Two of Connie Willis’ books were my books of the year for 2021 – you can see my review of them here which also refers to another favourite title of hers. Fire Watch is a volume of short stories. The title story is related to Blackout and All Clear and very distantly connected to Doomsday Book. What all of these stories have in common is time travel and they feature a unit at Oxford headed up by a Mr Dunwoody where academics and students travel to different times. Fire Watch is quite a long story and is set in the Blitz in London where the time traveller ends up in St Paul’s cathedral tackling fires and trying to preserve the structure. I thought that the story wasn’t as good as the novels although it was good to read about time travel again from this author.
The other stories in this collection are individual short stories which are unrelated to each other. They are all science fiction or fantasy and some of them are very dark. I found them an uneven selection although all made me think. There are stories set on other planets, in a futuristic boarding school and in a dystopian world. The author explores identity in various ways and in one story coincidence is a big part of the plot. None of the stories greatly excited me but I have to say that I am not usually a fan of short stories.
You have to admire the skill and talent of the author, however. Each story creates its own world with its own rules and introduces you to characters, not all of whom are human, in a few pages and then makes things happen to them. These are well crafted and each is very different from the others.
If you have taken my advice and read the author’s three time travel books which I recommended then it is probably worth reading this book for the title story. It is also worth reading if you enjoy science fiction as there are some great ideas here and the stories are not bad at all. I just didn’t find them satisfying but this is my usual reaction to short stories.