Pop culture, chaos theory and matters of the heart collide in this unique novella from the Hugo and Nebula winning author of Doomsday Book.
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. But a series of setbacks and disappointments arise before they are able to find answers to their questions.
In Willis's (Doomsday) fifth solo novel, her practiced screwball style yields a clever story which, while imperfect, is a sheer pleasure to read. In the very near future, sociologist/statistician Sandy Foster is researching the source of fads at a Dilbert-like corporation, Hi-Tek. Plagued by Flip, an airhead mail girl, she joins her research to that of Bennett O'Reilly, a chaos theorist studying information diffusion. As in the past, Willis moves her plot along through mix-ups and near-misses, a device that neatly embodies her theme of chaos. Chaos leads to a higher level of organization-breakthroughs in Sandy and Bennett's research, wealth and requited love. Flip, an echo of Robert Browning's Pippa, is an avatar of chaos whose passing alters lives. She's crucial to the story, so Sandy puts up with her in a way that's wimpy, annoying and unbelievable. Where the story's headed becomes transparent too early: the insight into the role of bellwethers in fomenting breakthroughs is not compelling. But none of that counts much against this bright romantic comedy, where the real pleasure is the thick layers of detail (researched or observed), and the wryly disdainful commentary on human stupidity. Something like a collaboration between Jane Austen and C. M. Kornbluth, it's sprightly, intelligent fun. (Mar.)