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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 22 May 1998
Probably the most enjoyable book I've read that asks the question: why do people jump on the latest bandwagon only to discover that it doesn't make them any happier than they were before? The protagonist-narrator of the story is a social scientist, working for a research corporation and trying to find how fads begin. The corporation wants to figure out how to use her research to make new fads, and of course gobs of money in the process. The weekly meetings presided over by "management" are hilarious.
This book reads so easily that you might be deceived into thinking that it's simply written. Hardly. Willis has worked very hard to tie together a number of disparate elements. Some of the most enjoyable parts of the book are the short descriptions of dozens of past fads -- everything from coonskin caps to bobbed hair to mah jong. In the process, Willis tells us a lot about what we're willing to do to "belong."
I noticed from previous reviews that some people were disappointed with this book because it really isn't science fiction. It's true, this is not traditional science fiction, with a futuristic setting, new technology, etc. But Willis's remarks that relate fads to chaos theory are very well thought-out. In giving the reader something new to think about, she meets the basic test of science fiction. And in creating an enjoyable, perceptive story, she meets the challenge of being an exceptionally good writer.
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on 26 September 1998
This book will Flip you out. And you'll have to read it to truly appreciate this comment. :) If this book is indicative of Connie's writing I can see why she has won six Nebulas and five Hugos (including short stories, novellas etc).
The story revolves around Sandy, a research scientist working at HiTek. She is searching for the cause of fads. There would be a lot of money for the people who could predict the next fad. She is focusing on the fad of 'hair bobbing' that afflicted women in the 1920s. If she can find what caused it she can apply the model to fads in general.
When the story starts things aren't going to well for Sandy. She's found lots of leads, but nothing conclusive. Her investigations are hampered and conversely helped by the conditions and environment she is forced to work in.
'Bellwether' is written with a wickedly cynical sense of humour. I had to stop reading in a couple of places as I was laughing so hard. The characters have to be read to be believed. Even the incidental people in the book are beautifully described. They are the sort of people you never want to meet, but that you know are out there.
Some of the characters don't have names, but this is because they don't need them. The most notable example is Sandy's boss, he (the gender is specified) is simply the Management. He is the epitome of everything that you think off when you think about corporate management. I won't go into detail as it would take some of the fun out of the book, but Connie has captured the concept with breathtaking accuracy.
Connie manages to include huge amounts of information about both fads and chaos theory without being boring or impenetrable.
Each chapter has a paragraph at the start about one fad. I'm astounded at some of the things Connie has managed to dig up. Some of the fads we have indulged in in the past are utterly ridiculous. You wouldn't think anyone would ever do anything like some of the things Connie describes, but they are (sadly) all to true.
Chaos is a central theme to this book in both theory and practice. Chaos theory is central to Sandy's study of how fads get started and chaos is central to how her life operates. It's just one bewildering, inexplicable thing after the other. Don't despair about this book being incomprehensible, though, Connie's leads you though it all with skill and wit, I never felt lost, and ties everything together at the end.
Being a fad researcher one thing that Sandy notices, and frequently comments on, is that people don't think for themselves, they simply follow the fad. A fad that Sandy would like to see start amongst the insanity she is researching, is people thinking for themselves. I dare say this is something Connie would like to see as well and I wholeheartedly agree. It's a pity that the only people who are capable of understanding what Connie is saying probably don't follow fads anyhow. But if this book gets at least one person thinking for themselves rather then following the trend then I'm sure Connie would be delighted.
When I was half way through I was seriously thinking this would be a five star book. So what went wrong, why have I only given it four? Towards the end the humour starts to disappear. The book never becomes uninteresting or dull, it is a delight to read right through to the last page, but it doesn't quite have the bite at the end as it has in the initial two thirds. Still I highly recommend you read 'Bellwether'. It is a damn good book, quite definitely four stars and quite nearly five.
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This is a light and breezy read. It is humorous and somewhat satiric. What it is not, is science fiction. It is, however, about a group of scientists, and it is definitely fiction. The book is written in an imaginative way, with each chapter beginning with a paragraph giving information about a particular fad that caught the imagination of society at one time or another. Written quite tongue in cheek, the book is a funny and light-hearted look at life, love, corporate dysfunction, and the herd mentality society sometimes adopts. While the book is not at all what I had expected, I rather enjoyed it.
The main protagonist is Sandra Foster, a social scientist who studies fads, tracking down their origins and analyzing what they mean. She works for the HiTek Corporation, a company laden with a surfeit of corporate bureaucracy. So does Bennett O'Reilly, a chaos theorist, whom Sandra meets when a package goes astray within the work place. They eventually join forces and begin working together on a special project with a flock of sheep as their guinea pigs. The book basically shows how chaos serves to unite these two in a way that they could not have imagined.
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on 17 April 1998
I really liked Bellwether. It deals with one of my favourite subjects, chaos theory, among other things. In it, Connie Willis manages to work the plot so that everything the protagonist experiences, is part of the realization the character has at the end. All of the pieces of the puzzle are there, and only once it had been solved at the end, did I truly appreciate how Willis has woven it into the book. The tone is light, and there is a lot of comedy, but to a serious purpose. The elements of the protagonist's life chaotically intertwine with the scientific exploration of the book, and this merging of them is part of the book's point. It is both immensely enjoyable to read, and one of the finest science fiction books I've read.
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on 30 June 1999
I loved this book, and so did the two friends who read it with me in a one-week trip abroad. We had read "Doomsday book", which we had liked, but we couldn't expect such a delightful and witty approach to office life. Besides, the message behind it isn't at all shallow.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 August 2010
Prior to picking this up, I'd read and greatly enjoyed two of Willis' other books: To Say Nothing of the Dog and Doomsday Book. However, despite the science fiction packaging, this one is a completely different kettle of fish -- and not in a good way. It's basically a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy blended with an unsuccessful social satire. The heroine is a sociologist working for some kind of research firm (how this firm actually makes money is entirely unclear) who is attempting to isolate what triggers social fads in general, and hair bobbing in particular. She's kind of a Sally Sad Sack, smart and sensible but never sticking up for herself even when she knows she's been wronged. The question is whether she will succumb to the attention of a trend-following rancher, or pursue a decidedly untrendy physicist working on chaos theory. Just as the answer to that is entirely obvious the first time we meet the characters involved, so too is the satire entirely obvious and dead on the page.

About 1/3 of the satire is directed at the firm the heroine works for, but making fun of giant companies is like shooting fish in a barrel, and there's nothing remotely fresh or funny about Willis' efforts here. However, if you think jokes revolving around how the "Simplified Funding Application Form" is actually longer than the original form, then maybe you'll get some giggles out of this. Personally, I found it all pretty tedious. Similarly, there is a lot of oversatirization of trends which mainly comes off as cranky and dated, rather than light fun. Indeed, it reads all too much like an author working out their frustration with modern society. Overall, quite disappointing, considering how much I enjoyed the other books of hers I'd read.
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on 21 November 1999
A book that proves the versatility of Connie Willis, only it has nothing whatever to do with science fiction or fantasy! Satire is what this book is about. And it is one of her best efforts, which is saying a great deal!
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on 2 March 2007
I've just finished reading this and found it one of the most enjoyable books I've read for months. There's something of a Kafkaesque quality in the frustrations that the Hitek employees experience in trying to cope with the twin evils of Flip, the mail clerk, and the Management. Flip makes incompetence into an art form and Management is a single, acronym obsessed man whose new improved funding request forms would need a PhD and several years' free time to fill in. Mixed in with this is a love story of sorts, a disquisition on the origins of fads, and some interesting observations of sheep behaviour. Great fun; fast-paced; laugh out loud humour.
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on 26 August 1999
This is an excellent book. I believe it is my favorite Connie Willis novel, and that's saying a good deal.
There are already plenty of reviews which go into detail, so I won't. I just wanted to add my five stars, and to recommend this book to anyone who enjoys humor or who has an interest in social trends.
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on 6 July 1997
I dove into this book not knowing what to consider
and quickly found myself having great fun. The
reference to "The Management" and their interminable but predictable changes reflects a trend one sees today in business. The petty jealousies among grant-seekers is all too true in academia and big business today. But the crowning glory of this book is the sly subtle way that Willis lets the reader know that everything they do is a reaction to yet another event, one that may not have been intended by the antagonist. This book is a must-read for students of human nature, for those in government and other bureaucracies, and for those who appreciate a sly satire on business today. (Just sign me "Pippa")
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