Somehow, by the year 2053, we'll have invented time travel but lost the use of cell phone technology. You'd think that was a pretty good trade-off, right? Well, if you've read a few of Connie Willis' "future historian" time travel books, you know that we're probably better off as we are, because without cell phones, it seems humanity would spend most of its days in fevered attempts to place calls by landline video phone, narrowly missing one another, encountering busy circuits, unable to locate anyone not at his home or office. This would go on for hundreds of pages.Or look at it this way: Connie Willis really needs an editor. Because this is 1/2 of a fantastic book grafted to 250 pages of tiresome running about with no real purpose. This is the same format Willis prefers for all of her longer works: lots of really great writing and compelling characters, but you have to wade through a bunch of repetitive "funny bits" to get to them, most of which seem to have to do with telephones. I also could have done without nearly a dozen scenes of characters almost dispensing vital information, then falling into unconsciousness.But after a few hundred pages, all the annoying stuff is over with and suddenly you're falling in love with all of the characters, and dreading what's going to happen to them, especially the ones in the Middle Ages, because the Black Death wasn't known for leaving a whole lot of survivors. And I'll say one thing for Willis, she isn't afraid to kill characters you like, and here she kills a lot of them. The end of the book is profoundly sad, and only a tiny bit uplifting; the ultimate message is that there is value in the struggle even if the outcome is failure. And yet it's not a depressing read, somehow. It's also not quite as gross and plague-y as you might fear, with only a small portion of the text devoted to lancing sores and vomiting blood. So that's always nice.