NOVEL APPROACH: Grand Master Willis

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First Posted: 8/5/2013

As a young girl I was fascinated by science fiction. Bound to a world of time travel and dystopia with far away lands, magical properties and characters that established belonging and exploration of the world I have come to know, as well as the worlds I have not. Connie Willis, author of recent anthology, “The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories,” was one of the first authors to start that love affair.

The anthology is comprised of over 40 years of Willis’ works that have captured readers everywhere. In many ways, it would be difficult to consider yourself a science fiction reader without having come across Willis, who has awed the world with such works as “Doomsday Book” and two-part series, “Blackout” and “All Clear”. From the very beginning, Willis has been awarded numerous Hugo and Nebula Awards. In addition, she was inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and honored with the Grand Master title in 2011.

In Willis’ introduction, she discusses her first experience with science fiction after rummaging through titles at her local library: “Stories about robots and time-travelers and aliens, and stories about cold equations of the physical universe and the hidden costs of technological advance, about the endless difficulty of determining what a human is — and how to be one. Science fiction in all her infinite variety, spread out like a feast in front of me.”

Similar to many authors Willis considered influential, her work also shares similar commonalities regarding themes of time travel and satire. However, she is most notable for her eccentric characters and absurd situations. Humor aside, not all of the stories are ridiculous; some waver from inquisitive to frightening and disconcerting.

Having only chosen a small amount of stories from a very extensive list, Willis has skillfully given readers a varying degree of themes, characters, environments and conclusions. Some of the best in the compilation include “Death on the Nile,” “The Soul Selects Her Own Society,” “Fire Watch,” and “The Last of the Winnebagos.” Following each of the stories, Willis then offers an afterword that resonates in circular motion to her introduction — “Telling where you got the idea for each story is usually a terrible letdown and doesn’t really explain anything.”

Throughout the collection, readers gain a better understanding of not only Willis’ work, but also her wit, modesty and imagination. In the end, each of the works becomes unified by one overarching theme — to seek out the infinite answers of our world and beyond.

‘The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories’ by Connie Willis Rating: W W W W V