Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Passage - Connie Willis 
Joanna is a researcher in a hospital who is trying to understand NDEs, or near-death experiences by administering a combination of drugs that mimic the brain's activity when someone undergoes such an experience. Having to contend with misunderstandings about the nature of her work and a religious fanatic, Joanna is naturally shorthanded when it comes to volunteers for her research. As a result, Joanna decides to put herself under and each time, she ends up in the same place, a place that seems eerily familiar.
Through repeated "visits", she is convinced that she is (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) on the Titanic. As Joanna goes under more and more frequently, the duration of her stay on the ship increases, however she always manages to make it back before the ship goes completely down. Her research partner and friends are convinced she's losing her grip on reality, and it seems like the only person who holds the answers is her old high school English teacher...
First off, I'd like to apologize for the melodramatic way that blurb ended. If you skip blurbs because you don't like spoilers, minor or otherwise, rest assured, it was melodramatic. Anyway. Passage, while a Nebula nominee, doesn't quite have the same flavor as the most other books that find their way onto this list. Instead, it reads like one of the books you would find in the "Fiction/Literature" sections of a bookstore, rather than "Fantasy/Science Fiction". This is not to knock the book in any way. After many books involving (though I hate to stereotype my favorite genres) mages and spaceships, it was a very nice breath of fresh air. I was honestly surprised as how engaging I found the book, given that it's minimally science fiction-y and that it takes place in an all-too-real present. However, I also do crosswords in my spare time, so the bar for holding my interest is probably pretty low...
Though a bit long, Willis does provide some solidly plausible explanations for the "light at the end of the tunnel" and "angelic choirs" that people seem to experience. The requisite thorn-in-the-side character Mr. Mandrake was delightfully frustrating and spiced the book up nicely. A big minus, at least for me, was that the main focus of the book was death. Perhaps it's because I haven't yet come to grips with my own mortality, but having to think about it for extended periods of time was kind of a downer. BUT if you're okay with that, looking for something thought-provoking and casually paced, Passages just might be for you. If you're looking for ALL ACTION ALL THE TIME, or at the very least space travel, a skip skip skip on this one.
Are you okay contemplating your own mortality for extended periods of time? Are you okay with NO spaceships, NO lasers, NO mages? Perhaps you enjoyed Cloud Atlas, Little, Big, or more "literature"-oriented Nebula nominees? Then this is for you! Otherwise, no.
Just in time for the winter holidays! I personally promise an older scifi book soon! I'll try to pick one with pew! pew! lasers, but there's no guarantees...