I have not been reading nearly enough fiction lately. Doomsday Book was recommended by a friend a year or two ago. It came out nearly 30 years ago while I was in college and in an era where I was not reading a lot of science fiction.
Kivrin is a young ‘historian’ at Oxford. Historians go back in time to study a particular historical period. Most historians go back a couple of centuries because the further back, the more unpredictable the exact time you are being sent becomes. There is a problem with ‘drift,’ and you can be hours or days or weeks off your predicted location, impacting your retrieval. Part of the science of time travel is that the system prevents you from impacting future history and creating paradoxes.
Kivrin is interested in the Midevil era. Her mentor, Mr. Dunworthy, does not like the idea of sending her to the Midevil era, not because she is unprepared or just because she is a woman in an era that was not kind to women, but because the department that oversees Midevil historians is incompetent. Problems happen.
What I did not know going into this book, and might matter for those that are picking it up now, is that this is a book that is largely concerned with pandemics (a modern one for those that are not time traveling and the ancient ones that occurred during the Black death era.) There is a lot of death and concern about the role of God and people during those deaths. Doomsday Book is not a Christian fiction book, but it (like a lot of SciFi) is theologically interested in the problem of evil.
It is always interesting to see how older SciFi predicted the future. This was written in the early 1990s. It assumes video phones, but there is no mobile phone system. And part of the problem that is happening on the modern side of the story is the inability to track down people that don’t answer their landline phones. Something that is really inconceivable today. There are advanced computers, but no ability to email or remotely read the data from those computers, also inconceivable in an era where people are mostly working remotely.
Doomsday Book is well written and engaging, and I will read future books. But it also has some frustrating plot lines and is nearly 600 pages long. It could have been trimmed a bit. But the ethical and theological content and the engaging look at a severe pandemic made it well worth reading.