Bellwether

By Connie Willis

We visited Denmark two years ago, and Lars Mathiesen, a friend from the  CONLANG mailing list welcomed us at his Kopenhagen home. There, he lent us his copy of Bellwether for the train journey home. And a very enjoyable journey was had by us all.

Bellwether was the first book by Connie Willis that I read; and despite her being the most frequent Nebula Award winner (does she get frequent winner points? or just airmiles), I’ve never tried anything else by her that I was able to finish.

But Bellwether is good. Really astonishly good. Not only is it very fast paced, your original late-night-turn-the-pager, but it’s also a book that improves upon rereading after you’ve let it settle down after the first reading.

It is, briefly, about a young scientist who works on fad research at a Dilbertesque corporation. She meets, through the officious interference of a moronic office assistant, a chaos researcher who works at the same corp, in another lab. And together they discover where fads come from; and that they love each other. And they win a very prestigious grant, together.

The book is peppered (maybe even over-peppered) with trivia facts about fad and trends. As far as I know, everything is correct; Connie Willis appears to have done her homework. However, everything is relevant, too, and the way the various strands grip together is wonderfully done.

The protagonists have been boldly rendered, but are not caricatures and as a reader, I did care a lot about Sandra and Bennet. The other people in the book approach caricature rather more closely, but still smack of real people, people we all know, and, not really hate, but wouldn’t mind see moving to another country.

Over the course of the story — which I won’t summarize — much fun is poked at the more laughable trends and fads and crazes of the nineties. Or at least, I think so, since I’m not really knowledgable. But even for me, it’s very recognizable. I mean, if you’re reading this book on the train, you’ll suddenly notice that two women have jumpers with finger-less gloves attached to the sleeves and a broad, silverish ring around their thumb. (And you say, damn, because you thought you had such an original cultural detail for your fantasy world.)

In short, the story moves at an admirable pace, the boy and the girl get each other, and they deserve each other, and in the end every strand is tied together. What more can a reader wish for?