The Black Death wasn't really black. It was sort of a muddled gray.

I'm reading Doomsday Book, which I've been reading on and off for about a year, and I need to talk to someone before I stab myself in the face. The reason it's taken me a year to read this book is because it's about 200 pages too long. It starts with the premise that in the near future, historians will have access to time travel for the purposes of studying the past. I sort of buy this. Supposedly, the time travel thingy doesn't work at all if what the people are doing is going to cause a paradox (being your own grandpa, etc.), so if no one can make any money off of it, it makes sense that it would be booted to academia. Connie Willis never explains how the thing works, which is probably for the best, because if she did, it would only lead to a bunch of geeks complaining about how the doohicky doesn't really work that way, and a thingamabob would be more technically accurate. So I'm down with that.

But the first half of the book makes me want to get to stabbing. Summary: There is only one competent instructor in the entire university, and his name is Dunworthy. The guy in charge, Gilchrist, is the stupid, evil asshat who lives to be the fly in Dunworthy's ointment, the monkey in his wrench, the yippeekayay in his motherfucker. For several hundred pages, we get a detailed view of the internal politics of a history department. Riveting. A historian is trapped in 1348, and she spends most of the first 300 pages recovering from illness and trying to get some alone time with the only person who might be able to help her get home.

People in both time periods are fond of starting to give important information and then getting distracted or sick. It's like the entire country has ADHD. In the past, half of Europe dies of the Black Death. In the future, half of England is retarded.

Also, at some point in the future, the English get time travel but lose cell phones. A huge, sweaty chunk of this book consists of people trying to contact each other through the bastard child of Skype and Ventrilo. It's like all those movies and TV shows from the '70s and '80s, where the plot could have been resolved in five minutes if someone had been able to text "I'm not dead. Just trapped in the bathroom. LOL." Granted, the book was published in 1993, but the cell phone problem wouldn't be so noticable if so much of the plot didn't hinge on people not being able to have a three-minute conversation with each other.

Then there's an ongoing (and ongoing and ongoing) bit with some American musicians threatening to sue over everything. I think that part was supposed to be funny. I hope they die. None of these characters is particularly interesting, so I'm cool with it if the book ends with the Black Death wiping out everyone and the planet being overrun by damn dirty apes.

I'm going to finish it if it kills me because, 370 pages into it, I feel like it's about to pay off. People are starting to bite it, everyone has more or less figured out what's going on, and the parts that take place in 1348 are quite good, so I can slog through the nonsense that takes place in the future.

OK, I feel better now. Thanks for hanging in there. And don't get the plague.