Fire Watch
Connie Willis

Cover This is rather a long review as Fire Watch is a collection of short stories. Itís impossible to give an overall review of the whole book as the stories are completely separate and individual. Iíve given the collection four stars, as there is only one story in it I didnít really like, and Iíve then given a brief reviews of each story. Holistically this is a damn good collection. Now the individual stories...


Fire Watch. (1983 Hugo Award winner, 1982 Nebula Award winner)

This story shows the true viciousness of university professors to their pupils. And this statement really has nothing to do with the story. The story is about the people who worked to stop St Paul's cathedral being destroyed during the Blitz in World War II. The story is told in the form of a diary of a history student who has been sent back to study St Paul's.. The student is totally unprepared for it as he thought h was being sent to study St Paul. At the start of the story he is most upset to find out about the 's, particularly when he finds there is no way his destination is going to be changed to what he had prepared for.

Connie tells the story with such detail and conviction I could believe she served in the watch at St Paul's during the war. Whilst the detail is incredible and beautifully written it is not the main point of the story. What happens to the student on his return to the future is the true tale, but his experiences at St Paul's are essential to understanding his return. This is a four star story.

Service for the Burial of the Dead.

Three star story.. Why? There's nothing inherently wrong with it and it's written with Connie's usual finesse. It is, however, a ghost story and I just can't get excited about them, even superbly written ones.

The story is set in the mid to late 1800's, I think. It's definitely pre automobile, but no absolute date is given. Anne is the viewpoint character. She loves a cad called Elliot who was engaged to Victoria. The story starts at Elliot's first funeral. The characters are expertly defined. I felt sorry for both Victoria and Anne at the end. The setting is convincing. The buildings, landscapes and actions of the characters were right for the period the story is set in. All in all a very well written story. If you like period ghost stories you'll love this one.

Lost and Found

Four stars. A sad indictment of modern society where neither church or state has the answer. Finney is a reporter looking at cults from the inside, a near fatal experience. Mrs Andover is searching for something in St John's church. Megan is an eighteen year old child, whose simplicity has a far greater grip on life then most other people. The Reverend Davidson never appears, but his presence is never far away. To say anything more would give the story away.

This is a beautifully written story, entirely told from Finney's point of view. The 3 principle characters, Finney, Mrs Andover and Megan, are vastly different characters. If any of them were not exactly who they are the story wouldn't work. They are the trinity that gives the story purpose.

All My Darling Daughters

This is quite an amazingly weird story. Octavia is boarding at a college in L5 orbit. Or to use the vernacular Connie has invented for this story. Tavvy is stuck in scutty Hell 5.

The story initially seems to be about the trials and tribulations of a college girl in the indeterminate future. The story is much deeper than that. It builds slowly and starts becoming very weird near the middle. The end puts all the weirdness into perspective in a surprising way. I can't say why or how it's surprising as that would ruin the story.

The only problem I had with it was the occasional use of 'fuck', and its derivations. It's use was inconsistent with the general speech and thought patterns Connie had developed for Octavia. This was particularly noticeable as there was a contextual parallel for the use of 'fuck', that being 'jiggin'' and 'bonin'' and such. They are used for both sexual intercourse and as an exclamation.

I'd give the story four stars for it's ribald nature and its poignant conclusion, but tending towards three because of the 'fuck', which stands out unconvincingly.

The Father of the Bride

This story is the epilogue to 'Sleeping Beauty', not to a particular version but to the tale in general. I can't say anything more than this without giving away the story as it is very short. It's a nice idea, but I found it a little bland. The father was a bit diffuse and underdeveloped, but his wife was fun and believable. I can only give this story three stars. It's quick and entertaining, but not memorable.

A Letter from the Clearyís (1982 Nebula winner)

In the intro to this story Connie says that the best stories are the ones which continue to add new twits right to the end. Iíve severely paraphrased, but have got the gist (I hope). She sets out to do precisely this in the story, and succeeds. Even the very last paragraph adds a new dimension to Lynn, the main character. The story starts with Lynn walking home from the post office, itís getting dark and itís winter. A fairly average mundane start, but by the end of the story this start will have an entirely new image, even though theyíre the same words.

This story gets four stars for sheer brilliance of construction. Some of what I predicted would happen didnít and other things happened that I didnít expect. But everything that occurs seems inevitable once youíve read it.

The story itself, once you know it all, isnít that startling or new. If Connie had coupled the masterful construction of this story with the intelligence and innovation of some of her other ideas Iíd have given it five stars. This story is brilliant for those who have an interest in writing, and damn good for those who just like to read.

And Come from Miles Around

There's a total eclipse and everyone has come to see it. Including Meg, Rich, Paulos and Laynie. Whilst the boys are playing with their cameras and other equipment Meg has been given the task of looking after young Laynie. Lifesavers live up to their name in emergency situations. As the eclipse nears the weather turns cloudy and everyone starts thinking about moving to somewhere else. Meg's 'woman's intuition' (Connieís words, not mine) tells them to stay where they are. that the weather will clear up in time for the eclipse.

This story is a humorous look at what happens when every one is paying close attention, but paying close attention to the wrong thing. Only Meg ever knows realises what is going on

Parts of the story are beautifully understated. Laynie is one. She is primarily the distraction that allows Meg to see what is really going on, but Laynie also has some classic moments. The one that really sticks in my mind involves the catsup bottle and the phrase, "Ick."

The geekiness of scientists is also expertly captured by five pens and a calculator in the persons breast pocket.

Definitely a four star story.

The Sidon in the Mirror (1984 Hugo award nominee, 1983 Nebula award nominee)

Drilling for gas on the surface of a dying sun with a highly flammable atmosphere. This is one of the most fascinating and bizarre settings I've read. It doesn't have anything to do with the plot, the story could be set anywhere, but this unique setting adds to the stories memorability.

Ruby is a Mirror hired as a pianoboard player for the 'Abbey' of St Pierre. Mirrors copy people, they can't help themselves, it's what they are. Their bodies will start to mimic someone no matter what they try to do. Needless to say this causes a lot of problems. But given the backgrounds of the other characters the problems are much greater than you first think.

In her introduction to this story Connie says she finds this sort of absolute involuntary mimicry terrifying. I don't know whether Connie was trying to illustrate what she sees as terrifying in this story, but I didn't find it frightening. The nature of the Mirrors and the plot of this story I found to be tragic. If the characters could have seen into the future they could have avoided things, but the situation Connie sets up makes everything inevitable.

This is a five star story everyone should read. The setting, characters, plot and writing are all superb.

Daisy, in the Sun (1979 Hugo Award nominee)

Two stars only. Far too weird. Even at the end I wasnít absolutely sure what the story was about.

Daisy is a girl going through puberty and who loves the sun. Thatís about as much as Iím certain of. Everything else is half real and half surreal. Blue lounge rooms change into train carriages. People are milling about without seeing each other. At the end it begins to get some form and definition as memories crystallise, but then it swerves off into la la land again. Itís very well written and has some fascinating ideas, but doesnít quite come together for me.

Mail-Order Clone

Once a moron, always a moron. Can't really go into to much detail about this story. It's fairly short and almost anything I say is likely to give away the plot. I can say that the main character isn't to bright. He's married to Marjeen, who is a little loose. And he sends away for a mail-order clone, who turns up.

It's a very amusing story that says a lot about the mail order system. I found the style of writing a little grating. The style is used effectively to enhance characterisation, but I didn't find it enjoyable to read. Three stars.

Samaritan

Four star. Would have been five stars except for the page and a bit giving the history of how and why the churches became amalgamated. It was unnecessary to the enjoyment of the story. It was obvious that the various denominations had unified from the context of various references and some of the conversations. Why they became unified wasn't relevant to this story.

The story is about the Reverend Will Hoyt, his assistant pastor the Reverend Natalie Abrue and the orang-utan Esau. Natalie is a fervent idealist fresh from a seminary. Esau wants to be baptised and Natalie is encouraging him. Will has to decide whether Esau knows and understands what a baptism means or whether he is just going through the motions to keep Natalie happy.

As you can expect a lot of people have something to say on whether or not Esau can be baptised. A very good story I highly recommend, just skip a bit when you get to the potted history of the newest Reformation.

Blued Moon (1985 Hugo award nominee)

The best is last. Five stars no question. The book is worth buying just to read this story.

The main character is probably Ulric Henry though there are a dozen characters of almost equal prominence all of whose viewpoints we get to read. They are Mr Mowen and his daughter Sally. Brad McAfee and his fianceeís Jill, Sue, Lynn and Gail (This is no joke).

I wonít go into any more detail. Once you mention one thing you have to mention five other to put the first into context and before you know it Iíve revealed the whole story.

This is one of the most complicated, convoluted and hilariously funny stories Iíve ever read. And hilights the hazards of interfering with the environment.

I urge everyone to read this story at least once.