In Connie Willis’ unique novella Bellwether, pop culture, chaos theory and matters of the heart collide.
Sandra Foster studies fads and their meanings for the HiTek corporation. Bennet O’Reilly works with monkey group behavior and chaos theory for the same company. When the two are thrust together due to a misdelivered package and a run of seemingly bad luck, they find a joint project in a flock of sheep. But series of setbacks and disappointments arise before they are able to find answers to their questions.
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Connie Willis’s short novel Bellwether is a wonderfully intelligent romantic comedy.
Researchers Dr Sandra Foster and Dr Bennett O’Reilly, with specialties in fad/trend analysis and chaos theory respectively, find themselves thrown together in the chaotic and fad-driven HiTek Corporation. They are your classic fish out of water. Add to this melting pot an infuriating admin assistant (sorry, interdepartmental communications liaison), a 60+ page simplified grant funding application form and a flock of sheep and you have ample fodder for comedic moments.
Willis has written this story so ingeniously. Each chapter begins with an often tongue in cheek description of a fad – what exactly it was, how it came about, how long it lasted and why it diminished. Think hula hoops, rubix cube, quality circles, hot pants, etc.
Another interesting feature in the writing is the way Willis dehumanised ‘management’.
“Now let’s get busy. You’ve got divergent thinking to do. Let’s see some significant scientific breakthroughs.”
Management marched out, his baton under his arm…
Even though, or perhaps because I myself work in management in a corporate environment, I found the observations in Bellwether hilarious – a similar bent to the much loved Dilbert cartoons.
The humour crafted by Willis is so dry and witty, with references to literature and her subterfuge against her library’s book culling policy throughout the novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but it was pitch perfect for me.
“You can change the world,” Browning was clearly saying. “By being perky and signalling before turning left, one person can have a positive effect on society,” and it was obvious from “The Pied Piper” that he understood how trends worked.
Bellwether a quick and fun read that I would highly recommend – I read it in one sitting. I learnt things from the experience too, which is always nice.
BOOK RATING: The Story 5 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5 — Overall 4.5
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Genre: Drama, Romance, Humour, Science Fiction, Literature
UPDATE: Bellwether is one of the titles featured in my list of Top Intelligent Romantic Comedy Novels. We have since also enjoyed other titles from Connie Willis including the outstanding To Say Nothing of the Dog and Crosstalk.
About the Author, Connie Willis
Constance Willis is an American science fiction writer. She is one of the most honoured science fiction writers of the 1980s and 1990s. She has won, among other awards, ten Hugo Awards and six Nebula Awards. She lives in Greeley, Colorado with her husband Courtney Willis, a professor of physics at the University of Northern Colorado. She also has one daughter.
Willis is known for her accessible prose and likable characters. She has written several pieces involving time travel by history students and faculty of the future University of Oxford. These pieces include her Hugo Award-winning novels Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog and the short story “Fire Watch,” found in the short story collection of the same name. A full list of publications is available on her website.