Bellwether
Connie Willis
Shortlisted for 1997 Nebula Award

Cover

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.