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To Say Nothing of the Dog
Connie Willis
Bantam Spectra Books, 493 pages

Art: Eric Dinyer
To Say Nothing of the Dog
Connie Willis
Connie Willis was born in 1945 in Denver, Colorado. 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". 

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SF Site Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog
SF Site Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Thomas Myer

Some would say, and have said, that Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog is an homage to Jerome K. Jerome's comedic tour-de-force Three Men in a Boat. This is so enormously obvious to anyone who has read Jerome's book. So let's drag out all the superficial resemblances and look at 'em again. 

Not only is Willis's title derived from Jerome's work, but her novel also concerns the humorous meanderings of three men in a boat on the Thames. Ned Henry (the time-traveling protagonist) both refers to and reenacts incidents from Jerome's novel. On a thematic level, the two novels are also very similar -- a character or group of characters in search of some leisure time find everything but. 

On the edges and in the deep background of this narrative, however, lies  a ripping good SF yarn: In the 21st century, Lady Schrapnell is trying to rebuild Coventry Cathedral, down to the last detail, including a horrid little item known as the Bishop's bird stump. To this effect, she employs every single time traveler she can cajole into going back in time to take notes on every mind-numbing detail about the cathedral before it was destroyed in World War II. 

Too many jumps back to the past for Ned Henry causes extreme time-lag (which is like jet-lag, but much much worse), and he is sent back to Victorian England to recuperate. But he must set something aright -- another time traveler has accidentally brought an object from the past to the 21st century (something that should be impossible), but Ned is too time-lagged to remember what it is he needs to do in order to fix things. 

As the plot chases down the streets of Victorian Oxford and down the Thames, Ned collects a gaggle of hilarious characters as he  tries to set things straight, predictably -- but excitingly -- bungling about as many things as he gets right. In the background of the narrative, the entire time-space continuum is at risk, of course, threatening the end of everything as we know it. 

The story, though heavily dependent on Jerome K. Jerome's novel, is brilliantly executed. Only Connie Willis could pull off such a derivative work and make it hum. Her use of humor is spot on. The scenes in which Ned Henry suffers from time-lag are side-splitting; you can't help but laugh at someone else's afflictions. This novel is a primary shining example of what SF ought to be: spry, enjoyable, meaningful, and with tongue planted firmly in cheek. 

Although some out there don't like derivative works, reading this book will make you go out and pick up Jerome's novel, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas Myer

Thomas Myer is a technical writer for Cisco Systems, Inc. If you send him e-mail, he'll argue with you for free.

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