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Book Review: Bellwether by Connie Willis

Book Review: Bellwether by Connie WillisSummary:
Sandra Foster studies fads and their meanings for the HiTek corporation. Bennet O’Reilly works with monkey group behavior and chaos theory for the same company. When the two are thrust together due to a misdelivered package and a run of seemingly bad luck, they find a joint project in a flock of sheep.

Review:
This was given to me eons ago because of how much I love To Say Nothing of the Dog (review) by Connie Willis. This book has a similar sense of humor that definitely kept me entertained but the plot and backstory that ties it all together didn’t hit quite the same loved it nerve with me.

I loved seeing a book set in the mountain range area of the country (Colorado to be precise). I feel like this doesn’t happen often enough in books. I also found there was a real nostalgia quality to the book because it was first published in 1996 and set in its own time-period, so the whole thing just screamed 90s nostalgia to me. This played in well to Sandra’s fad studies. It gave the book a good reason to notice and talk about the fads, and this held up well over time. What originally was a “oh look at this silly thing people are doing right now” became “hey remember when West Coast coffee was first a thing?” I also really appreciated that a social science was featured at the core of a scifi book. Not just that but a scientist of a science deemed more important and sciencey (chaos theory) ends up working with her and respecting her research and its methods. Super cool.

While I thought the research study was cool, I wasn’t as huge of a fan of the competition to receive the grant of a lifetime plot. I appreciated Sandra working to save her job, but the big grant loomed overhead from the very beginning like a deus ex machina. Sandra’s disdain for her coworkers wanting to ban smoking from the building as a fad really didn’t translate well over time. This wasn’t a fad; it was a public health policy, and it rubbed me wrong every time Sandra implied it was like the whole are eggs good or bad for you debate. Second-hand smoke is just bad for you, and unlike a coworker eating an egg, it can actually impact your health if you’re around it. I’m sure it was funnier in the 90s but it didn’t work so well now, and it honestly made me dislike Sandra a bit.

Overall, scifi fans looking for a humorous plot with a female lead, an unusual focus on the social sciences with a dash of 1990s nostalgia will enjoy this book.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Book Review: The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Android dreaming of sheep.Summary:
People think Harry Creed is squandering his talents, but he actually quite enjoys his job working for the UNE breaking bad news to various sentient alien races residing on Earth.  Still, he doesn’t mind doing a favor for his old friend, Ben Javna, who calls up saying the lizard race, the Nidu, need a specific breed of sheep for the coronation ceremony, and it’s vital in keeping the peace between the two planets that Earth help provide one.  Creed doesn’t think this will be much of a challenge, but he soon finds up he’s signed up for more than he bargained for, running into everything from The Church of the Evolved Lamb, to a Nagch who digests his victims alive, to other computer geniuses, to scandal within the UNE.

Review:
This is one of those scifi political intrigue books crossed with Douglas Adams style humor.  I don’t usually do political intrigue in scifi, since I avoid politics like the plague in real life, but the Douglas Adam style humor manages to make it all actually interesting and intriguing.

It’s impossible not to enjoy all of the very strongly developed characters, whether they’re a villain or not.  Frankly, that’s a good thing, as it’s rather hard to tell half the time who’s the villain and who isn’t (with the exception of Creek of course).  The alien sentient species imagined are rather traditional in appearance, but not so much in behavior, which keeps them interesting.  For instance, the Nidu are able to communicate through smell in addition to speech, and this tends to lead to problems on Earth.  Even very minor characters who are only in the story for a few pages are so crisply described, that it is impossible not to imagine them as clearly as if it was a film.  In fact, the whole book reads rather like a scifi action film in the style of The Fifth Element.

The action sequences are universally stunning.  There is one shoot-out scene in a mall, in particular, that also incorporates equipment from a futuristic game, reminiscent of Ender’s Game that left me grinning with joy at the sheer awesomeness of it.  The social commentary in the form of The Church of the Evolved Lamb is also fun.  This is a religion that knows that its founder was a fraud, but has decided to attempt to make his prophecies come true anyway.  It makes for some really wild moments.

That said, sometimes the political intrigue itself was a bit hard to follow.  I’m still rather confused as to what exactly was going on, politically, in the middle of the book.  I think I’d have to re-read it to figure that out, exactly.  I think the fact that I didn’t get confused at all in The Dark Tower series, but did here says something.  Still though, the humor and action sequences kept the plot moving enough that the political intrigue didn’t really matter that much anyway.

Overall, if you enjoy humorous scifi in the style of Douglas Adams, you will definitely enjoy this book.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Coop

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