In Connie Willis's Nebula and Hugo winning novel The Doomsday Book, published in 1992, there seems to be major technology discrepancies that don't make sense to me. This is a novel about historians in the year 2054 traveling back in time to study history. The modern side of this story has video phones, time travel, advanced virus inoculations, but no cell phones or answering machines.

Much of the plot in the modern part of the story is around Mr. Dunworthy trying to get ahold of certain important people, yet he is unable to leave any messages or call a cell phone. The car phone was already common in 1992, and cell phones were beginning to be common, albeit in a briefcase size, but it doesn't take much imagination to see them miniturizing.

Why did she make these decisions to exclude currently existing technologies in her time (cell phone and answering machine)? Was it just a plot device or am I missing something?

1 Answer 1


There's a later retcon in To Say Nothing of the Dog and Blackout/All Clear to the effect that mobile phones have been found to be hazardous.

But the real explanation is that Connie Willis's plots depend on the characters failing to communicate, and if they have emails, mobile phones and voicemail then her plots can't work, so she chooses to ignore those technologies.

  • that makes sense about mobile phone being hazardous, of course we already know they may be hazardous and that hasn't stopped US from using them, and what about answering machines, that seems very basic and not at all hazardous. Agree that it makes her plot a bit more gripping, but at the same time has a negative effect on the suspension of disbelief aspect.
    – benstraw
    Feb 24, 2011 at 21:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.