The Best of Connie Willis
The premise of this book, which is a little contrived and arbitrary–an idea that even Connie Willis discusses in the intro–, is these are all the award-winning stories Connie Willis wrote over the years. The issue of course is that these traverse many years, many time periods, many themes, and don’t necessarily have a lot in common. And at their worst, we sometimes get somewhat retreaded material from different parts of her life.
A Letter from the Clearys
In this story, we have an after the apocalypse story where a young girl slowly revealing information about what has befallen the world finds an old letter from her family friends. This is upsetting because in a world of mass death and destruction some people are automatically trying to move forward with the new world while others are still looking for clarity on the past.
At the Rialto
One of the ideas/settings that Willis returns to in her stories is the academic conference. In this story, there’s a lot of various kinds of chaos going on at Quantum Physics conference held right on the edge of Hollywood. The various figures work together to accidentally look for a working paradigm for this scientific cosmology.
Death on the Nile
A group of couples are on a plane headed for Egypt. As the plane lands and they start exploring Cairo, it becomes increasingly clear through a set of coincidences and clues that they might have died at some point in the journey.
The Soul Selects her own Journey
Written as a literary criticism article, this story poses through radical interpretation and a bevy of fabricated sources that Emily Dickinson fought off aliens. The story seems to stem from an annoyance to overanalyze Dickinson’s biography looking for a key to her poems, instead of just looking at the poems.
I think this is the first of the Oxford Time Travel books. This novella is about a history major at Oxford in the far future sent back to be on fire watch at St Paul’s cathedral during the blitz. The idea is that he live in the past and report back. He begins to become frustrated in the assignment because he can’t tell if his focus is the building itself or the people and whether or not he has any ability to change the future. I do like time travel paradoxes. This is the “best” in the collection in terms of the writing and the idea. I think it’s also the most pleasant to read.
This is about a hoax debunker who finds a spirit channeler who seems to be channeling the spirit of HL Mencken. Presents a number of paradoxes in terms of proving versus not proving the story false. I found this one to be kind of bad. The HL Mencken parts of this are all too on the nose and basically is like a rational thinking masturbatory fantasy.
Even the Queen
I barely remember anything about this story.
The Winds of the Marble Arch
Again we return to an academic conference, this time in London. In this story the lead is trying to figure out why he keeps experiencing a strange wind phenomenon in the tube stations that had been hit by bombs and sheltered Londoners during the blitz. In the midst of all this is also a wife trying to determine if her husband is cheating on her. It sort of combines the different mysteries in a way to show that secrets are secrets secrets.
All Seated on the Ground
An alien invasion in which we as a society have to figure out the purpose, the motives, and the communications of an alien envoy. It feels like Arrival written by a church choir director, and it almost literally is this.
The Last of the Winnebagos
Not as silly as the title sounds. This is a cynical story about the future of the world in which animal species are dying out and the lengths we go to to protect them, even at the cost of human lives.