Bellwether by Connie Willis is a book I first discovered 12 years ago. The first time I read it, I gave it to everyone for Christmas that year. I have reread at least once since, and a few weeks ago I picked the book up again. As always, I wondered: would I still love this book? Was it still funny?
I laughed out loud! I cried, wiping tears away surreptitiously at work and on the bus. I devoured this book. Most of all, I remembered why I love it so much. The heroine, Sandra Foster, is me. Not me, literally. But how she thinks, the things she does and gets caught up in, she is me. Synchronicity. Chaos resolving into a higher state of stability. Humour. Books feature in this story in a big way. So do administrative clerks and a management team who keep inventing new acronyms for the team. I don't know about you, but even in my workplace we've managed to go through three acronyms since I began there 9 years ago. Three! Since this is my first foray into business/government vs retail work, I found reading Bellwether this time even funnier. I can relate to a management team whose new iniative spells out "GRIM: Guided Resource Initiative Management". It makes as much sense as any real life acronyms!! I wish I dared suggest it in our suggestion box at work......
This science fiction novel is about the chaos that results at a science firm when an administrative assistant named Flip misdelivers a box to the wrong section. Sandra is researching what caused the bob in the 1920's - the short cut of hair that millions of women suddenly adopted, without one apparent reason for them all to do it. Sandra is a statistician, and has a theory about how trends get started. Flip's misdelivery of the box leads her to meet Bennett, who defies all popularity/trendsetting fads, including wearing coke-bottle lens glasses, and researches chaos theory. 'Bellwether' is also about sheep, but you'll have to read the book to find out more, since otherwise it might give too much of the plot away!
It is a delightful, wonderful, witty poke at modern fads and trends and the buzz words we use, all in the context of understanding why people behave the way they do. Thrown into the mix is the desire of the company to win the Neibnitz Grant, a prize of one million dollars, awarded every so often to a scientist.
Did I mention library books? Library books figure prominently, as does Barbie, fads in angels and fairies, restaurants that change names weekly, and management sensitivity exercises.
There is so much to love in the book. I was as happy and satisfied at the ending as ever, and I finished it thinking, "If anyone ever wanted to get to know how my brain works, this is a good book to start with." This is one of those books that truly delights me. It is good, it is moving, and it is funny. It really is one of my favourite books of all time.
Here is a link to a Connie Willis site and her books. I see by this that her new book, Black-Out, was released last week! I'm rushing to my bookstore on Tuesday to see if it's there!
Here is Jo Walton's review of Bellwether, written last year. I'd suggest to read this one only if you've read Bellwether already, since it does give more plot away. I also disagree with Jo when she calls it fluff; I prefer one of the commentators on the post who suggest that Bellwether unifies chaos events - I like that! there has to be some kind of new equilibrium reached, even if it's only temporary, or only chaos results, forever. And life just isn't like that. Life does have moments of equilibrium.
As science fiction goes, this is not heavy on science at all. Science plays a major role, but so does love and friendship and a Robert Browning poem. It's a book for anyone who's afraid to try science fiction, for anyone who hates winter and longs for spring (this will at least make your spirits happy for a few days), for anyone who likes a wry look at how people come to do things - anything. This is a very good novel that happens to be science fiction. So I really have given it to people who've never read this genre, as well as to life-long readers of it. Mostly, it's funny. It also gives a handy 5-answer guide for what to put down for your list at your next management strategy (new acronym time!) meeting that we all have to suffer under :
1.Optimize potential. 2.Facilitate empowerment 3. Implement visioning 4.Strategize priorities 5. Augment core structures.
Uh oh, writing that list down makes me realize I've heard all this in real life! I wonder if any of my management team have read this book? So I like Bennett's response to the list:
What is that?" Bennett said, looking at the list. "Those make no sense."
Yes, I feel like I'm having a conversation with the characters! If for nothing else, you have to read this book for Flip, who is like the worst assistant out there......
So tell me, Gentle Reader, have you come across a book that seems to reflect you on the page? Is it one of your favourite books?
This was read for part of Carl's Sci-Fi Challenge, as well as Becky's 42 Science Fiction Things challenge.
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