Friday, October 27, 2017

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land, by Connie Willis

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(Urban Fantasy) A novelist finds a bookstore in New York that sells “the rarest of rare books.” These books look pretty ordinary, for the most part, and there sure do seem to be a lot of them. (18,564 words; Time: 1h:01m)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ Average

"I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land," by (edited by Sheila Williams), appeared in issue 11-12|17, published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: : The (very literary) plot is that Jim learns that it’s not true that everything of value is saved. Although much of what vanishes was trash, some of it is not—including books he’d loved but now can never read again. Once his lesson is learned, he can never find the place again.

The setting is very vivid, and the descriptions of all the lost books are poignant.

There's a lot of fun in the names. “Ozymandias” is explained in the text. “Cassandra” was doomed to tell accurate prophesies but which no one would ever believe. The mention of the “Doomsday book” is a reference to Willis’s novel by that name, etc. I'm still wondering about "The Vagabond Boys."

Con: Ultimately, it’s all atmosphere and no resolution. He keeps trying to find the bookstore again, ruining his career to no purpose.

The narrator takes far, far too long to figure out what’s happening. If he’d asked Cassie the right questions, he’d have found out a lot faster, and his lack of questions seems more of a plot device than anything a normal person would do.

It’s not at all clear why she takes him on a tour at all, other than to advance the plot--such as it is.

It all goes on for way too long.

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Connie Willis Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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3 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Somebody really needs to sit Connie Willis down and explain to her how smartphones work, because the whole "I had no idea what street I was on" shtick is just ridiculous in a story with a contemporary setting; we're specifically told the protagonist has a smartphone. If you're using an Android phone, you have to go about six menus deep into the settings to stop the phone from tracking you and recording your location history, even if you've turned location services off.

    1. Lots of traditional SF plots are ruined by modern technology. Ones where people have no way to contact each other. Ones where people need some piece of information but no one knows it. And ones where people don't know where they are.

      Poul Anderson wrote a great SF story called "Brake," but it predated the dish antenna, and it depends on the "fact" that a spaceship between Mars and Jupiter has no way to communicate with Earth. Ouch!

      Part of the plot of the book 2001 depends on no space probe ever having returned images of the surface of Iapetus before a manned vehicle got there. (Lots of stories still use this plot device, sadly.)

  2. Lots of mystery/crime plots have run into the same problem.