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Bellwether    by Connie Willis order for
by Connie Willis
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 1997
* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

When I started reading Connie Willis' latest book, Passage, it reminded me very much of one of my special favourites, Bellwether. Of course Passage soon developed into a very different story indeed, but I was provoked into reading Bellwether yet again and was not disillusioned.

Dr. Sandra Foster works for a large and top-heavy research company, with a grant to examine the source and development of fads, such as hula hoops, 'Alice blue', coffeehouses, hot pants, barbie dolls, and the one she has selected to investigate in depth, bobbed hair. The Interdepartmental Communications Liaison person, Flip, (formerly titled 'Office Boy',) leaves the wrong mail with Sandra, which leads to her meeting a new researcher, Dr. Bennett O'Reilly, who is trying to study chaos theory by information diffusion in a troop of macaque monkeys. He interests her immediately because of his sloppy attire which owes nothing to any fad or fashion.

Flip mislays Bennett's grant application, so that he misses the deadline and will lose his grant, but is rescued by Sandra, who proposes that they join forces, using sheep instead of monkeys (she is able to get the sheep at no cost from a rancher admirer). That, more or less, is where the fun begins. Each of the chapters is headed by the description of a fad ranging from 'poutaines' (circa 1300) to 'virtual pets' (circa 1995) and these, with occasional comments by the author, are worth the price of admission. However, the romance is charming, the sidetracks, dead ends, and disasters terrifying, the wit and irony as sparkling as ever, and the ending as happy as one could wish.

Incidentally, I have discovered that Connie Willis is another author whose stories take on a new dimension when listened to rather than read. I only wish more of her works had been converted to audio books, and this one in particular.

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