Doomsday Book is a 1992 science fiction novel by American author Connie Willis. The novel won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and was shortlisted for other awards, placing it among the most-honored works of science fiction in recent history. .
In the novel Willis imagines a near future in which historians do field work by traveling into the past as observers. In theory, history has built-in protections to keep the past from being altered, resulting in travelers being prevented from visiting certain places or times. In such a case, the machine used for time travel will refuse to function, rendering the trip impossible. In the rest of the cases "slippage", a shift in the exact time target, occurs. The time-traveler enters after the target time, but the arrival point is the nearest place-and-time such that the visitor cannot cause a paradox. This may result in a significant variance from the projected place or time, in practice anything from 5 minutes to 5 years. Even if destinations in time and place are technically feasible, the authorities controlling time travel may designate selected areas as too dangerous for the historians. The research is conducted at the University of Oxford in England in the mid-21st century.
In the novel, Kivrin Engle, a young historian specializing in medieval history, persuades her reluctant instructor, Professor James Dunworthy, and the authorities running the project to send her to England in the early 14th century. This period has previously been thought too dangerous for anyone to visit, particularly an inexperienced young woman. She will be the first historian to visit the period, and believes that she is well prepared for what she will encounter.
Things begin to go awry very early in the novel. Moments after sending Kivrin to the 14th century, Chaudhuri Badri, the technician who set the time travel coordinates for Kivrin's trip, collapses suddenly, an early victim of a deadly new influenza epidemic which disrupts university functions. Eventually the entire city is quarantined.
Meanwhile, Kivrin herself has been infected with the same influenza and becomes ill as she arrives in the past, despite her enhanced immune system. She awakens after several days of fever and delirium to find she has been moved to a nearby manor and is being cared for by the residents. Unfortunately, the move has caused her to lose track of where the "drop point" is; she must return to the exact location where she landed when she arrived, and at the exact time when the gateway opens in order to return home. She discovers there are many inconsistencies in what she "knows" about the time: the Middle English she learned is different from that which the locals speak, her clothing is much too fine, and she is far too clean. She can read and write as well, a skill unusual even for the educated men of the time and rare among women. In fact, at this time it is only nuns who are so able, and some family members conclude she has fled her convent and plan to return her to the convent nearest them. She fakes amnesia, afraid the background story she originally planned out would have similar inconsistencies.
The book switches viewpoints between Kivrin in England during the fourteenth century and 2054/2055 Oxford during the influenza epidemic. At the same point in their respective narratives, Kivrin and Mr. Dunworthy realize that due to the technician's illness, she has been sent through to England at the wrong time: she has arrived during the Black Death epidemic in England in 1348, more than 20 years later than she was supposed to have arrived. As Dunworthy tries desperately to get her back, the medical staff of the 21st century are dealing with the flood of critical cases and those who would help him are falling ill and dying, including his good friend, Doctor Mary Ahrens, who dies even as she tries to save the other influenza victims. At last, in desperation, he arranges with Badri to send himself back in time to rescue Kivrin.
In the Middle Ages, Kivrin can only watch while all the people she has come to know die from the Black Death, the last being Father Roche, the priest who found her when she was sick, and brought her to the manor to be cared for. Father Roche insisted on staying with his parishioners, despite Kivrin's attempts to arrange an escape from the plague, as he feels it his duty to care for them although it may mean his own death. As Roche lies dying in the chapel, he reveals that he was near the drop site when Kivrin came through, and misinterpreted the circumstances of her arrival (shimmering light, condensation, and a young woman appearing out of thin air) as God delivering an angel to help during the mysterious illness which is sweeping through England. He dies still believing that she is God's messenger to him and his congregation, while Kivrin comes to appreciate his selfless devotion to his work, and to God. As she attempts to dig his grave, her rescuers, Mr. Dunworthy and Colin (the adventurous great-nephew of one of Oxford's doctors), arrive from the future. They barely recognize her: her hair is cropped short (from when she was sick with the flu), she is wearing a boy's jerkin, and she is covered in dirt and blood from tending to the sick and dying. The three returns to 21st century England shortly after New Year's Day.