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Connie Willis Books in Order
If you are new to the author Connie Willis and have recently started reading Blackout or All Clear, you have probably come to realize that these books have some background to them and that she's written in this particular universe before. You may even want to read the Connie Willis books in order before finishing either of her two latest works (which is actually one novel split into two volumes by her publisher).
While I do think it helps to get the proper Connie Willis books order, you don't necessarily need to read them in the proper order. The earlier books just flesh out the world a bit more and offer some better explanation for Willis' particular brand of time travel, but each story does stand on its own.
That said, if you are anything like me, you are a completist and probably very curious about events and characters that are mentioned or alluded to in Blackout and All Clear, so let's just go ahead and put these books in their proper order. The earlier works are better than the new titles anyway, so you'll want to read them. In fact, I would even suggest skipping Blackout and All Clear altogether in favor of reading The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog.
This series of short stories provides a nice introduction to Connie Willis's writing and it also includes the first story with our intrepid (but also somewhat dim-witted) time travelers.
Fire Watch is a novelette that appears in the short story collection, Fire Watch. It won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for "best novellette" in 1983 and it is the first time that the Oxford time travelers are introduced.
The story probably provides the best background for Blackout and All Clear as the Oxford historian, Bartholomew, is sent to St. Paul's during the Blitz. His assignment is to join and observe the Fire Watch team that is responsible for making sure the church isn't set on fire by the various incendiaries falling on and around it. Both the character and his actions here will be mentioned in the later books about the Blitz.
The paperback edition is out of print, but available used. Or you can simply get the Kindle edition.
Released in 1992, Connie Willis's classic time travel tale won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. It's not a particularly fun book, but it is extremely well-written and engrossing.
The Doomsday Book
The Doomsday Book is the first full-length novel about the Oxford historians and their time travelling expeditions into the past. This is also my favorite book by Connie Willis. It is deeply engrossing and also quite devastating. Like Fire Watch, The Doomsday Book has one both the Nebula and Hugo Awards and it is well-deserved. This is one of those books that has stuck with me every since I first read it and it's one of the few books I've read twice.
In The Doomsday Book, the story shifts back and forth between 21st Century Oxford and England during the Black Plague. Our main character, Kivrin, has unfortunately been sent back to the wrong time (a common problem in this series of stories). She wasn't supposed to wind up anywhere near the occurrence of the Black Plague. And back in her own time, Oxford is suffering through a parallel plague of its own -- a deadly influenza outbreak -- which makes it difficult to mount a rescue mission.
To summarize: People die. Many, many people die.
If you don't like angst and terror, you might give The Doomsday Book a miss and read To Say Nothing of the Dog instead. This comic novel was published in 1997 and its another Hugo award winner.
To Say Nothing of the Dog
While taking place in the same world as The Doomsday book, To Say Nothing of the Dog is a much more light-hearted piece of work. In fact it is a comedy and the entire story revolves around visits back to the 1940s before Coventry Cathedral was bombed by German Air Raids in order to look for various bric-a-brac that can be used to restore the Cathedral in the current (21st century) day. As you can imagine, problems ensue.
This is quite a delightful book and a suitable palate cleanser after reading the harrowing Doomsday book. If you prefer your time travel less dire, you could easily skip reading Doomsday in favor of reading To Say Nothing of the Dog.
What's Your Favorite Connie Willis Time Travel Story?
Blackout and All Clear
Blackout and All Clear are actually one book, which in the mysterious wisdom of the publisher, was torn in two and published separately several months apart. This was extremely annoying to discover when I reached the end of Blackout, but fortunately for you both parts of the book are now available.
Blackout and All Clear take place during the London Blitz. The Oxford historians have been sent back in time to see how Londoners cope with the daily threat. Unfortunately, nothing at all goes right and none of our time travelers are able to get back to their own Oxford, nor are they able to contact each other in London. The story follows several different players and is occasionally confusing and frequently annoying as most of the errors could easily be avoided by the characters NOT BEING STUPID.
In summary: these are not my favorite books. I feel at this point that these characters have really outworn their welcome and some of the peculiarities of Willis's writing style has also outworn it's welcome. It's a shame because I think the story would have been much improved with some cutthroat editing that reduced the length to a single normal-sized novel. The characters would seem a lot less dim-witted if they spent less time standing around wondering what to do.