The Time Traveler’s Almanac: Fire Watch by Connie Willis


Fire Watch by Connie Willis

Section: Reactionaries and Revolutionares

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5 Rating

A Hugo and Nebula Award Winner

About the author:

Connie Willis is an American writer who has won eleven Hugo wards and eight Nebula Awards – more than  any other writer. She was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Science Fiction Writers of America named her its twenty-eight Grand Master in 2011. This story, first published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine in 1982, was bout the Hugo and the Nebula Award.

I can see how this story would have been nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula – excellent message to the story and good ending to the plot – but to win both of them? I’m not too sure about that. I’d like to see what other stories where nominated for that year.

Bartholomew is supposed to be traveling back in time to St. Paul for his History practicum; he has been preparing for this for four year. One problem: he is actually going to St. Paul’s. Bartholomew now only has two days to get ready for his trip to London in the Blitz. Arguing is pointless as his professor couldn’t careless about Bartholomew’s mistake and is still sending him.

Bartholomew is now thrown into London is the middle of the Blitz, impersonating as a member of the fire watch – with only two days worth of studying, memorizing, and preparing. And he has no idea what it is he is supposed to be looking for in his practicum.

Let’s just get this right out of the way: time-travel is at a bare minimum again 😦 Technically, it’s central to the plot, and everything would fall apart without it; I mean, our narrator is traveling back in time for his practicum – but that is the only traveling we do. We don’t even get a mention of the device or means or from when he is traveling back from!

At one point I did have some hope though, when Bartholomew started contemplating time-travel theories with how going into the past could potentially affect the future – but that was just a passing thought, and he want back to recounting his day’s events the next paragraph.

Another point where I get excited was when Bartholomew brought up some memorization enhancing technology! Because he only has two days to prepare to live in 1940, there is a MASSIVE amount of informations he need: maps, vocabulary, politics, food, culture, etc. In order to do this, he decided to alter his long-term memory – not short-term. Bartholomew then goes into a brief analysis and comparison of the two, and then says he will use endorphins to help with that – but, again, after those couple paragraphs, he is back to recounting that day’s events.

The recounting of each days events I keep referring to is how the story is written. It is basically log style where each section start off as, for example, “Sepetmber 20.” Each entry can be anywhere from a paragraph to a page or so, and there is one for everyday he spends in St. Paul’s (keep in mind, this is a novelette). This style of telling the story I though was great, and worked incredibly well in building up my relationship with Bartholomew and feeling the message of the story.

The message that the story delivers is why this story the Hugo and Nebula – not because of the science fiction. The story is great. All Bartholomew knows is that he is going to St. Paul’s in the middle of the Blitz when Hitlers and Nazi’s are trying to blow it up. That’s it; he has no idea what he’s supposed to be doing. Is the supposed to prevent it from being blown up? Study about a particular person he meets? Kill a certain person? Maybe blow up the church himself? Bartholomew has no idea, it basically drives him crazy, and it was an awesome mystery trying to solve what it was that he was supposed to be doing there for his practicum! But the best part of the story was the ending: this was where we learn what he was doing there and where Connie Willis gives a crushing blow with the message of this story.


Spolierific Speculations: (Highlight to read)



If your comments contains a spoiler, please type “SPOILER:” at the start of your comment to alert fellow readers and comments. Thanks!

Even though this is a time-travel anthology, and this isn’t really a “time-travel” story – I want to mention that I DO NOT take points away from a story just because I don’t consider it “time-travel” (consciously, at least). The power of the message and sympathy I felt for narrator were amazing; I cannot say the same for the science fiction present. I don’t care that time-travel mechanism wasn’t brought up, but I didn’t like that Willis brought up the theories for only a paragraph and never returned; I didn’t like the reason behind needing endorphins wasn’t explain and I felt the difference between long- and short-term memory could have been made to feel more crucial and urgent that it did.

Still, I believe that many people will enjoy this. While I wouldn’t have guessed it would win a Hugo/Nebula, I can see how you could argue for it, and I encourage you read it. 

Science fiction sure has changed in the past thirty-some years…

Be sure to check out my fellow time-travelers’ reviews!

Alesha Escobar
H.M. Jones
Laurel’s Writing Desk
Timothy C. Ward

3.5/5 Rating



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To see a full list of The Time Traveler’s Almanac reviews and reading schedule, visit The Time Traveler’s Almanac Page

Feel free to join in any join time! Just leave a comment down below 🙂

See you next Thursday for Noble Mold by Kage Baker

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4 thoughts on “The Time Traveler’s Almanac: Fire Watch by Connie Willis

  1. S. C. Flynn says:

    Your review has intrigued me!


  2. aleshaescobar says:

    Well said! I liked how you touched upon the power of the story’s message, even though it wasn’t strictly time travel.


  3. Well, it was time traveller. The guy did travel during the story, but we just got none of the science aspect of it. This was totally a social sf story I think, with huge emphasis on the social: what do you do when you travel? Do you just look at facts coldly, or do you engage?

    I was just relieved to be reading about a real time traveller again!!


  4. Hannah Jones says:

    Thanks, DJ! I’m gonna give this another go. You and Laurel say such compelling things, that I think I’ll finish and do a better review. 🙂 I appreciate your feedback and interest. I thought it was low sci-fi, too, but that didn’t bother me.


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