Friday, February 11, 2011


Passage by Connie Willis is another book I read and reread, and think about in between. Who hasn't wondered about the afterlife, unless they've convinced themselves they know already? You can base light fun fantasy on many traditional visions of the afterlife, and Niven and Pournelle wrote fascinating science fiction on the same topic.

A really serious writer will strive to comment on the human condition, in addition to creating fun adventures based on a familiar on unfamiliar mythology. Connie Willis has achieved this.

You know it's different from the first page. Two scientists studying near death experiences are trying to avoid a popular author. Connie Willis has studied the scientific literature, and the complaints scientists make about popular studies of near death experiences, and woven them into her novel. She's taken them to heart, and if you're looking for easy affirmation you won't find it here.

Yet the end is not a simple denial either. A novel can't definitively resolve the question, but she makes an amazing try. Symbols are introduced, explained not quite completely, and developed in unexpected yet completely logical ways. The ending could have many meanings, but if a simple 'no' is concealed at the core it is not obvious to me.


  1. I love that book. Connie Willis can reduce me to tears. I wish I knew how she does it so I can steal her technique!

  2. I've studied her too. I think part of it is not being too explicit. Her characters are more worried about saving the continuum or someone's life, so it's left to the reader pick up on small wistful cues and think how wonderful it would be for them to be happy together.