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Doomsday Book is a Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel by Connie Willis.

Like To Say Nothing of the Dog, the short story Fire Watch, and the duology Blackout / All Clear, Doomsday Book is set in a future version of Oxford where time-travel has become possible, but is used mostly by historians. Kivrin Engle, who studies medieval history, convinces history professor Dunworthy to send her back to the 14th century. Unfortunately, something goes (very) wrong, and Kivrin finds herself in the middle of the 1348 Black Death epidemic. Meanwhile, an equally severe influenza epidemic ravages Oxford, preventing Dunworthy from rescuing Kivrin from the Middle Ages.


Tropes:

  • Apocalypse How - Historically, the Black Death was Continental/Societal Disruption, but to the people of the small villages of Oxfordshire, it is essentially Regional/Extinction.
  • Bolivian Army Ending - The reader never does find out what happened to many of the off-screen contemps.
  • The Casanova - William Gaddson in the future, who is apparently irresistible to anyone he puts his mind to. Gawyn tries for this in the past but doesn't pull it off so successfully.
  • Chekhov's Gun - So, so, so many. Willis spends pretty well the first half of the novel setting them up, under the guise of world building. A few examples: Agnes casually mentioning that someone died of 'the blue sickness', which Kivrin takes to mean suffocation, but is actually the contemporary name for the plague; Badri mumbling "backup", which Dunworthy thinks means he wants space but actually means he backed-up Kivrin's coordinates, so they can retrieve her from the past; the dig site where Kivrin was preparing for the jump, which is where the flu comes from; the bell-ringers, who are a minor annoyance for most of the novel, but whose advice on bell-ringing becomes useful when Dunworthy has to ring for the dead...
  • Corrupt Church / Saintly Church - On the one hand, you have the three priests who infect the town with plague, and various lay characters who misuse religion to belittle and condemn people; on the other hand, you have Father Roche.
  • Courtly Love - played straight and subverted. Gawyn is very much in love with his lord's wife in the best courtly tradition, but on the other hand he's not above banging her servant girl in the stable when the opportunity arises.
  • Easy Amnesia - Kivrin's excuse for not knowing her past once she realizes the backstory she'd concocted would fall apart too easily under scrutiny. The fact that she'd spent the preceding few days with a head wound, raving unintelligibly, helps quite a bit.
  • Eternal English: Averted.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave - All the towns in the area in the Middle Ages. All of them. Dunworthy and Colin stumble upon one where corpses filled the street... At least in Kivrin's village, everyone got buried.
  • Excellent Adventure - Well, that's the plan, anyway...
  • Dead Person Impersonation - Dunworthy gets out of the hospital because Colin forged a note signed by the dead Dr. Ahrens.
  • Face of a Thug - Father Roche actually scares Kivrin when she sees his face.
  • Good Shepherd - Roche.
  • Ironic Echo - Several - "The Middle Ages are a ten", "backup"...
  • It Got Worse - The lingering, awful death of the clerk who brought the plague, and the inexorable list of names that Kivrin records as they die.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient - Like Willis would really kill off the adorable Agnes and Rosamund. SHE WOULD.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane - An interesting case. Kivrin believes her landing during the Black Death is a fluke, but Roche believes she is an angel sent to help them in their time of need. Since the POV is from Kivrin, and we know she's not an angel, it's a bit more clear-cut, but still. The net works in mysterious ways.
  • Medieval Morons - Referenced and averted. The actual contemps are pretty normal people, but in the future Dunworthy and Gilchrist have a pretty low opinion of them. In Dunworthy's case it's just his anxiety over the expedition expressing itself; in Gilchrist's case it's... well, because he's the moron.
  • The Middle Ages - Specifically The Late Middle Ages, with emphasis placed on the subtle differences between decades and centuries.
  • Mistaken Identity - Kivrin spends much of the novel trying to get the knight who saw her come through the drop to show her where it is. It wasn't the knight at all-- it was Roche.
  • Oxbridge - Set in Oxford.
  • Parental Substitute - Dunworthy, who is Kivrin's tutor.
  • The Plague - Both the Black Death, and influenza.
  • Plot Parallel - The pandemics in both times.
  • Tear Jerker - This book gets very sad, very suddenly.
  • Technology Marches On - Dunworthy's Neuromancer-esque quest for a land line looks rather strange in retrospect, and Brasenose's computer has a "moat" rather than a firewall.
  • Television Geography - The depiction of Oxford is generally very good, but there are a lot of oddities for anyone who knows the city - for example, the bizarre claim that the distance from Balliol to the Bodleian library could be described as "four blocks".
  • Time Travel - "The Net," a system used to send people into the past, and can pick them up, if they're in the right place.
  • Time Travellers Are Spies - One character tries this on Kivrin, although nobody else takes it very seriously (and Roche thinks she's actually St Catherine of Alexandria instead).
  • Translator Microbes - Used to translate medieval English. Played with in that they don't work very well until they get enough language samples to work with, so Kivrin doesn't understand the contemps until a few days after she arrives (being half-conscious doesn't help).
  • Two Decades Behind - The portrayal of Oxford in 2055 is oddly stuck in the 1970s: the characters use pound notes (removed from circulation in the 80s), try to make "trunk calls" on a telephone system that is improbably overloaded, and the colleges seem to have no central heating, modern conveniences, or administrative staff.
  • Unexpected Successor - Implied when the characters mention watching the Queen's Christmas Message in 2055.
  • Ye Goode Olde Days / The Dung Ages - Averted: Kivrin takes a while to adjust to the idea that the Middle Ages are neither - both better and worse than she might have expected.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe - Averted; the Middle English is all correct, with the interesting twist that, despite studying it, Kivrin finds she can't understand the contemps because 2055's understanding of the pronunciation is wrong.
  • You Are in Command Now - Kivrin has to take care of a plague-stricken village (with help from Father Roche, ( until he dies).
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