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Bellwether

Bellwether - Connie Willis My main problem with Connie Willis books is that they usually have great characters and an interesting plot, but are thick with too much narrative padding, typically in the form of "funny bits" about bureaucratic incompetence and miscommunication due to mishaps with modern technology, and exhaustively-researched recitation of facts tangentially related to the story (famous last words and the Titanic disaster in Passage; facts of life during the Blitz in Blackout/All Clear; etc.). I go back and forth on whether these quirks ruin her novels or just make them more frustrating than they should be.Bellwether is, on the other hand, a thin novel, but bizarrely, instead of a plot it includes only the narrative padding that makes up the worst third of any of her other books.And some how, it is kind of great! I mean, no, there isn't a plot. And the characters are her typical bumbling, absent-minded professors, researching something while making wry observations about how annoying everyone around them is. It's right in the author's wheelhouse, and she does it well here. The topic of the day this time is fads -- the origin of groupthink, essentially -- as well as chaos theory, which was kind of a big deal at the time thanks to the release of Jurassic Park a few years earlier (come on, admit it: you only know what chaos theory is because Jeff Goldblum explained it to you). Connie Willis Protagonist Sandra Foster (think Kate Hepburn) is working for HiTek Corporation, a ludicrous parody of the worst in '90s corporate trends, trying to figure out what caused the hair-bobbing craze of the '20s... for some reason. She falls in with another scientist, an affable Spencer Tracy type, who is studying chaotic systems. Toss in some colorful supporting characters (Sarcastic slacker office assistant! Management-type only referred to as Management, like that is his name!), a malfunctioning cell phone, a few comic set-pieces, and a whole herd of sheep, and you've got a more than passable attempt at a literary version of a classic screwball comedy. It's not quite as zany as, say, Bringing Up Baby, but it reminded me a lot of Desk Set, a semi-obscure Tracy & Hepburn movie that is also about a romance blossoming amid a workplace in upheaval thanks to the follies of corporate "innovation." It's not the world's most memorable flick, but it's a lot of fun, and that sums up this book nicely.