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Beth Meacham, David Brin

To Say Nothing of the Dog

To Say Nothing of the Dog - Connie Willis We all like a good laugh don’t we? But for me comedy works best in TV shows or movies. Humour in print works best in shorter formats, like cartoon strips or magazine articles. I tend to find “comic novels” (not to be confused with graphic novels) problematical. The trouble is I keep expecting to laugh at every page and that is a tall order for the authors. I don’t expect to be thrilled by every page of a thriller or to be scared by every page of a horror novel so I don’t know why I have such a high expectation of comic novels. Just a personal quirk I guess. Consequently I tend to be less interested in comic novels because I find very few of them consistently funny through out the book.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is a comic sci-fi novel, and it is a good one. It is not in the same league as Douglas Adams, one of the finest sf books I read in the past few years. To Say Nothing of the Dog is part of Ms Willis' loosely connected Oxford Time Travel series which includes [b:Doomsday Book|24983|Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel, #1)|Connie Willis|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1332036910s/24983.jpg|2439628] but the tone is very different. While Doomsday Book is intense and tragic To Say Nothing of the Dog is almost entirely breezy. I persevered through the less than riveting first few chapters and eventually settled into enjoying the book.

It would be a mistake to expect To Say Nothing of the Dog to be a sci-fi version of or tribute to Jerome’s book. Ms. Willis is clearly influenced by more diverse material than just one book. Her love for the crime fiction of [a:Agatha Christie|123715|Agatha Christie|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1321738793p2/123715.jpg]
And [a:Dorothy L. Sayers|8734|Dorothy L. Sayers|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1206564934p2/8734.jpg] is also evident. Best of all she did not neglect the sci-fi aspect of it, the book went on to win the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1999, and also a Nebula Award nomination.

What raises To Say Nothing of the Dog far above [b:Three Men in a Boat|4921|Three Men in a Boat|Jerome K. Jerome|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1392791656s/4921.jpg|4476508] is that there is more to it than just trying to elicit laughter. There is the intriguing logic and logistics of time travelling which Willis beautifully worked out. The characters are also generally amiable and as something of an anglophile myself I enjoy the British culture references like jumble sales, the “tube trains” and the Jeevsian acerbic butler dialogue.

My only complaint is that for the most part there is very little sense of urgency to the proceeding (until the last two or three chapters). The lighthearted tone is maintained throughout the book and the story moves amiably at a leisurely pace. This led to my initial feeling that the novel is too tame, the stakes are too low. As it turn out all of time and space continuum is at stake and a sense of danger eventually appears toward the end as the main characters’ strive to repair “incongruities”, which is Willis’ term for time travelling paradoxes. I like that she is using a different term for these paradoxes from the standard time travelling stories it somehow makes the story seem more believable.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is not a laugh-a-minute book, it is not a complete success as a comic novel, but neither is it a failure. More importantly as a lighthearted time travelling sci-fi novel it is worth a read. Just don’t go into it with the wrong expectations.

(3.5 stars)