn't find this collection up to the author's standards.
If you've never read science fiction, this is the place to start. I've read very little sci-fi, but enjoyed my delve into these stories and will be re-reading them in the future to see what I may have missed the first time through.
A couple good stories, some not so good, and one truly awful
This anthology, like most anthologies, was a very mixed bag. I enjoyed the title story, "Fire Watch". I would have enjoyed it more if I had read Connie Willis' Blitz novels Blackout/All Clear recently, but the last time I read them was over two years ago, and at my advanced age, that doesn't count as recent. Still, good story. The final story, "Blued Moon", was a delight -- very funny, the kind of thing I expected from Willis.
Then there were a bunch of stories that could have been good but were told in an unnecessarily annoying way. Willis likes to withhold information from the reader, setting up a mystery to be revealed at the end. Most authors do this, of course, but she is terribly transparent about it, in the sense that you don't understand what's going on until the last two pages, and you KNOW you don't understand, and are just massively confused. The result is that the surprise ending is not really a surprise -- you knew all along that there was some horror to be revealed -- you just didn't know the details.
Then there's "All My Darling Daughters". It was truly awful. I don't mean it was poorly written. Without getting specific, imagine, if you can, a story that lives in the moral and narrative vicinity of Nabokov's Lolita, Sturgeon's Bianca's Hands, and Süskind's Perfume, and then try to imagine something even more morally repulsive. I read all three of those without serious physiological difficulties, but "All My Darling Daughters" squicked me out. So congratulations, Ms Willis, I guess.
Now, I try to judge books by their strengths, so I ought to rate an anthology with two good stories on the high side. But "All My Darling Daughters" was so repugnant I feel I have to knock off a star.
З цього оповідання розпочалася історія оксфордських істориків, які мандрують у часі. Бартолом’ю навчається на історичному факультеті і готується до, скажімо так, виробничої практики – зустрічі зі Святим Павлом. За два дні до початку практики його сповіщають, що натомість він працюватиме пожежником у соборі Святого Павла під час Лондонського бліцкригу. В умовах цейтноту він заганяє всю необхідну інформацію глибоко в пам’ять і вирушає в мандрівку, сподіваючись на краще. Робота в пожежній бригаді надскладна. Напружені місяці на службі даються взнаки. Бартолом’ю стає ходячим мерцем – не зомбі, але працює ніби на автопілоті, часто не усвідомлюючи, що коїться навколо нього. Щовечора і до світанку потрібно чекати ворожих літаків, які в будь-яку мить можуть скинути снаряд на собор. Як відомо, він на диво вцілів протягом усієї війни, тому якщо Бартолом’ю припуститься помилки, це порушить просторово-часовий континуум.
This is a book of short stories. I am not usually a big short story fan. I find that if I lose focus for even a short time, I can never really get back into the story because it’s too short. I’ve missed too much. So, as usual, I didn’t follow more than half the stories. A few were ok, but overall, I wasn’t a fan.
Oh (and this isn’t saying much for the stories themselves), something I did like was that she had a short (2-3 paragraph) introduction to each story. I liked many of those better than the stories! They did build up a bit of “atmosphere”, so to speak, for the stories.