Doomsday Book

A novel of the Oxford Time Travel series


About the Book

Connie Willis draws upon her understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering, and the indomitable will of the human spirit.

“A tour de force.”—The New York Times Book Review

For Kivrin, preparing to travel back in time to study one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin—barely of age herself—finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours.
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Praise for Doomsday Book

“A stunning novel that encompasses both suffering and hope. . . . The best work yet from one of science fiction’s best writers.”The Denver Post

“Splendid work—brutal, gripping and genuinely harrowing, the product of diligent research, fine writing and well-honed instincts, that should appeal far beyond the normal science-fiction constituency.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The world of 1348 burns in the mind’s eye, and every character alive that year is a fully recognized being. . . . It becomes possible to feel . . . that Connie Willis did, in fact, over the five years Doomsday Book took her to write, open a window to another world, and that she saw something there.”The Washington Post Book World
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Doomsday Book

Mr. Dunworthy opened the door to the laboratory and his spectacles promptly steamed up.

"Am I too late?" he said, yanking them off and squinting at Mary.

"Shut the door," she said. "I can't hear you over the sound of those ghastly carols."

Dunworthy closed the door, but it didn't completely shut out the sound of "O Come, All Ye Faithful" wafting in from the quad. "Am I too late?" he said again.

Mary shook her head. "All you've missed is Gilchrist's speech." She leaned back in her chair to let Dunworthy squeeze past her into the narrow observation area. She had taken off her coat and wool hat and set them on the only other chair, along with a large shopping bag full of parcels. Her gray hair was in disarray, as if she had tried to fluff it up after taking her hat off. "A very long speech about Mediaeval's maiden voyage in time," she said, "and the college of Brasenose taking its rightful place as the jewel in history's crown. Is it still raining?"

"Yes," he said, wiping his spectacles on his muffler. He hooked the wire rims over his ears and went up to the thin-glass partition to look at the net. In the center of the laboratory was a smashed-up wagon surrounded by overturned trunks and wooden boxes. Above them hung the protective shields of the net, draped like a gauzy parachute.

Kivrin's tutor Latimer, looking older and even more infirm than usual, was standing next to one of the trunks. Montoya was standing over by the console wearing jeans and a terrorist jacket and looking impatiently at the digital on her wrist. Badri was sitting in front of the console, typing something in and frowning at the display screens.

"Where's Kivrin?" Dunworthy said.

"I haven't seen her," Mary said. "Do come and sit down. The drop isn't scheduled till noon, and I doubt very much that they'll get her off by then. Particularly if Gilchrist makes another speech."

She draped her coat over the back of her own chair and set the shopping bag full of parcels on the floor by her feet. "I do hope this doesn't go all day. I must pick up my great-nephew Colin at the Underground station at three. He's coming in on the tube."

She rummaged in her shopping bag. "My niece Deirdre is off to Kent for the holidays and asked me to look after him. I do hope it doesn't rain the entire time he's here," she said, still rummaging. "He's twelve, a nice boy, very bright, though he has the most wretched vocabulary. Everything is either necrotic or apocalyptic. And Deirdre allows him entirely too many sweets."

She continued to dig through the contents of the shopping bag. "I got this for him for Christmas." She hauled up a narrow red-and-green-striped box. "I'd hoped to get the rest of my shopping done before I came here, but it was pouring rain and I can only tolerate that ghastly digital carillon music on the High Street for brief intervals."

She opened the box and folded back the tissue. "I've no idea what twelve-year-old boys are wearing these days, but mufflers are timeless, don't you think, James? James?"

He turned from where he had been staring blindly at the display screens. "What?"

"I said, mufflers are always an appropriate Christmas gift for boys, don't you think?"

He looked at the muffler she was holding up for his inspection. It was of dark gray plaid wool. He would not have been caught dead in it when he was a boy, and that had been fifty years ago. "Yes," he said, and turned back to the thin-glass.

"What is it, James? Is something wrong?"

Latimer picked up a small brass-bound casket, and then looked vaguely around, as if he had forgotten what he intended to do with it. Montoya glanced impatiently at her digital.

"Where's Gilchrist?" Dunworthy said.

"He went through there," Mary said, pointing at a door on the far side of the net. "He orated on Mediaeval's place in history, talked to Kivrin for a bit, the tech ran some tests, and then Gilchrist and Kivrin went through that door. I assume he's still in there with her, getting her ready."

"Getting her ready," Dunworthy muttered.

"James, do come and sit down, and tell me what's wrong," she said, jamming the muffler back in its box and stuffing it into the shopping bag, "and where you've been? I expected you to be here when I arrived. After all, Kivrin's your favorite pupil."

"I was trying to reach the Head of the History Faculty," Dunworthy said, looking at the display screens.

"Basingame? I thought he was off somewhere on Christmas vac."

"He is, and Gilchrist maneuvered to be appointed Acting Head in his absence so he could get the Middle Ages opened to time travel. He rescinded the blanket ranking of ten and arbitrarily assigned rankings to each century. Do you know what he assigned the 1300s? A six. A six! If Basingame had been here, he'd never have allowed it. But the man's nowhere to be found." He looked hopefully at Mary. "You don't know where he is, do you?"

"No," she said. "Somewhere in Scotland, I think."

"Somewhere in Scotland," he said bitterly. "And meanwhile, Gilchrist is sending Kivrin into a century which is clearly a ten, a century which had scrofula and the plague and burned Joan of Arc at the stake."

He looked at Badri, who was speaking into the console's ear now. "You said Badri ran tests. What were they? A coordinates check? A field projection?"

"I don't know." She waved vaguely at the screens, with their constantly changing matrices and columns of figures. "I'm only a doctor, not a net technician. I thought I recognized the technician. He's from Balliol, isn't he?"

Dunworthy nodded. "He's the best tech Balliol has," he said, watching Badri, who was tapping the console's keys one at a time, his eyes on the changing readouts. "All of New College's techs were gone for the vac. Gilchrist was planning to use a first-year apprentice who'd never run a manned drop. A first-year apprentice for a remote! I talked him into using Badri. If I can't stop this drop, at least I can see that it's run by a competent tech."

Badri frowned at the screen, pulled a meter out of his pocket, and started toward the wagon.

"Badri!" Dunworthy called.

Badri gave no indication he'd heard. He walked around the perimeter of the boxes and trunks, looking at the meter. He moved one of the boxes slightly to the left.

"He can't hear you," Mary said.

"Badri!" he shouted. "I need to speak to you."

Mary had stood up. "He can't hear you, James," she said. "The partition's soundproofed."

Badri said something to Latimer, who was still holding the brass-bound casket. Latimer looked bewildered. Badri took the casket from him and set it down on the chalked mark.

Dunworthy looked around for a microphone. He couldn't see one. "How were you able to hear Gilchrist's speech?" he asked Mary.

"Gilchrist pressed a button on the inside there," she said, pointing at a wall panel next to the net.

Badri had sat down in front of the console again and was speaking into the ear. The net shields began to lower into place. Badri said something else, and they rose to where they'd been.

"I told Badri to recheck everything, the net, the apprentice's calculations, everything," he said, "and to abort the drop immediately if he found any errors, no matter what Gilchrist said."

"But surely Gilchrist wouldn't jeopardize Kivrin's safety," Mary protested. "He told me he'd taken every precaution—"

"Every precaution! He hasn't run recon tests or parameter checks. We did two years of unmanneds in Twentieth Century before we sent anyone through. He hasn't done any. Badri told him he should delay the drop until he could do at least one, and instead he moved the drop up two days. The man's a complete incompetent."

"But he explained why the drop had to be today," Mary said. "In his speech. He said the contemps in the 1300s paid no attention to dates, except planting and harvesting times and church holy days. He said the concentration of holy days was greatest around Christmas, and that was why Mediaeval had decided to send Kivrin now, so she could use the Advent holy days to determine her temporal location and ensure her being at the drop site on the twenty-eighth of December."

"His sending her now has nothing to do with Advent or holy days," he said, watching Badri. He was back to tapping one key at a time and frowning. "He could send her next week and use Epiphany for the rendezvous date. He could run unmanneds for six months and then send her lapse-time. Gilchrist is sending her now because Basingame's off on holiday and isn't here to stop him."

"Oh, dear," Mary said. "I rather thought he was rushing it myself When I told him how long I needed Kivrin in Infirmary, he tried to talk me out of it. I had to explain that her inoculations needed time to take effect."

"A rendezvous on the twenty-eighth of December," Dunworthy said bitterly. "Do you realize what holy day that is? The Feast of the Slaughter of the Innocents. Which, in light of how this drop is being run, may be entirely appropriate."

"Why can't you stop it?" Mary said. "You can forbid Kivrin to go, can't you? You're her tutor."

"No," he said. "I'm not. She's a student at Brasenose. Latimer's her tutor." He waved his hand in the direction of Latimer, who had picked up the brass-bound casket again and was peering absentmindedly into it. "She came to Balliol and asked me to tutor her unofficially."

He turned and stared blindly at the thin-glass. "I told her then that she couldn't go."

Oxford Time Travel Series

Doomsday Book
To Say Nothing of the Dog
All Clear

About the Author

Connie Willis
Connie Willis is a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and a Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. She has received seven Nebula awards and eleven Hugo awards for her fiction; Blackout and All Clear—a novel in two parts—and Doomsday Book won both. Her other works include Passage, Lincoln’s Dreams, Bellwether, Impossible Things, Remake, Uncharted Territory, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Fire Watch, and Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. Connie Willis lives in Colorado with her family, where she deals with the delights (and the more maddening aspects) of our modern oh-so-connected world on a daily basis. More by Connie Willis
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