Bellwether, Connie Willis

Although Wikipedia claims that Willis is planning a new two-volume novel to be released net year, the bulk of her novel output so far came in the ’90’s. This 1996 novel fits right in with Willis’ others from that time. Like Doomsday Book (1992) and To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998), Bellwether revolves around a scientist who must deal with the people around her making ludicrous and irrelevant demands to solve a scientific puzzle, and eventually find romance with a similarly harried scientist of the opposite sex.

Unlike the other two novels I mentioned, there’s no time travel involved in Bellwether; in fact the science in this story is practically mundane. Dr. Sandra Foster studies the social development of fads, and Bennett O’Reilly studies monkey behavior using chaos theory. Willis misses a beat by not noticing that chaos theory itself had all the signs of being a fad in the scientific world. She also missed out on another major rising trend of the time in sf’s awareness of the scientific world by not connecting fads with memes (it looks like she was familiar with and writing about the memetics idea, but she never uses the word meme).

There’s no really wrong steps here, but even though this story follows a lot of the same themes, the gray realism of the science in this story takes away some of the snap of the time travel stories. For readers who know Willis and like her work, or enjoy realistic stories about the scientific process, this is well worth reading. For readers who are new to Willis, Doomsday Book would be a better starting place.


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