Tidings of the Crew – bellwether (Connie Willis)

Ahoy there mateys!  Though the First Mate and I have very different reading tastes, occasionally we do recommend books to each other.  Books the first mate introduced to me included xom-bholes, and the perks of being a wallflower.  He and I both read the following:

bellwether (Connie Willis)

We read and talked about the book and I enjoyed his viewpoint so I ordered asked him to write a review.  So you get one from me and a bonus additional review from me crew.  Please note that I write like I talk and the First Mate writes like he thinks.  Hope you enjoy!

From the Captain:

I really love Connie Willis’ writing and this one was a hoot!  I listened to the audiobook version read by Kate Reading.  She did a fantastic job.  This book deals with fads, office drama, chaos theory, sheep, a secret contest, a wee bit of romance, and Flip the assistant.  Seriously Flip is freakin’ funny.  It is set in the 1990s.  This is the type of book that is written so well.  It can be read as just entertainment or ye can ponder the deeper, cleverer elements in the writing.  I was smiling the entire time I listened to this.  It is short but great and I will certainly listen to it again.  The book was nominated for the Nebula Best Novel in 1997 and won the Locus Award for Best Novella also in 1997.  This solidifies that I need to continue to read Willis’ backlist.  Arrrr!

From the First Mate:

After finishing Bellwether, I put the book down, turned to the Captain and said, “You have to read this; you’ll love it.”

For me, Connie Willis never disappoints. Or, perhaps that’s: has yet to disappoint. For a writer of whose work I’ve enjoyed all ’ve read, I’ve curiously not read everything. Reading Bellwether was a fantastic start to remedying that oversight.

Our protagonist, Dr. Sandra Foster, studies fads for her employer. Her employer, Hi-Tek, wants to monetize the information. Dr. Foster just really wants to understand why fads occur. Each chapter starts with some information about a particular fad and it is fascinating. The way that Willis writes about Dr. Foster’s research was very compelling to me. Kind of amusing was also the fact that here in 2022 people are still studying what causes fads or makes something go viral. One could almost picture a Dr. Foster still in the field a quarter century later.

Perhaps the most fun in the novel centers around the character of Flip, the office clerk. In the start of the novel, Willis uses Flip as a stand-in for punkish gen-x twenty-somethings that were incomprehensible to older generations in the mid-90s. Flip wanders where she wants, doing whatever it is that seems appropriate to her at the time. And Dr. Foster is completely at a loss of how to deal with it all. When Flip convinces management to give her an assistant things get very interesting.

Like a lot of Connie Willis works, Bellwether has a romantic element to the story. The romance is neither cloying nor overwhelms the rest of the story. In fact it seems to be present simply because the two characters work so well together. Or, perhaps, I just found the romance to be sweet. YMMV.

One of the things that fascinates me about reading older works is how some are very tied to their times and others are not. Jane Eyre, for example, feels less to me like a stuffy classic and more like a historical novel that could’ve been written at any point in the last hundred years (Jane Eyre is seriously brilliant; put it on your list if you haven’t read it). Bellwether, while dealing with topics that are still being wrestled with today (fads/viral, tech company management techniques, scientists fearful of losing funding, sexual politics of the office, generation friction amongst cowers), feels firmly from the 90s. It just exudes some 90s essence that cannot be ignored. Since I enjoyed the 90s, that really worked for me.

One element of the novel that seemed weirdly out of place, though, was what could only be interpreted as a pro-smoker sentiment. Dr. Foster keeps referring to the anti-smoking movement as a bizarre “aversion fad” and that people who were following that fad were being unreasonable. I remember people being very divided on smoking in the 90s, but it surprised me that Willis put her thoughtful, compassionate protagonist on the side of the smokers. Of course, perhaps that was simply part of the gen-x twenty something bashing on Dr. Foster’s part as Flip was solidly anti-smoker. Either way, it’s an element that from 2022 sticks out.

Recommended to fans of Connie Willis, fans of quirky tech stories, and fans of damn good writing. Avoid if office politics give you the howling fantods or if a little romance spoils the fun.

Goodreads had this to say about the novel:

Sandra Foster studies fads – from Barbie dolls to the grunge look – how they start and what they mean. Bennett O’Reilly is a chaos theorist studying monkey group behavior. They both work for the HiTek corporation, strangers until a misdelivered package brings them together. It’s a moment of synchronicity – if not serendipity – which leads them into a chaotic system of their own, complete with a million-dollar research grant, caffé latte, tattoos, and a series of unlucky coincidences that leaves Bennett monkeyless, fundless, and nearly jobless.

Sandra intercedes with a flock of sheep and an idea for a joint project. (After all, what better animal to study both chaos theory and the herd mentality that so often characterizes human behavior?)

But scientific discovery is rarely straightforward and never simple, and Sandra and Bennett have to endure a series of setbacks, heartbreaks, dead ends, and disasters before they find their ultimate answer…

To visit the author’s website go to:
Connie Willis – Author

To buy the novel please visit:
bellwether – Book

To add to Goodreads go to:
Yer Ports for Plunder List

Previous Log Entries for this Author
crosstalk (On the Horizon – Sci-Fi eArc)
i met a traveller in an antique land (On the Horizon – Fantasy eArc)
to say nothing of the dog – book 2 (Captain’s Log – Sci-Fi)
jack (On the Horizon – Historical Fantasy eArc)
take a look at the five and ten (On the Horizon – Sci-Fi eArc)

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4 thoughts on “Tidings of the Crew – bellwether (Connie Willis)

  1. I love both the 90’s and books about fads, so I’ll be adding this one to my tbr. If you haven’t yet read Savage Girl by Alex Shakar, grab a copy. It’s also about fads and is super interesting. I’ve read it a few times.

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