Book Review: The Best Of Connie Willis

Lisa Barrow
3 min read
Listen to that Voice
Share ::
Some SF writers keep their voices subdued. They disappear behind vocabulary and techniques, letting the layers of plot and prose build up to towering heights of art. It’s certainly not a bad way to do it—think Ray Bradbury or Frank Herbert or J.R.R. Tolkien.

But that’s just not Connie Willis’ style. Not in her short stories, at least. Willis prefers the voices in her fiction to leap off the page and sink their thumbs into your windpipe. And afterwards, maybe they’ll rattle you around a little for good measure. Whether her protagonist is a time-traveling historian, a petulant teenager in a post-apocalyptic suburb or a wife contemplating murder, Willis writes with a degree of verve and personality that worms directly into the reader’s ear.

As a lover of speculative fiction, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories is crammed with interesting tales well told, nearly-instant classics deemed worthy of the Hugo or the Nebula—or the Hugo and the Nebula, in some cases—that are, more than anything, a lot of fun to read.

That doesn’t mean they’re simple-minded. “At the Rialto,” for example, pits scientists at a conference on quantum theory against a world apparently governed by non-Newtonian logic. The harder Dr. Ruth Baringer tries to obtain the key to her room, resist the man she hooked up with at last year’s conference and locate keynote speaker Dr. Gedanken, the more bewildering and comical the outcome. Likewise, “Death on the Nile,” a fundamentally serious meditation on the passage from life to death set against an Egyptian vacation, is populated by husbands and frenemies so wickedly irritating you want them to be real just so you can claw their eyes out. In “The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective,” Willis tries on a literary dissertation for size. The heavily footnoted paper, hilariously packed with purple prose and self-serving conclusions, riffs on
War of the Worlds, time travel and 19th-century poetry even as it archly deconstructs academia.

For those new to Willis, this collection is an eye-opener, showing that SF can blend gravity with snark and come away with stories that are painful, funny and true. For the familiar reader, though,
The Best of Connie Willis is an especial treat because each story is followed by an afterword from the author. These short essays delve into Willis’ reasons for writing a given story, dissect public reactions to it or simply supply a fresh anecdote, adding perspective and depth. In addition, the volume includes two speeches (and one backup speech) given by Willis. They’re all just further iterations of the marvelously entertaining voice of Connie Willis.

Willis has long been a favorite at Albuquerque’s Page One Bookstore, and she returns for another visit on Tuesday, Nov. 26.
1 2 3 234