Pros: A pointed and humorous look at the fads that run through our culture.
Cons: This novel might make "sheep" uncomfortable.
The Bottom Line: I read this book every year to remind me to not take some things too seriously. It always makes me laugh.
Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.
Have you ever sat in a meeting where the information presented seemed so moronic that you wanted to find a brick wall and beat your head against it?
As a teacher, I am presented this opportunity numerous times during the school year. We tease, wondering about which new acronym our administration will roll out for our "improvement."
Connie Willis addresses this in Bellwether and then some! Her story follows fad researcher Sandra Foster through a maddening series of personal and corporate events that can touch on our own dealings with the insanity of the culture that surrounds us.
This book is a very tongue in cheek view of popular trends as Ms. Foster attempts to find the source of the fad of hair-bobbing. She runs head-long into so many "cutting-edge" fads that bewilder and bemuse her.
The corporate background is a fictitious company (I hope!) called HiTek. "Management" is a person who is never identified in any other way, other than by his trendy clothing which varies over the course of the novel. Staff meetings are periodically called to unveil the newest management system, for example: Guided Resource Initiative Management or GRIM. With new "simplified" forms that are 65 pages long, the HiTek employees are constantly confused by corporate babble that sounds really good and is virtually meaningless. I feel Dr. Foster's pain as she deals with idiocy and incompetency.
Running throughout the story is the incompetent office assistant who sows chaos and disorder wherever she goes. Flip is obnoxious, rude, ignorant, inconsiderate and seems to be the stick that keeps the office pot stirred.
Dr. Foster becomes acquainted with Dr. Bennett O'Reilly after Flip delivers a package marked "perishable" to her in error. She is fascinated as she finds him to be completely "immune" from fad or fashion. The two become partners after Flip loses Dr. O'Reilly's "new simplified funding application."
Enter the sheep. Dr. O'Reilly is studying information diffusion between higher level mammals and when he is unable to get the macaques that he intended to use, Dr. Foster rescues his project by borrowing a small herd of sheep from her trendy rancher friend. Uncooperative does not describe the attitude of the sheep. Yet, when set in motion by their "Bellwether" they follow blindly.
The novel explores so many modern issues as they relate to "what is IN." One wonders how people are so shallow as to fail to see that they are being led off the edge of the cliff. The unstated comparison of humans to sheep is witty and pointed and disturbing at the same time.
The characters vary from very human to almost cartoonlike. The main characters are well defined, the peripheral characters lack development, however, their shallow development complements the novel's sarcastic view of popular culture.
Bellwether is a quick read. It will tickle you in places you didn't know were ticklish. Although fiction, this novel will also show the reader a mirror of daily life in our rapidly changing world.
Bellwether was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1997.
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Oct 5, 2010
Feb 12, 2011 09:06 PM UTC
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Trend-spotter Sandra Foster works for the Hi Tek company trying to create a theory about the nature of trends. Too bad the inept, and stunningly disorganized, interdepartmental assistant Flip is stymieing her progress. But Flip does introduce Sandra to biologist Bennett O'Reilly, whose work with chaos theories complements hers. When Sandra and Bennett decide to set up a joint project to test their ideas on the behavior of a flock of sheep, they realize that Flip, bumbling around, acting oddly, and sporting weird clothes, unknowingly acts as their office's bellwether sheep.