Monday, February 09, 2009

What dreams may come

I think I'm almost done reading all of Connie Willis' books, an obsession going back a year and a half that kick-started the newfound appreciation for science fiction. There's one more novel that's hard to track down, but other than that, I've read most of her stories.

Note to self: do not read anything that might even tangentially address the death of loved ones in a hospital, the week before the anniversary of one.


The plot of Passage: hospital-based medical researchers interview patients who have had near-death experiences (NDEs), and then test drugs that replicate them and map brainwave patterns, in an effort to explain what neurological function NDEs serve. Their lab observations and hypotheses compete directly with a resident celebrity author who believes NDEs are communications with angels and dead loved ones, conveying messages and even conferring psychic powers from the Other Side. It taking place in a hospital, there are many, many references to death and dying. Two other main characters are an ER nurse surrounded by an increasingly dangerous and violent patient pattern and a little girl waiting for a heart transplant who is obsessed with learning about high-casualty historical disasters. Foreshadowing, anyone?

Though not as despairing as Doomsday Book, Passage is still one of Willis' more depressing novels. I finished it today, since Intellectual Property class was cancelled, and ending up tearing up through the last half of the book. Geez. It's well-written, of course, and in Willis' quirky but cool way is full of odd trivia -- famous people's last words, random facts about the Titanic, Hindenburg, and Hatfield Circus tragedies.

In a way, this one book of Willis' combined ideas from a lot of her others: the sham spiritualists of Inside Job, the factoids and laboratory setting of Bellwether, the examination of the subconscious from Lincoln's Dreams... Part of me is still not willing to classify her as a sci-fi writer, though she's won a ton of Nebula and Hugo awards in the field. I guess it's because the themes of her most of her books are "normal" enough to be set in everyday and anyday scenarios . . . and also because I'm still clinging to my own stereotypes about what constitutes science fiction. It is also cute that most of her stories are somehow tied to the Denver area, even the ones that take place in alternate histories. Kind of like how Michael Moore always, somehow, manages to connect his documentaries back to Flint. (I, for one, am always partial to the hometown tip-o'-the-hat.)

Good book, just wasn't expecting the heavy subject matter.

Makes trademark law seem so lighthearted!

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