To Say Nothing of the Dog

Posted by : atcampbell | On : March 2, 1999

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

The most recent novel by Connie Willis drew a sizable crowd. Seven people attended the discussion in person, and two others submitted comments by e-mail. The book in question is a time travel novel with the same basic setup as Willis’s Hugo-winning Doomsday Book. This time, a time-traveling historian is sent back to Victorian England. He was so tired at the onset that he never clearly understood his mission, so he spends much of the book trying to figure out what he’s supposed to do. Along the way, he stumbles into a series of humorous romantic adventures reminiscent of the works of P. G. Wodehouse, Jerome K. Jerome, and Dorothy L. Sayers.

Several members of our group loved this book so much that they were ready to award Ms. Willis the 1999 Hugo before the votes are even cast. The writing style was generally deemed technically excellent, and the characters were quite human and well depicted. Many reported laughing out loud while reading the book. Those who’d previously read turn-of-the-century British comedy particularly enjoyed the many references to famous works like Three Men in a Boat.

A few did not find the book as successful. One person who did not like Victorian comedies in general felt that this book had “too many words” and that it should be labeled “Warning: British Humor.” Another person who liked British humor felt that this book’s attempts at comedy fell short of the brilliance of Wodehouse et al, and made him want to set this book down so that he could reread The Code of the Woosters.

Once again, Ms. Willis has delivered a noteworthy SF novel. We may have disagreed about how much we liked it, but it made for a lively discussion.

— A. T. Campbell, III