Sandra Foster studies fads and their meanings for the HiTek corporation. Bennett 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 a series of setbacks and disappointments arise before they are able to find answers to their questions - with the unintended help of the errant, forgetful, and careless office assistant Flip.
©1996 Connie Willis; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Connie Willis deploys the apparatus of science fiction to illuminate character and relationships, and her writing is fresh, subtle and deeply moving." (New York Times Book Review)
"Willis's story builds slowly but is realistic and engrossing." (Midwest Book Review)
Science writer in America's heartland
Fans of William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition" will see a lot of similarity here, in that our heroine is working to understand the evolution of trends in human society. And fans of "Office Space" will see a lot of similarity between that movie's Initech company and our heroine's Hi-Tek laboratory. The blend is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.
Some Hi-Tek employees' names are allegories -- one incompetent assistant is named "Desiderata" and another "Flip" (for the frequent flip of her hair, or, as we learn later, maybe something else). The clueless laboratory director -- who falls for every new management fad that comes along -- is simply named "Management."
Chapters begin with just a little background on the research topic at hand, and these entries make the book's science content accessible to a general audience. I gave it four stars because I thought that these introductory segments were at times a little too long or detailed. But all in all a good book, and I couldn't put it down -- had to listen to it in one sitting.
Apparently I am nearly alone in my dislike of this book. I found the protagonist preachy and superior. It droned on and on about how wonderful it was to dodge the sheeple mentality... I guess I just couldn't connect with any of the characters. It was hardly the quality of satire that Office Space attained- in fact it was barely recognizable as satire at all.
I recognize the irony of me going against the crowd on this one, I promise.
I'm addicted to Audible. A new grandma I am responsible for my grandsons library, which reignited my interest in books.
Its like the knock knock joke about the banana, until they finally say orange. The story is great at first and the characters seem like they will be interesting but it becomes a broken record, the characters are very one dimensional and what was funny in the beginning is becoming tedious as I continue to listen. Two thirds of the way in I realized there seem to be no story, or climax are anything interesting beyond the beginning fascination with learning about new characters. I had high hopes after having numerous disappointments. But alas it was another let down.
I was stopped in the grocery store and asked what I was listening to that had me grinning like a maniac. "Bellwether" takes a little while to get rolling, but the narrative voice is beautifully captured, and the ideosyncracies of the workplace, fads, and scientific discoveries enlivens a fairly straightforward storyline. Once the sheep were introduced, I found myself unable to unplug. As a sheep owner, I was similtaneously laughing and nodding over Sandy's and Ben's exploits with the ovine crowd. Brilliant fun and thought-provoking as well. Why do we embrace fads? How do they get started? Why is it that so many important scientific discoveries seem to happen by accident? What is the origin of the hoola hoop?
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
Fascinating and droll, Connie Willis's short novel Bellwether hooked me from the start with its overarching metaphor about fads. And then it kept me hooked (and chuckling almost incessantly) with its wry observations about working in a corporate office environment and living in a world of self-policed social conformity.
That sounds like quite a mouthful, but it's not all that complicated: this is pretty much the same idea as The Big Bang Theory -- the real (and really funny) lives of scientific researchers -- with the notable difference that the main character is perplexed by fads rather than, like the Big Bang guys, devoted to (certain types of) them.
Two things I take away from this book, other than the straightforward fact of enjoying it immensely for its observations and humor: its setting and its metaphor. So many books, movies, TV shows are about people most of us can never be -- policemen, lawyers, doctors, secret agents, etc. Not really a surprise -- those are the occupations that offer up a broad range of dramatic life or death plot lines, especially for serial versions of their respective media.
But we don't usually relate to them directly. By contrast, a smaller number of works are about real people working everyday jobs in the most common setting -- the office. And yet so many of those become popular because we can relate to the setting, not least of which is The Office. The Big Bang Theory is so good not because of the rare profession of its characters, but because it shows their day to day lives at the office and at home (of course, for the purposes of sit-com).
Bellwether is likewise about Ph.D. scientists, and their research provides a metaphorical background, but there is immense appeal in their office environment and politics and relationships, and in what they have to do just to get a cup of coffee or iced tea, let alone get their projects funded. Great stuff.
The other irresistible aspect of Bellwether is its metaphor -- fads. It is, in my opinion, a rare feat of literary prowess to come up with a metaphor so powerful that we are as much interested in it as in what it symbolizes. Every section of Bellwether features an exploration of at least one fad (hula hoops, Rubik's cubes, coffee houses, hair styles, etc.). The details are simply fascinating in and of themselves, but they also come full circle in their respective sections in symbolizing that part of the proceedings. Again, great stuff.
One other aspect of Bellwether is worth mentioning. It doesn't quite rise to the level of fads as metaphor, but it comes close -- the examples of scientific breakthroughs that came as the result of accident or luck or serendipity or some unexpected sequence of events. This metaphor is not quite as pervasive as fads, even though it starts off the story and plays a large role in its conclusion. Still quite interesting, but not as completely captivating.
Bellwether is a highly amusing riff on the same theme as William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition." Very witty. Willis is one of the very few science fiction writers with any sense of humor, yet alone a highly developed one.
I'm a huge Connie Willis fan so, of course, I'm biased about all her books. And Bellwether, a slightly older title, did not disappoint. It was well-researched, entertaining, and kept me wanting more -- all with that special Connie Willis lightness of touch.
The characters are delightful, I learned more about fads than I would have believed possible - and the ending was totally satisfying.
I heartily recommend Bellwether!
In this funny, ain't-it-the-truth story, Connie Willis immerses the reader in the frustrations and chaos encountered by a likeable pair of researchers. Kate Reading's fine performance keeps events clear to the reader even when the characters are bewildered.
This was a delightfully quirky novel, that starts slow but makes up for it in the second half. The humor and unique characters made this book. Flip (the office clerk) and other crazy characters in the office made this book more tangible too. The description of past fads spread throughout the book were interesting and added to the story. The geeky love story wraps this book up for a little bit of everything from science to fiction to fashion. It is very enjoyable.
Even though this book is 12 years old, the story is still completely relevant - and hilarious - satire on office life. Even the issue of "second-secondhand smoke" is currently in the news (as "thirdhand smoke"). The idea that when Management returns from a seminar, it means "a new acronym, sensitivity training & more paperwork," certainly still holds true.
I loved everything about this book, from the references to past fads, to the unfortunately-chosen acronyms, to the 42-page "simplified" forms. The narrator - Kate Reading - captures all the characters perfectly.
I downloaded this book on a whim,looking for something different,and absolutely loved it.It is extremely funny( laugh out loud funny at many points).The whole concept of Sandra,the heroine,studying fads,and the regular snippets of information about this throughout the story,sounds strange but works brilliantly.So there is science,chaos theory,the quirks of the corporation where she works,mad office assistants,romance,sheep....all combined in an enjoyable and well-narrated package. Highly recommended.
"Best Listen This Year"
This has been the most enjoyable book I've listened to. It is not science fiction but is set in a present day research company. The author's voice and the narrator mesh perfectly, and for anyone who has worked in the world of management the humour is sharply to the point. It's a book I shall return to more than once. I wouldn't have chosen this title but for a friend's recommendation.
Connie Willis is a witty and perceptive writer and Bellwether manages to be many things - biting social commentary, a thriller, a romance, a comedy - and a great story, too. Some of the characters may be (by necessity) stereotypical, but they are multi-dimensional, believable, quirky and original stereotypes. This had me laughing out loud and this is as much due to Kate Reading's wonderful narration as to Connie Willis' writing. Although I guessed the ending, it was hugely enjoyable to observe the characters antics as the story unravelled. Highly recommended.
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