Can't remember why I picked this title but very glad I did. I enjoyed the facts in between the 'action' and having spent a little time in Boulder Co. on a teaching exchange it was fun to visit again through the story.
in our lives... find out who yours is, this was one of the best books I have done to date. Well worth you credit or cash! story and narrator excellent. Loved IT!
Since taking my first creative writing class in 2008 the pleasure I used to get from reading has been greatly reduced. I notice things I never noticed before. That said, I think I rate books pretty generously. Anyone who actually manages to write a whole book and then get it published deserves an extra star.
Among Willis' books: not as good as "To Say Nothing of the Dog" but not as bad as "The Doomsday Book". Light entertainment; fun characters.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Sociologist Sandra Foster is studying fads at a Boulder, Colorado company called Hi-Tek. She's focusing on the early 1920s hair-bobbing boom in her attempt to discover what triggers such trends. While Hi-Tek wants her to find the answer so they can make and exploit their own fad, Sandra wants to find it simply because she wants to understand why people "all suddenly decide to play the same game or wear the same clothes or believe the same thing.” Her quest is difficult because people succumb to herd mentality unconsciously and because behind any fad is an endless set of variables, each complexly interacting with others. In this, she frequently notes, fads resemble scientific breakthroughs. As a result, Willis' short novel Bellwether (1996) is packed with myriad examples of both fads (the hula-hoop, Barbie, virtual pets, coffeehouses, crossword puzzles, Ouija boards, etc.) and scientific epiphanies (penicillin, the periodic table, the benzene ring, the big bang, continental drift, x-rays, relativity, etc.).
Complicating Sandra's research is Hi-Tek management's constant interference with its scientists, forcing on them lengthy and opaque funding forms, absurd interpersonal relationship building activities, new acronyms and dress codes, and so on. Still more chaotic is the unconscious sabotage of the Hi-Tek mail clerk from hell, "Flip." Ignorant, self-centered, rude, lazy, and obnoxious, Flip is an anti-guardian angel who, like a warped avatar of Robert Browning's Pippa, spreads gloom, destruction, and chaos wherever she goes. Flip is a creature of fads, dying her hair blue, branding her forehead with the lower case letter "i," wearing an outfit that looks like but is not a waitress uniform, and so on. Thanks to Flip delivering the wrong package, Sandra meets Bennett O'Reilly, who, despite being a chaos theorist studying the transmission of information among monkeys because chaos theory is no longer trendy, is immune to fads. And chaos theory soon becomes part of Sandra's research: “Fads are a facet of the chaotic system of society.”
Willis' novel is fun, full of talk of fads, scientific breakthroughs, chaos patterns, human foibles, and contemporary American culture. She has an amused and accurate ear and eye for how adults and kids talk and live and for how scientists work and think. Sandra's frustration with Flip is comical: "This is just what I needed, to discuss the sex life of a person with a pierced nose and duct tape underwear."
Three flaws mar the novel for me. First, it pushes an anti-anti-smoking agenda, as Sandra says that people who try to ban smoking from public places are bigots following an "aversion trend" which is going to die out sooner than McCarthyism did. To equate smoking with eating chocolate cheesecake and reading books, to make light of the dangers of secondhand smoke, and to imply that anti-smokers are cruel, morally righteous fad-followers all feels off. Second, Willis makes it too easy for us to guess too soon the true roles of Flip (and the assistant she hires) and the true feelings of Bennett, so that it is not believable that Sandra (who is quite intelligent) would not have caught on by the time we do. Third, as a result I began feeling impatient waiting for the climax of what is a short novel, and, indeed, I bet the novel could have been a novella but Willis probably wanted to elongate it to work in all her cool fad and scientific breakthrough nuggets.
The reader, Kate Reading, does a fine job with all the voices; she's especially good at talking like rude, bored, impatient, and ignorant waitpersons and store workers. And her efficient, weathered Shirl is savory.
Of what genre is Bellwether? Although Willis has won numerous Hugos and Nebulas, this book is more fiction about science than science fiction. Perhaps it is a romantic comedy of research scientist manners. If you like Willis' humor in To Say Nothing of the Dog and or if you are curious about fads and scientific breakthroughs treated in a light comic light, you would like this book, but I prefer her more substantial and moving Domesday Book.
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Smart, witty and incisive, depicting humans as we really are, not as how we believe ourselves to be! Most enjoyable.
I have to admit, I didn't finish the book. I was about 50 minutes into it and I didn't know if it was slowly building into an educational book about the science of trends/fads, or a management fable (like Patrick Lencioni's stuff), or a mystery that hadn't gotten mysterious yet. The description on Audible didn't clear it up. Finally, I turned it off and came to Audible to see what category the book fell into... SciFi? What? The overall reviews weren't horrible and I must have bought this for a reason so I read the reviews to see if it's worth sticking it out. It's not. The top two reviews at the time (April 2015) proved to me I hadn't missed the point; the author forgot to put one in. The idea that maybe the story got better was thrown out the window by a review that said it started out good but got bad. For me, it didn't start good, so that tells me there's nowhere to go but down.
So, to sum up, read the other reviews closely. If you see something in the positive reviews that makes you really want to read this despite the negative/neutral reviews, then go for it. However, I didn't find the "Office"-like humor at all. It was a little funny (specifically Flip) but not laugh out loud by any means. I think the majority of people will not really appreciate this book and will regret their decision to buy it so I do not recommend it. On the bright side, the narration was decent and sometimes that's enough to get me through a book. In this case though, my backlog is way too long to spend another hour on this one, let alone 4 more. Maybe another day I'll return and try to finish it, but first impressions are usually right.
I value intelligent stories with characters I can relate to. I can appreciate good prose, but a captivating plot is way more important.
The big reveal in this novel was not worth the time, and certainly didn't satisfy after the buildup.
I did appreciate the satire of academia and workplace bureaucracy. Parts of this book were very funny. Just, not enough to justify the read.
This looked "just okay" to me when I was perusing. I didn't know the author. The description sounded dubious. I think I bought it because it was on sale. Well lucky me because this was easily in my top-five for 2014.
This book is quirky and totally enjoyable. It took about two or three chapters for me to get into the rhythm, and it was a roller-coaster of humor from there to the end. I will definitely seek this author out in the future.
I appreciated the satire and the absurdity of the fads. But some of the fads were incongruous; the story would have had a greater impact if it made an effort to "bunch" fads in such a way that made sense for each character. The interplay between following fads and constructing one's identity needed to be explored more. There were also lots of recycled references, 20 questions when you order a latte, corporate doublespeak, lingo, etc.
I enjoyed the historical discussion of fads. And the literary references. The story was interesting, but it was repetitive. The chaos theory angle didn't really work for me. I though this book worked better as social satire than science fiction.
I just didn't like the voices. It's easy to do a valley girl voice, which is what the narrator chose for the tragically hipsters. I think something more flat would have been better. The male voices were also irritating. I don't think it's necessary to try to imitate gender.
Even though I'm complaining about it being too long for the story, the listening happens pretty quick. The problem is the story doesn't go anywhere; I remember being under the 3 hour mark thinking, really? This is it?
Maybe in 1996 this book could have an impact. Now, with The Office, Portlandia, Being John Malkovich and lots of other smart, self-aware satire available, I don't find this book particularly funny or illuminating. And merely having a character who is a scientist researching chaos theory does not a science fiction novel make.
I kept waiting for something interesting to happen. I would put this book in the safe category, no cursing, action, romance or suspense. The fads held my interest and growing up in the 60's & 70's some of the fads did bring back memories and made me chuckle, but this book was just a little to slow and uneventful for me.