To Say Nothing of the Dog

Very few sci-fi books are set in Victorian England, and for good reason. There’s usually a shocking lack of advanced technology there, for example. Or ideas about the future of mankind. Or time travel. (yes, that last one is key)

Connie Willis, however, takes us on a hilarious…well, it can only be called a romp through time, spending most of the book in Victorian England, in her great sci-fi novel To Say Nothing of the Dog. I can’t believe it took me this long to discover this book, and I’m writing this with the primary objective to make sure you don’t make the same mistake.

Connie Willis writes two very different kinds of sci-fi – dark and comedic. This book is in the latter category, but she also wrote another novel set in the same universe that explores the darker side if that’s more to your taste. (Doomsday Book) In her created universe time travel is an established, safe thing, almost to the point of being boring, and only historians bother with it at all nowadays. A device called the Net keeps any paradoxes from happening, and in particular keeps objects from being taken out of the past and therefore changing the timeline.

Until, of course, something goes wrong.

The book talks a lot about religion (which is practically outdated in the future) without beating you over the head with the author’s ideas, and it comes to some interesting and surprising conclusions which I really enjoyed thinking about. It also brings up some interesting commentary on women and their relationship to culture through the years, especially regarding education versus intelligence, and sex versus marriage. All of this is subtle enough, however, that if you’re just wanting to run through a great funny book, you can do so happily here.

If you’re an animal lover, you’ll enjoy the book even more (though don’t let that deter you if you aren’t), and if you love both physical humor and witty wordplay this book has something for you. There’s also a reference to a book called Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), which is where this novel got it’s title and a number of jokes, so if you enjoy actual Victorian novels you may want to check that out as well. (I just bought the Kindle version for my iPhone – for 80 cents.)

I can’t say too much more about the plot without spoiling things, so let me just end with this: Connie Willis is one of those authors that every geek should know, and this is one of those sci-fi books that every geek should read. We’ll all love it for different reasons. I give it 5 stars and probably a re-read in the near future.

All right, I suppose if you hate humorous sci-fi you might not like it, in which case go read Doomsday Book instead. There, all bases covered.

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