WILLIS, Connie


WILLIS, Connie
   Working name of US teacher and writer Constance Elaine Trimmer Willis (1945-). She began publishing sf with "Santa Titicaca" for Worlds of Fantasy in 1971, but appeared only intermittently in the field until the early 1980s, when she began to write full-time, winning several awards almost immediately. Most of her best work of the 1980s was in short-story form, and her first book, Fire Watch (coll 1985), assembled a remarkable range of tales. "Fire Watch" (1982) itself, which won both NEBULA and HUGO, uses its TIME-TRAVEL premise - a future institute of historiographysends individuals back in time to study artifacts in situ - to embed its protagonist in a richly conceived UK at the time of the Blitz, when he engages himself in attempts to save St Paul's Cathedral from bombing. "All My Darling Daughters" - published as an original in Fire Watch because itslanguage and theme were still unacceptable in the US magazine market of 1980 - is a significantly harsh tale of alienation and SEX set in aboarding school in an L5 orbit, where the male students rape alien lifeforms which have vagina-like organs, making them scream in pain; and the female protagonist tries to make sense of her hyperbolic adolescence in terms strongly reminiscent of J.D. Salinger (1919-). Among other tales of interest in this first collection are Daisy, in the Sun (1979 Galileo; 1991 chap), "A Letter from the Clearys" (1982), which won a Nebula, "TheSidon in the Mirror" (1983) and the comic "Blued Moon" (1984). A later novella, "The Last of the Winnebagos" (1988), won CW both the Hugo and the Nebula;"At the Rialto" (1989) won a Nebula;"Even the Queen" (1992) won aHugo and a Nebula for Short Story and"Death on the Nile" (1993) won a Hugo for Short Story.As a novelist, CW began slowly with the relatively lightweight Water Witch (1982) with Cynthia FELICE, set on a sand planet where the ability to dowse for water is a precious gift. Light Raid (1989) with Felice also skids helter-skelter through an sf environment, in this case a post- HOLOCAUST balkanized USA fighting off Canadian royalists, featuring the adventures en route to spunky maturity of a young female protagonist much like those found in Robert A. HEINLEIN's less attractive books. But it seemed clear that both CW and Felice were treating their collaborations as jeux d'esprit, and CW's first solo novel, Lincoln's Dreams (1987), aimed successfully at a very much higher degree ofseriousness, winning the JOHN W. CAMPBELL MEMORIAL AWARD. Once again - as with much of her most deeply felt work - the enabling sf instrument is time travel, though in this case via a psychic linkage between a contemporary woman and General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870), while at the same time the male protagonist increasingly, and without a breath of frivolity, seems to be taking on the psychic attributes of General Lee's famous horse, Traveller (himself the protagonist of Traveller [1988 US] by Richard Adams [1920- ]). The power of Lincoln's Dreams lies in thehaunting detail of CW's presentation of the American Civil War, which seems in her hands terrifyingly close - both geographically and psychically - to the contemporary world. Her second solo novel, DOOMSDAY BOOK (1992), which shared the 1993 Hugo award and won the Nebula, isanother time-travel story. The frame setting - a mid-21st-century historiographic unit attached to Oxford University - is shared with "Fire Watch", but the tale itself is set at the time of the Black Death (around1350), and mounts gradually to a climax whose intensely mourning gravity is rarely found in sf, even in novels of travel to times past, where a sense of irretrievable loss is commonly expressed.In the best of CW's stories, and in her novels, a steel felicity of mind and style appears effortlessly married to a copious empathy. Her more recent fascination with the intersections of film realities and worlds of the past or future may constitute something of a byway in her career, though several of the stories in IMPOSSIBLE THINGS (coll 1994) - as well as the hilarious spoofing of Hollywood Westerns in space in Uncharted Territory (1994; with 2 stories added, as coll 1994 UK), and the delving into the Marilyn Monroemythos embedded into Remake (dated 1994 but 1995) - are of sustained interest. She continues to seem to be one of those writers from the 1980s who are now approaching their best work.
   JC
   Other works: Distress Call (in The Berkley Showcase \#4, anth 1982; 1991 chap); The New Hugo Winners: Volume III (anth 1994) with Martin H. GREENBERG.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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