Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Stuff of Nightmares

I can't remember when I first heard of Connie Willis.  She's been famous for a long time, regularly being nominated for and winning all the major SF awards since the early 1980s.  For a long time, I kept a paperback copy of her 1998 novel Bellweather in a small cache of books at my father's house so I would always have something good to read if I came to visit without any or enough books.  I started paying closer attention to her again in 2010/11 when her books Blackout and All Clear were garnering loads of attention and prizes.  That is when I decided to read her 1992 novel Doomsday Book, the story of time-traveling Oxford historians who end up stuck in the 14th century at the time of the Black Death.   

I don't know why but even thought Doomsday Book won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, it has long only been available in the US as a mass market paperback.  If ever a writer deserves a nice uniform set of trade paperbacks, Willis does.

The mass market version of Doomsday Book is hard to read.  Tiny type, densely packed pages.  (Note:  My eyes are fine.  I do not need reading glasses.)  And her style is such that I often find myself flipping back though pages looking for names or references and the tiny type of this book was driving me out of my mind.  (Note:  I tried a e-book version that was easier to read but even more annoying to flip through.)  I searched for a hardcover copy but the book does not seem to have been reprinted.  I managed to find a used book club hardcover and I thought that was a clever move on my part.

Wrong.  The book club edition has a terrible font (the name of which is not listed and I am not enough of a font geek to be able to identify it) and small type.  And it has typos, too.  Which makes it even more annoying to read than the mass market paperback.  I think I have read the first 150 pages four or five times.  (The side effect of which is that the book, along with The Walking Dead comic, keeps getting mashed up into nightmares.  A recurring dream where I have gone back to medical school in Chicago and am volunteered to be sent back in time - via a hospital elevator - to prevent the start of a zombie apocalypse that starts on the University of Chicago campus.  My mission never goes well.)

Last week I found a paperback copy of Willis's 2002 novel Passage.  Though it is a thick mass market paperback, it is easily readable.  And it brought up memories of my ongoing failure of being able to read Doomsday Book.  So I started my search all over again and this time, I found a beautiful, chunky Australian edition of the book.  With clear type.  Very readable. Thank you Allen & Unwin.  I am so happy.

But I am worried that the nightmares are going to start again.