I've been reading Connie Willis for over twenty years now, in a somewhat haphazard way. I've come away with an impression of low-key, well-written work that doesn't particularly stand out. When I saw this collection, I took the opportunity to add Willis to my ebook collection and revisit some old stories.
I'm sorry to say that the passage of time hasn't given me cause to change my opinion. In her introduction, Willis notes a fan complaining that she uses 'tricks' to write well. I have no concerns about a writer consciously assembling the elements of a story rather than writing it organically. However, I don't want the story to feel constructed. Several of Willis' stories fail that test.
Willis' low-key approach is similar to Clifford Simak's, except more urban, and even more focused on day-to-day minutiae. In many of these stories, however, she stays a bit too low key. Similarly, she has a nice, dry sense of humor, but it doesn't come out as often as it might. Many of the stories feel like they could have worked just as well or better at half the length. World War II and religion figure strongly in the collection.
All in all, a generous collection of good, never bad, but not always great stories. Some of the standouts:
- Blue moon - unusual occurrences in winter. In some ways slight and predictable, the story is also very funny. This one is about the journey, not the destination.
- Fire watch - one of the could-have-been shorter group, Willis has nonetheless accomplished the unusual feat of an effective story involving time travel.
- All my darling daughters - a horrifying story about sex. While the invented slang doesn't quite come off, the concept and the mood work perfectly.
- Inn - a very effective, if slightly unexplained, story about Christmas.
- The Last of the Winnebagos - a moving story about endings. While there is an assembled feel to it, it all works beautifully.
- Chance - a woman revisits the choices of her youth. A perfectly balanced and presented mix of fact, memory, and illusion that never loses its place.
- Epiphany - another religious story that works nicely thanks to its understated, everyday characters and careful layers of allegory.