- Mass Market Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Spectra; Reprint edition (June 2 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0553562967
- ISBN-13: 978-0553562965
- Product Dimensions: 10.7 x 1.8 x 17.5 cm
- Shipping Weight: 45 g
- Average Customer Review: 88 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #327,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Bellwether Mass Market Paperback – Jun 2 1997
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A sociologist who studies fads and a chaos theorist are brought together by a strange misdelivered package. This book has all the wit and clever writing that characterized Willis' earlier Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Doomsday Book. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
Here-and-now speculative yarn involving chaos theory and statistical prediction, from the author of the fine Doomsday Book (1992), etc. Employed by the HiTek company, Sandra Foster is trying to develop a theory that can predict how and why fads and trends begin. But her attempts to computerize her data (mostly in the form of magazine and newspaper clippings) are constantly frustrated by the awful Flip, the erratic, forgetful, careless interdepartmental assistant. Still, Flip does lead Sandra to meet biologist Bennett O'Reilly, who thinks he's discovered a hidden factor within current chaos theories. As Flip blunders about--ghastly black lipstick, weird clothes, faddish accessories, attitude problem and all-- Sandra and Bennett decide to set up a joint project to test their ideas on the behavior of a flock of sheep. HiTek's management heartily approves--such a project might well win the coveted Niebnitz Grant. Sandra and Bennett learn that a bellwether sheep unconsciously acts as a catalyst to determine the entire flock's behavior. Bingo! Flip, while seeming totally incompetent, unknowingly acts as a human bellwether, causing fads and trends to crystallize around her as she lurches chaotically through life. Willis's intriguing notion comes across with the authority of a genuine insight--and probably merits a more dramatic and thoroughgoing workout than the agreeable but bland treatment it receives here. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
Top Customer Reviews
One chapter into Bellwether, as the grin slowly grew on my face, I was reminded of my previous exercise. For I am a fan of Connie Willis--I would donate my time to design a web site for her, to write an article about her, or conduct an interview and transcribe it. Not only is she one of the finest writers that the field has ever had, but her ideas are always interesting and the stories often amusing.
Take the case in point. Sandra Foster is a scientist for HiTek, Inc. studying trends and fads (things like Pet Rocks and Hula Hoops), trying to determine the causal relationship. The fad problem is a stickler, but Sandra's real nemesis is Flip, a true Gen X slacker who, in her role as mail clerk (or interdepartmental assistant) is the foil of the best laid funding plans.
This is comedy writing at its finest. Willis manages to combine wordplay, cynicism, juxtaposition, running gags, ironic detachment, sarcasm, misunderstandings, and physical humor in a short 247 pages (the leading, or space between the lines, and font size are great enough here that I suspect Bellwether to be close in length to novella rather than novel). But what keeps the story interesting is the concept of trends and chaos--the mixture of public obsessions with scientific theory. Bellwether is great science fiction.
As the story opens (and progresses, and even ends), Sandra is researching trends--especially WHY they start and, in her mind, why they're usually of little or no significance to humanity: "why doesn't thinking for oneself or being nice for a change ever become a trend?" she wonders (for myself, I finished the book in the food court of the local mall and found myself wondering about the current trends of clunky-heeled shoes, floppy-legged jeans and Mendi bracelets/necklaces). Through a series of random events, the initus being a misdelivered package by the oft-promoted but never competent Flip, she is brought into contact with a chaos theorist who is so UN-trendy that a friendship is immediately formed (note: Dr. Ben is not ANTI-trend, as Sandra quickly points out, like the hippies growing long hair in protest of the short buzzcuts of the 50's, but seems IMMUNE to them).
At first, she is merely curious as to why he, of all people, seems so impervious to trends, and then discovers--in a flurry of ridiculous but easily recognized management and social trends--that chaos theory and the sociology of trends are actually much more linked than either of them had originally thought. That is, until Flip looses Dr. Ben's funding form (and, of course, Management believes the claim of the mohawked, duct taped lackey that she never GOT it), and enter the sheep, stage left...
As an amateur student of sociology, I personally loved the book and the fun it poked at modern society. However, sometimes Ms. Willis's character's fads DID get a bit out of hand, and the trends in the book seemed TOO trendy. Flip, of course, being a main character SHOULD have the latest trend, like putting swatches of duct tape around a brand of the letter "I" between her eyes and going off on an anti-smoking campaign. However, when EVERYONE starts rolling their eyes, flipping their hair, and sporting swatches of tape just like Flip-and I mean EVERYONE-the book looses some of it's realism. Even within trends, there's got to be room for individual variation (like KAKHI pants that completely cover the wearer's shoes vs. denim). Also, sometimes my reality got in the way of the book. For example, as "Dilbertian" as HiTek may be as a company, and though I know first hand and through the works of Mr. Scott Adams that MOST companies, no matter how big or small, have complete dunderheads making decisions, it took me the longest time to be convinced that Flip--with her appearance alone, to say nothing of her inability to do her work, etc--would ever be EMPLOYED by any large company, let alone PROMOTED... Multiple times.
"Bellwether", like Ms. Willis's other works (I especially enjoyed "Doomsday Book" and "Uncharted Territory") is a fine read, desipite the occasional difficulty I had in "willingly suspending disbelief." I recommend it highly. I ESPECIALLY recommend it to anyone who has ever gone to the mall and wondered why on earth people (especially teens who, like sheep, tend to travel in tight herds and follow their own bellwether) feel the need to do what everyone else is doing.