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Passage    by Connie Willis order for
by Connie Willis
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

When I began reading the first few chapters I thought happily that I could look forward to another frolicsome SF romantic comedy like the author's Bellwether, which I enjoyed so much. Gradually the mists crept higher and the mood darkened. I found myself captured and engrossed, as I was in the Doomsday Book, but even more deeply and intimately. Connie Willis is one of my favourite authors for good reasons, one being her astonishing range of interests. Her books have all been totally different and as unlike each other as they are unlike the stories of others. She has outdone herself in Passage.

Dr. Joanna Lander is a psychologist specialising in near-death experiences. She works at Mercy General Hospital. There she has spent two years recording the experiences of patients who have been declared totally dead, but have been revived and lived to tell about it. Her only real problem is a best-selling author Maurice Mandrake, who manages to get to patients first and leads them into remembering his own highly coloured version with heavenly choirs, angels of light, and family and friends waiting to persuade them to go back.

Then a new doctor comes to Mercy General. Neurologist Richard Wright has developed a way to simulate the near death experience. He believes that the NDE is a survival mechanism, and that it might be possible to delay the dying process. He needs the expertise of Dr. Lander to help design his experiments and lend credibility to the study. Joanna somewhat reluctantly agrees, influenced to a degree by his good looks and his ability to produce snacks from his lab coat pockets when she is starving. When a key volunteer drops out, she offers to be a subject herself.

I am reluctant to divulge more of the plot. Part of the fascination of the book is the way that the reader is led to explore the puzzles, as more and more complex twists and turnings appear. I will say that the Titanic disaster is a significant plot element, and that a key character is the delightful Maisie. She is a child waiting for a heart transplant, with a taste for disasters of every kind. Passage is an unforgettable book. Because of its subject matter it may not be to all tastes. It is chilling and indeed tragic, but it is pervaded by love and hope, even in the darkest hours. Science fiction at its very best.

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