Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
To Say Nothing of the Dog
Connie Willis
Bantam Spectra Books, 434 pages

To Say Nothing of the Dog
Connie Willis
Connie Willis was born in 1945 in Denver, CO. Her first SF publication was "The Secret of Santa Titicaca" published in Worlds of Fantasy, the Winter 1970-71 issue. For her first novel, she collaborated with Cynthia Felice on Water Witch. She has won Hugo and Nebula Awards for Fire Watch, "The Last of the Winnebagos", Doomsday Book and "Even the Queen" A Hugo Award for "Death on the Nile" and Nebula Awards for "A Letter for the Clearys" and "At the Rialto".

ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Before beginning this review of Connie Willis' latest novel, To Say Nothing of the Dog, I would like to give a little background information. In addition to reading science fiction, I am a trained medieval historian. A few years ago, when Willis' novel Doomsday Book was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula and received rave reviews, I attempted to read it, several times. Suffice it to say that I found Willis' future Oxford to be completely unbelievable, even when I tried to read it as a comedy. I felt her knowledge of the medieval period to be anachronistic in its depiction, although not necessarily in ways I could point a finger at, especially at this late date. In the current (Winter 1998) issue of the SFWA Bulletin, Willis mentions that before writing Doomsday Book she had no knowledge of the period. Although other readers and reviewers seem to think she presents the period well, I'm still of the opinion that her research did not come across as accurate. When I made the decision to try reading To Say Nothing of the Dog, I was a little concerned, but because I have less detailed knowledge of the Victorian period than of the medieval one, I hoped I would be able to enjoy it on a more basic level.

What To Say Nothing of the Dog did was highlight one of the problems I noticed in Doomsday Book but couldn't put my finger on. In both books, the main characters are, ostensibly, historians. However, none of the characters, whether it is Kivrin from Doomsday Book, or Ned Henry and Verity Kindle from To Say Nothing of the Dog think like historians. Nor do they seem to know anything about history beyond what they learn after they leap into the past. The historical arguments Willis portrays in To Say Nothing of the Dog, most notably Peddick's debate with Overforce over whether history is the result of grand forces or individuals, is extremely watered down and none of Willis' twenty-first century historians involve themselves in the debate or even bring any advanced arguments to the topic when listening to the nineteenth-century Oxford dons argue.

The novel, as indicated by the subtitle, has a loose plot as the time travelers search for an artifact known as the "Bishop's bird stump." However, little progress is made in the search, and the nature of the bird stump is never clearly understood. The scavenger hunt never really grips the reader.

In her earlier novel, Willis inflicted her modern Oxfordians with a plague to get them to behave irrationally which, in turn, permitted them to act in a manner consistent with the plot. Here, in To Say Nothing of the Dog, Willis vests Ned Henry with time-lag, a sort of version of jet-lag, and nearly everyone else with an almost unnatural fear and loathing of Lady Schrapnell. Her project to restore Coventry Cathedral is the catalyst for all the action in the novel.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is heavily based on Jerome K. Jerome's classic novel Three Men in a Boat (1889). Instead of being subtle about her novel's lineage, Willis uses the Victorian novel's sub-title as her title, mentions the novel in the dedication, and has Ned Henry, who seems to know about as much about Victorian literature as he does about any history, often quote Jerome's novel. It causes the reader to wonder why he has so much of the work memorized.

I have read several stories by Connie Willis which I have enjoyed. However, these have all been short stories or novellas. At longer lengths, based on the three Willis novels I've read, I'm afraid I subscribe to the minority opinion that her work is vastly overrated. While I'm sure To Say Nothing of the Dog will sell well and may even garner Willis another Hugo or Nebula, it is another Willis book which adds to my opinion that she should stick with short fiction and stay away from time travel.

Copyright © 1998 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide