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Bellwether
Connie Willis
Narrated by Kate Reading, unabridged
Blackstone Audio, 6 hours, 30 minutes

Connie Willis
Connie Willis was born in 1945 in Denver, Colorado. Her first SF publication was "The Secret of Santa Titicaca" published in Worlds of Fantasy, the Winter 1970-71 issue. For her first novel, she collaborated with Cynthia Felice on Water Witch. She has won Hugo and Nebula Awards for Fire Watch, "The Last of the Winnebagos," Doomsday Book and "Even the Queen," a Hugo Award for "Death on the Nile," and Nebula Awards for "A Letter for the Clearys" and "At the Rialto." To Say Nothing of the Dog has won the Hugo for Best Novel.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Promised Land
SF Site Review: Passage
SF Site Review: Miracle and Other Christmas Stories
SF Site Review: Nebula Awards 33
SF Site Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog
SF Site Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog
SF Site Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sarah Trowbridge

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Bellwether Bellwether is science fiction only in the sense that it is a work of fiction whose principal characters are scientists. As the work of 2009 Science Fiction Hall of Fame inductee Connie Willis, however, it is inevitably classified in the genre. Originally published as a novella in 1996, Bellwether tells the story of Sandra Foster, a researcher laboring in the corporate catacombs of a company called HiTek. Her work focuses on fads and their sources, and for her current project she is trying to track down the mysterious catalyst for the 1920s craze for hair-bobbing.

HiTek is an over-the-top case study in corporate dysfunction, complete with management fads that come and go like the leaves of a Page-A-Day calendar. The boss is, in fact, named "Management," and he rivals Dilbert's pointy-haired boss for toxic leadership technique and sheer cluelessness. Every time Management attends a business seminar, he returns with a new dictum for the staff, usually involving departmental reorganizations, new titles, additional paperwork, and a new (unintentionally apropos) acronym to describe it all, e.g., CRAM (Communications Reform Activation Management) or GRIM (Guided Resource Initiative Management).

Emblematic of the goings-on at HiTek is Flip, the stunningly incompetent "interdepartmental assistant" whose trendy outfits, aggressive ignorance, and hostile attitude establish her as Sandra's nemesis from the opening scene. Flip mistakenly delivers to Sandra's office a package intended for another researcher in another department. This mis-delivered package sets in motion the chain of events that form the backbone of the story, leading Sandra down a circuitous path that ultimately leads both to scientific discovery and to romance.

Along the way are numerous opportunities for Sandra to observe and comment on the faddish behavior of colleagues, restaurateurs, boyfriends, librarians, and children. Her analytical gaze falls on fashions in food, drink, clothing, toys, and children's birthday party themes, with humorous effect. One particularly astringent thread lampoons the American trend toward the ostracism and demonization of cigarette smokers. Introducing each chapter is a brief historical note from Sandra's research archive, identifying a fad from the past and describing the circumstances of its rise and fall.

The versatile Kate Reading skillfully renders Sandra's first-person voice throughout, does well with audibly differentiating the various characters from one another, and especially shines when it comes to Flip's "Valley Girl" drawl. Bellwether is an amusing diversion for anyone who has ever wondered how fads get started and how they spread.

Copyright © 2009 Sarah Trowbridge

Sarah Trowbridge reads (and listens) compulsively, chronically, and eclectically. She is a public librarian in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.


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