In general I strongly dislike time-travel stories with their
attendant implausibilities, but sometimes they have other qualities which
redeem them. Doomsday Book is set in 2054, when time travel is run of
the mill but everything else is, rather implausibly, pretty much like the
present. The only real exception is a random collection of tech gadgets such as
video phones and laser candles. Kivrin, a female undergraduate history student
at Oxford, is
to be the first person sent back to the Middle Ages (to 1320), because ? wait
for it! ? No qualified historian is available. Everything goes wrong with the
mission ? the bungling incompetence of the academics organizing it is,
unfortunately, quite plausible ? and she is delivered instead to 1348, the year
the Black Plague reached England.
Meanwhile a flu epidemic has hit 2054, and Oxford is quarantined. The bulk of the book
consists of parallel accounts of the two epidemics and this is worked out much
better than the time-travel setup.
Despite the weaknesses in the science and the implausible 2054 Oxford, I enjoyed Doomsday
Book a lot. I much prefer well-written books with lousy science to
engineering manuals dressed up as novels. I''m not sure it deserved its Hugo and
Nebula award double, but Doomsday Book is definitely worth a read,
especially if you are interested in epidemiology (used to produce a rather
clever detective problem) or medieval English history.