A World of Speculation

Connie Willis, Doomsday Book

Time travel to the 14th century and a 21st-century flu outbreak test the resourcefulness of people in both locales in Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book.

Kivrin is a young time traveler sent to explore 14th century England at the same time a fatal flu outbreak back in her “present” combines with the chaos of the Christmas season to make her return uncertain.

Willis alternates between two different time periods and two different disease outbreaks. We’re immersed in the daily life of the 14th century so viscerally that I kept looking around at the technological marvels around me with surprise and wonder.

Alternatively, in the “present” time, 21st-century technological wizardry breaks down in the face of bureaucratic bumbling and human unpredictability.

The result is a story full of characters who are at once comic and deserving empathy, frustrating and endearing, with conflict that draws a knife edge through our ordinary way of looking at things.