Ms. Willis has done a lot of research into the bombings of London during World War II. This is evident through her inclusion of three (three!) different stories in this collection that have some connection to that theme. “The Winds of Marble Arch” is one; “Night Watch” is another; and “Jack” rounds out that triptych of stories.
Now, am I complaining? Heck no! Ms. Willis is a fine, extraordinary writer, and she has a knack for writing stories that are a lot like those zany romantic comedies from the 1950s. But she really shines and shows her talents when she tackles serious subjects, like war, sexuality, humanity, and religion. And the fact that these three stories all center on the same central theme, yet still manage to be very different stories with very different tones, just goes to show that when you’re reading a Connie Willis book, you’re sure to be impressed.
It is impossible for me to give this collection of her short stories an objective review, because Ms. Willis is one of my favorite authors. It’s very, very difficult to pick a favorite story from the collection, because they’re all so very, very good. I love her screwball romantic comedy stories, and I love that she manages to incorporate hard science into those stories, sometimes even going so far as to incorporate that science into the characters of those stories (you’ll just have to read “At the Rialto” and “Blued Moon” to understand what I mean). I also love her heavier stories, especially “Night Watch,” which I really think should be made into a movie (and considering how aggravated I get with Hollywood’s habit of adapting something that is already a success instead of creating something original, that’s saying something). “All His Darling Daughters” is just about the darkest, most disturbing story I’ve read, but I still find something very significant in the story to tell people, “You have to read this!” She has some gentler stories in there, as well, including her Christmas stories (”Epiphany” and “Inn” are touching stories of faith and perseverance), a tribute to a fellow science-fiction author who inspired her (”Nonstop to Portales”), a back-handed tribute to Emily Dickinson (”The Soul Selects Her Own Society…”), and a satirical, clever story of aliens, romance, and holiday newsletters (”Newsletter”). Really, I can’t think of a single dud story in the collection. Some had more of an impact than others, but none are bad, and each one of them had something important to say.
If you’ve already experienced Doomsday Book, Bellwether, To Say Nothing of the Dog, or Lincoln’s Dreams, then it won’t take any more prodding from me to get you to read this book (be forewarned, though, that you’ll see a lot of reprinted stories here, but they’re all worth re-reading, that’s for certain). If you haven’t discovered the wonder that is Connie Willis, though, I could think of no other better place to start than with The Winds of Marble Arch.