This is a flying post about the Connie Willis duology, Blackout and All Clear. I loved these books and I meant to write an unhasty post about them, but they are overdue at the library and I should go to bed. This is a hopelessly spoiler-y post; consider yourself warned. So:
One of the things I liked best about these books is the way they shake up preconceptions. I don't know why I had it in my head that Christians don't write science fiction (C.S. Lewis and the space trilogy notwithstanding), but that was an ironclad rule in my brain. And so the creeping intimation that the time travelers are acting in cooperation with something bigger than themselves struck me like a glorious sunrise. This was the big surprise for me, but it is echoed by many smaller surprises. The Hodbins made me laugh and laugh and laugh -- the snake? in the hospital? -- and then they made me cry. You think that you know what the Hodbins are -- and then, in the end, you see that Binny named herself Eileen and earned the nickname Goody Two-Shoes. We don't quite know if it was a nickname given in jest or if she actually turned into a rule-follower under Eileen's influence, but we see what love can do.
Oh my goodness, do we see what love can do. I was moved to tears more than once by Eileen's willingness to stay, to embrace a cross that initially she could not wait to escape (for good reason!), and to die a preventable death for the sake of love and duty. I love the resolute hopefulness of the books, the way that the languorous (and annoying!) Lady Caroline could turn into the Major in the wake of tragedy. I love the picture they paint of the importance of persistence; I am thinking of Colin searching patiently for years and years.
I think my favorite part, though, was the non-sappy way that Willis steers the reader toward the certainty that we can do good work wherever (and whenever) we are: the crescendo-ing conviction that kindness and courage and willingness to "do your bit" can always change the world for the better.
EDITED TO ADD: Willis doesn't put these ideas forward in a heavy-handed or saccharine way. I feel confident that someone with a very different worldview could enjoy these books every bit as much as I did.