Title: Doomsday Book
Author: Connie Willis
Publisher: Bantam Books
The book is about a student of Oxford University who time travels to the 14th century (from 2054) during the time of the Black Death. She had initially planned to visit a safer period, but there was an error and she ends up where she did. At the same time, there is an outbreak of a viral disease in her time period that prevents timely discovery of the error in her coordinates. Also, her acting head of department was an unpleasant, bureaucratic, narrow minded person who was only concerned with covering his arse and so frustrated attempts to make the trip safer. The head of department was mirrored by another unpleasant person in the 14th century. In both periods, a bunch of people die, but more in 14th century. The time traveler is rescued and she returns to her time period having become a deeper, more reflective person, with a changed view of history because of the people she had met.
I bought this book because I read somewhere that it would make me cry. It did not. It actually annoyed me. I enjoyed the book, but it annoyed me because it was obvious to me that the author wants me to be sad that so many people die. The future person exerts so much effort to save them and yet they die. Why should that make me sad? People must die anyway. Further, given how crappy their lives were, I don't see how it is a good thing for them to live longer lives. They were physically uncomfortable during winter. They had capricious overlords. They had bad teeth, bad breath and poor bodily hygiene. What is the point of prolonging such miserable life? I feel the same way about all the aid given to Africa. But what even annoyed me the more was the attitude that only human suffering matters, not that of animals. While she was frantically trying to save the last person in the village, who would most probably die (and did die) given how all the others died in her despite, there was a cow that was following her around, mooing piteously because it needed to be milked. Our heroine keeps shooing the animal away. There is no indication that she milked that cow before she left for her own time. I thought that was really cruel.
Regardless, I enjoyed the book because of the topic, the story and the writer's style. It is the 3rd book I am reading about the plague, with the 1st being Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt, a novel. The 2nd was sort of historical - Justinian's Flea by William Rosen. I liked this book because the author does a nice job of building the atmosphere. One feels frustration at the pigheaded stubbornness of the Head of Department and his medieval counterpart. There is actually quite a bit of mirroring throughout the book. Quietly competent people who are more focused on the job at hand than who gets the credit. Small children who run around getting in the way and sometimes inadvertently helping. People deciding to continue their normal lives even while their world is reeling from a disaster. It was a good read. And the book is recommended.