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Bellwether by Connie Willis

Bellwether (original 1996; edition 1997)

by Connie Willis

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2,116833,104 (3.99)168
Authors:Connie Willis
Info:Spectra (1997), Mass Market Paperback, 247 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, science fiction

Work details

Bellwether by Connie Willis (1996)

  1. 42
    Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (Kichererbse)
  2. 10
    So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld (mzonderm)
    mzonderm: Both books are interesting commentaries on how fads get started.
  3. 00
    PopCo by Scarlett Thomas (shelfoflisa)

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» See also 168 mentions

English (80)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  All (83)
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
I first read this years ago, and it became one of my favourites. I read, and enjoy, a lot of books - but only very few get filed on the "favourites" shelf.

On re-reading, a number of years later, the story hasn't lost anything. In fact, I probably enjoy it even more now than I did then, being older and more cynical.

Sandra works for Hi-Tek, researching trends. She wants to find the origin of hair-bobbing. She also wants her mail correctly delivered, her photocopying done, and her stapler returned.

Bennett also works for Hi-Tek, under the impression that he has moved away from studying chaos. He wants some macaques so he can study information diffusion.

Flip attends at Hi-Tek, in the sense of: "Do you work here?" "No, I just attend." She is the cause of chaos in other people.

It's quite difficult to describe this book, because there actually isn't a great deal in the way of plot. In some ways, it almost operates like the nineteenth century roman a clef in which ninety percent of the fun is that you know who the characters are supposed to represent. In the case of Bellwether Willis takes the whole book to poke fun at people who mindlessly follow trends without even known that they're doing it, and at corporate-management-jargon.

This book was first published in 1996, and so certain aspects are rather dated (e.g. one character's cellphone, which keeps going out of range, and the computer equipment) but the story as a whole has stood the test of 20 years. Given the subject matter, that's rather depressing - but not surprising.

Anyone who has worked for a large company will immediately recognise Management (who is never named!) who comes up with a new acronym every week and is incapable of telling the difference between people who sound good and those who can actually do their jobs.

But the main portion of the book is about trends - good ones and bad ones. Why do people flock to a particular pursuit, or thing, in droves - and then abandon it a short while after? Everyone can probably think of a few (e.g., Pokemon Go, at the moment - with people getting mugged, or crashing their cars, because they're playing the game and not paying attention to their surroundings. Or even wandering into landmines). But to some extent, these trends are (mostly) harmless, if rather irritating for those not caught up in them. But Willis also points out that other things are also trends: intolerance of a particular group being one. It used to be Jews. Now it's Muslims.

Ultimately, I think Bellwether is one long (amusing!) rant by Willis about the ridiculousness of people who blindly follow what's "in" - and about the very real damage that people can do by simply following the crowd. What would society be like if people stopped just following, and actually stopped to think? ( )
  T_K_Elliott | Mar 12, 2017 |
The writing is good. The characters are likable and well-developed, but the promise of this soft sci-fi story is never realized. It devolves into a light romance without resolving much. ( )
  DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
I went ahead and tagged this as science fiction because Willis is classified as a sci-fi author, but it isn't sci-fi at all. It is partly a romance novel (as many of her books are); it's partly a satire on many obnoxious aspects of contemporary American life (very much to my taste, but Willis, as she tends to do, runs it into the ground); and it's a well-researched think piece on the process of scientific discovery. There is lightweight Connie Willis, and there is heavyweight Connie Willis, best exemplified by the great Doomsday Book; this one is lightweight, but enjoyable.

The main topic of the satire, and of the protagonist's research is the human weakness for fads. As the story opens angels are being replaced by fairy godmothers as the prevailing craze among the empty-headed; it is a nice touch that SPOILER ALERT a fairy godmother has an important role in the story.
  sonofcarc | Aug 17, 2016 |
A very different type of science fiction. On one hand you have chaos theory and on the other hand you have fads. Each chapter starts with a description of a fad (and its life span). You have the typical idiocracy of management and you have a sheep. What more could you want in a light read. ( )
  Patty6508 | Jul 10, 2016 |
Only Humboldt (Nancy Pearl says it's a 'sweet intelligent love story')
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 5, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Connie Willisprimary authorall editionscalculated
Jensen, BruceCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reading, KateNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives--
Follwed the Piper for their lives.
From street to street he piped advancing,
And step by step they followed dancing.
robert browning
To John
From Abigail

First words
It's almost impossible to pinpoint the beginning of a fad.
"Do you like po-mo pink?" I asked her.
She sighed. "It's the boss color for fall."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553562967, Mass Market Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:06 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A romantic comedy on two scientists using the chaos theory to predict fads in our society. They are Sandra and Bennet, working on the premise that a tiny action like the flap of a butterfly's wings in Arizona has an impact on the whole world, perhaps resulting in a hurricane in China. The couple's work on fad-diffusion produces comic as well as tragic results.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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