Monday, August 21, 2006


Connie Willis
Fiction, Satire

This is a book about fads: what starts them, who starts them, and why they start. Sandra Foster, a researcher at HiTek Corporation, is attempting to find the answers to these questions despite the horrible corporate culture in which she's immersed, the constant seminars that Management is exposed to (always leading to more and longer funding forms), and the horribly apathetic and snarky interdepartmental office assistant, Flip. Of course, she's getting nowhere. And of course, everything is going to predictably go crazy.

As a fad researcher in terminally hip Boulder (okay, HiTek isn't in Boulder, but it's near enough that Boulder is always a good source for material), Sandra is always noticing the trends around her. She's bewildered by the herd instinct that goes along with fads, an instinct that she notices among her colleagues as well. Of course, what book about fads would be complete without sheep? The sheep - who are taking part in an experiment in information diffusion - bring in the concept of the bellwether, the sheep who leads without leading.

What amused me most about the reaction to this book is that Willis classified the extreme level of anti-smoking as a typical "aversion fad" - and several Amazon commenters gave this book bad reviews precisely because they felt she defended a person's right to smoke, something apparently indefensible, thereby displaying exactly the behavior she was illustrating. But her real point is one she has Sandra make in the novel - she wants to find the trigger for fads so she can turn it off, because the next fad could be the one where we all go off the cliff.


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