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Oxford Time Travel Series in Order: Travel back in time with Connie Willis’ books

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“History was full of divergence points nobody could get anywhere near—from Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination to the battle of Trafalgar. Events so critical and so volatile that the introduction of a single variable—such as a time traveler—could change the outcome. And alter the entire course of history.”

I’m going on a hunch, but I’m sure every historian is dreaming to travel back in time to explore his favorite period. It’s no surprise that science-fiction writers sent their characters in the past, to live wonderful, emotional, funny, tragic adventures.

In a way, it is what Connie Willis writes about in her Oxford Time Travel series, which encompasses one short story and four books (each has won the Hugo Award). The series is set in the 2050s and 2060s, at a time where time travel has been invented. Commercial companies tried to make a buck, but it is impossible to bring objects back from the past. They lost interest, and time travel became the domain of historians.

Professor Dunworthyis in charge of the time travel program and acts as an instructor and guide for his fellow traveling historians as they go exploring the past.

Each book in the series explores a different time period and is different in styles, from a comedy of manners in To Say of Nothing of the Dog to depressive WWII in Blackout/All Clear.

Oxford Time Travel Book Series in Order

You don’t have to read the Oxford Time Travel series in order, as each story is a stand-alone (keep in mind that Blackout and All Clear are a two-volume novel, so must be read in that order).

Some events are alluded to, and there are a few recurring characters, but it does not affect the story.

Cover for Time is the Fire - Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis Cover for Doomsday Book - Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis Cover for To Say Nothing of the Dog - Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis

Fire Watch – a short story collected in the book of the same name in which a time-travelling student learns one of history’s hardest lessons.

Doomsday Book – For Oxford student Kivrin, traveling back to the 14th century is more than the culmination of her studies – it’s the chance for a wonderful adventure. For Dunworthy, her mentor, it is cause for intense worry about the thousands of things that could go wrong. When an accident leaves Kivrin trapped in one of the deadliest eras in human history, the two find themselves in equally gripping – and oddly connected – struggles to survive.

To Say Nothing of the Dog – Ned Henry is a time-travelling historian who specialises in the mid-20th century – currently engaged in researching the bombed-out Coventry Cathedral. He’s also made so many drops into the past that he’s suffering from a dangerously advanced case of ‘time-lag’.

Unfortunately for Ned, an emergency dash to Victorian England is required and he’s the only available historian. But Ned’s time-lag is so bad that he’s not sure what the errand is – which is bad news since, if he fails, history could unravel around him …

Cover for Blackout - Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis Cover for All Clear - Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis

Blackout – Oxford, England in 2060. A trio of time traveling scholars prepares to depart for various corners of the Second World War. Their mission: to observe, from a safe vantage point, the day-to-day nature of life during this critical historical moment. As the action ranges from the evacuation of Dunkirk to the manor houses of rural England to the quotidian horrors of London during the Blitz, the objective nature of their roles gradually changes. Cut off from the safety net of the future and caught up in the chaotic events that make up history, they are forced to participate, in unexpected ways, in the defining events of the era.

All Clear – Traveling back in time, from Oxford circa 2060 into the thick of World War II, was a routine excursion for three British historians eager to study firsthand the heroism and horrors of the Dunkirk evacuation and the London Blitz. But getting marooned in war-torn 1940 England has turned Michael Davies, Merope Ward, and Polly Churchill from temporal tourists into besieged citizens struggling to survive Hitler’s devastating onslaught. And now there’s more to worry about than just getting back home: The impossibility of altering past events has always been a core belief of time-travel theory—but it may be tragically wrong. When discrepancies in the historical record begin cropping up, it suggests that one or all of the future visitors have somehow changed the past—and, ultimately, the outcome of the war. Meanwhile, in 2060 Oxford, the stranded historians’ supervisor, Mr. Dunworthy, frantically confronts the seemingly impossible task of rescuing his students—three missing needles in the haystack of history.

Oxford Time Travel Book Series Quotes

From Doomsday Book:

“I wanted to come, and if I hadn’t, they would have been all alone, and nobody would have ever known how frightened and brave and irreplaceable they were.”

“It is the end of the world. Surely you could be allowed a few carnal thoughts.”

“It’s strange. When I couldn’t find the drop and the plague came, you seemed so far away I would not ever be able to find you again. But I know now that you were here all along, and that nothing, not the Black Death nor seven hundred years, nor death nor things to come nor any other creature could ever separate me from your caring and concern. It was with me every minute.”

“None of the things one frets about ever happen. Something one’s never thought of does.”

From To Say Nothing of the Dog:

“The reason Victorian society was so restricted and repressed was that it was impossible to move without knocking something over.”

“A Grand Design we couldn’t see because we were part of it. A Grand Design we only got occasional, fleeting glimpses of. A Grand Design involving the entire course of history and all of time and space that, for some unfathomable reason, chose to work out its designs with cats and croquet mallets and penwipers, to say nothing of the dog. And a hideous piece of Victorian artwork. And us.”

“History was indeed controlled by blind forces, as well as character and courage and treachery and love. And accident and random chance. And stray bullets and telegrams and tips. And cats.”

“If King Harold had had swans on his side, England would still be Saxon.”

“This is the Victorian era,” she said. “Women didn’t have to make sense.”

From Blackout:

“I’m not studying the heroes who lead navies—and armies—and win wars. I’m studying ordinary people who you wouldn’t expect to be heroic, but who, when there’s a crisis, show extraordinary bravery and self-sacrifice. Like Jenna Geidel, who gave her life vaccinating people during the Pandemic. And the fishermen and retired boat owners and weekend sailors who rescued the British Army from Dunkirk. And Wells Crowther, the twenty-four-year-old equities trader who worked in the World Trade Center. When it was hit by terrorists, he could have gotten out, but instead he went back and saved ten people, and died. I’m going to observe six different sets of heroes in six different situations to try to determine what qualities they have in common.”

“That was the most difficult thing about time travel, remembering where and when one was. She’d forgotten she wasn’t still a servant and called Linna “ma’am” twice,”

From All Clear:

“There are a hundred ways a man can bleed to death. And he can be pulled from the rubble of bitterness, of despair, as well as the wreckage of the Phoenix. And which rescue is the more real? Nothing you could have done for me… was more important than the restoration of my hope.”

“To do something for someone or something you loved—England or Shakespeare or a dog or the Hodbins or history—wasn’t a sacrifice at all. Even if it cost you your freedom, your life, your youth.”

“The past and the future are both part of a single continuum”

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