Monday, December 6, 2010

Time Travel

What historian wouldn't want to go back in time and observe events and life as they actually happened?  Well, time travel has been invented and historians are traveling through the time net from Oxford to places and events important in history.  The net prevents anyone from going to any place where they could actually change history, and they won't send anyone to a convergence point--a place and time that is critical to history, such as Dunkirk or the Normandy invasion or Bletchley Park, where the British broke the German's code.

World War II and related events are popular with many historians, and as they slip into the net to complete their planned assignments in England during the war--Dunkirk, the London Blitz, VE Day--we follow them as they try to blend in with the locals during harrowing times.  What an opportunity to learn history first-hand, and see if the history books got it right.

But slippage does occur--historians may end up a few minutes earlier or later than planned.  And the slippage is growing--into hours and days...Historians' plans are being canceled or rearranged.  And if, in fact, a single beat of a butterfly's wings can alter the planet, what would a historian do if he saves the life of a man at Dunkirk who wasn't supposed to live?  Or saves two children from boarding the orphan ship to Canada that she knows will sink?  What happens if you inadvertently alter history so drastically that the war ends differently?  And what if you are in danger of never being able to go home because events are changed to much that time travel is never invented?  Where--and who--are you then?

Connie Willis' "Blackout" and "All Clear" novels--really, two parts of a single story--are an exciting blend of history, suspense, and science fiction.  The characters are so real and lieable, their worries so understandable and worrisome...well, the whole thing is just so darn plausible; they are "what if" extraordinaire.