Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fire Watch

"Fire Watch", the title story in the 1985 short story collection of the same name, is the departure point for Connie Willis's series of novels featuring time-traveling Oxford historians of the future. For their practicum, the graduate students of the history department are sent back in time to observe and participate in crucial events: in this case, the heroic, yet mundane civil defense efforts by Londoners facing the German firebombing of St. Paul's Cathedral during WWII.

By turns imaginative, speculative, wry, and shocking, "Fire Watch" combines the educational virtues of the historical fiction genre with a futurist's deft treatment of alternative explanations and outcomes. The result is a discourse on the pragmatic role of history and historians and an illustration of the need to overcome the emotional attachment to the one course of events that has actually occurred.


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