Connie Willis continues to be one of my favorite science fiction authors, in part because she writes about time travel without making it convoluted and difficult. There’s nothing like reading some time travel books to make me feel stupid because I can’t keep all the timelines straight. The other books I’ve read by her–Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog–are part science-fiction, part historical fiction, which I love. And her style is so gentle.

What is Passage About?

Passage is about a female scientist who studies Near-Death Experiences, or NDE’s. She has an office in a hospital so that she can interview people who come back from the dead as soon as they revive, to find the true cause of NDE’s. She teams up with another scientist who’s found a drug that manufactures NDE’s with a psychoactive drug, putting people under, making their brain think their bodies are dying, although they’re not really. They have a hard time finding people who’ve actually had NDE’s but haven’t been interviewed by a third scientist who’s absolutely convinced that all NDE’s prove the existence of God and the Afterlife. So Joanna, the female scientist, agrees to go under, and, over the course of the book, has multiple NDE’s that, she comes to realize, reveal not necessarily the cause of NDE’s but, more importantly, the reason for them.

Who Would Enjoy Passage?

Readers Who Enjoy Death Themes

Though one theme represented in Passage is the tension between science and religion, this is not the central theme. The central theme is how we grapple with death. Do we stare it in the face when we see it coming, or do we run from it? If we “run” from it, IF we can, how do we do so? If that kind of theme sounds intriguing to you, then you’ll like Passage. Willis approaches those questions and their answers in a very unique way, tying in elements of “memories” of a certain major historical event with Joanna’s NDE’s. I don’t think I’ve ever read a fiction book based on NDE’s, and I know I haven’t read one that so skillfully dances between science fiction and historical fiction. In that respect, Willis’ book is a masterpiece.

Readers Who Like Historical Fiction

There is enough examination of a certain major historical event (I won’t say which one, to avoid spoilers, but I will say that it happened in 1912) from a first-person perspective to definitely satisfy fans of historical fiction.

But Readers Might Not Like…

That being said, it is a masterpiece that, I feel, could have been written in far fewer words. At almost 600 pages, it is a long, slow, deep dive into NDE’s through Joanna’s and others’ perspectives, and, like Doomsday Book, is less structured than I prefer. There were many pages that, while interesting, could have been removed to make the story much stronger and tighter. That’s probably due more to my adrenaline-junkie, fast-pace addiction coming through, though, rather than any lack of skill on Willis’ part.

Really, even though I felt it could’ve been shorter, there were quite a few intertwinings of characters or circumstances that might not have been as well fleshed out if the book had, in fact, been shorter. If you like thinking fiction, though, you will like Passage, for sure.

What’s the Deal?

Across the 20+ sites I checked, eBay had the best one: $3.78 with free shipping from

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