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Book Review: The Windup Girl 164

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
New submitter Hector's House writes "'Nothing is certain. Nothing is secure,' reflects one of the characters in Paolo Bacigalupi's novel The Windup Girl. In 23rd century Bangkok, life for many hangs by a thread. Oil has run out; rising seas threatens to engulf the city; genetically engineered diseases hover on Thailand's borders; and the threat of violence smolders as government ministries vie for power. Environmental destruction, climate change and novel plagues have wiped out many of the crop species that humanity depends on: the profits to be made from creating — or stealing — new species are potentially enormous. After a century of collapse and contraction, Western business sees hope for a new wave of globalization; Thailand's fiercely guarded seed banks may provide just the springboard needed." Keep reading for the rest of Aidan's review.
The Windup Girl
author Paolo Bacigalupi
pages 376
publisher Night Shade Books
rating 8
reviewer Aidan McKeown
ISBN 978-0356500539
summary Dystopian action thriller set in 23rd century Bangkok
In a street market, Anderson Lake—a prospector for a US agribusiness giant—comes across an entirely new fruit. Drawn by the promise that it might lead him to the Thai kingdom's seed banks, he follows a trail that leads him to the backstreet club run by dissipated expat Raleigh. Here he encounters Emiko, the "windup girl" of the title. In the club's signature live sex show, she is subjected to—quite graphically described—abuse on stage. Genetically engineered in Japan as a "New Person", to be companion, secretary and translator to wealthy patrons, Emiko—a sort of transgenic geisha—has been abandoned in Bangkok by her former patron. Having been trained since infancy to be compliant, and carrying canine DNA that makes life outside of a strict hierarchy unthinkable, Emiko is trapped both by her own nature and by her characteristic tick-tock stuttery movements, hardcoded into her to make her manufactured origins immediately apparent. Genetically "unclean", Emiko daily faces the threat of extermination by the environment police: she takes to the streets only at night, when she can more easily "pass". Lake is fascinated by the exotic Emiko; she in turn is drawn to him, not least as an escape from slavery—even possibly to the fabled north, where New People reputedly live in freedom. Their relationship is an ambiguous one. Lake is not inherently a tender character (he considers the murder of business associates who threaten his plans). Moreover, his status as an unwelcome corporate outsider already puts him at risk; a transgressive liaison with a "windup" endangers him further. Emiko herself (like the Thai authorities) doesn't feel that she is genuinely human. However, she is fully capable of experiencing pain and loss and—with devastating results—rage.

Bacigalupi's novel is not new, nor is it obscure: published in 2009, it went on to win the highly esteemed Nebula and Hugo awards for science-fiction writing in 2009 and 2010. However, it deserves a place on the pages of slashdot, both for its vision of the future, and how naturally that is embedded in a well-crafted, intelligent action thriller. The book takes a qualified view of our future technological development. Fossil fuel depletion has resulted in a retraction of progress. Now, human and animal labour wind massive crank shafts—a dramatic ramping up of the technology used in hand-cranked radios and windup lanterns. Everything is recycled: even sewage produces methane to light the city's gas lamps. Where technology has leaped forward is in genetic engineering. This has yielded startling benefits: megodonts, hybrid beasts of burden, the result of the splicing of the DNA of elephants with that their massive prehistoric ancestors. It has also imposed dire costs: laboratory-manufactured plagues have swept the planet, Thailand surviving only because of the extreme zealousness of its environmental police.

The setting of an Asian culture, the dystopian image of people crammed into a crumbling city, and the relationship between a cynical, jaded man and vulnerable, artificial woman inevitably recall Bladerunner; however, even if that story provided some inspiration, The Windup Girl doesn't feel derivative: Emiko is the leading protagonist, not a supporting character. And the book takes off from that point of comparison: it's not stuck there. Weaving in with the main plot are a number of sub narratives, the book drawing much of its momentum from this crisscrossing. Hock Seng, Lake's elderly Malaysian Chinese assistant, a refugee from bloody ethnic cleansing, plots his escape from the chaos he feels must ultimately engulf Bangkok. Fiery, ebullient environment police captain Jaidee Rojjanasukchai and his austere female lieutenant Kanya Chirathivat pursue genetic transgressions in an attempt to preserve what is left of Thailand's ravaged ecosystem. Meanwhile their Environment Ministry vies with the Ministry of Trade, which seeks to open up Thailand to resurgent Western business. Plot and counter plot wind the characters together into a climactic conflict sensed only dimly at the start of the book.

It is perhaps here where the book, not falls down, but stumbles. The complexity of the plot towards the end of the book becomes dense and – for me, on first reading – slowed the book's momentum. This complexity might, however, also be a strength. For the purposes of the review I came back to the book, which I had read some eight or nine months previously; it bears rereading, and the largely tight structure is rewarding, as is the plot development. The sense of place is very strong—the press of street markets, the stench and press of humanity in the crumbling high-rise apartment buildings, the tropical setting ("[the] night was black and sticky, a jungle filled with the squawks of night birds and the pulse and whir of insect life"), as is the sense of—literally—the daily grind, as men and animals wind the cranks that keep the city powered. And many of the ideas have the power to jolt: the "cheshires", cats with chameleon DNA that recall Lewis Carroll's fictional creation by changing color to melt into their surroundings, the better to exterminate already-threatened bird populations; the Dung Lord, a mafia don who controls the trade in human waste, a vital part of the city's economy. While not all the characters remain with you afterwards, fittingly, Emiko, the lonely and conflicted protagonist does. Interestingly, hers is also the character for whom the greatest leap of imagination is required—the genetically altered outsider, who makes a journey from abject slavery to a realization of her potential.

Science fiction often suffers because while much attention may have been paid to the technological aspects, the author fails to capture the complexities of the new society or convincingly grasp the characters. Bacigalupi – largely – succeeds because he recognizes that human nature doesn't change over time: elites are only too willing to exercise control with force; the outsiders and those are who different are always vulnerable; human culture, in all its strangeness and mundanity, continues. A key strength of the book is that the subjective portrayal of the characters' inner lives and thoughts means that we feel them to be inhabiting their own present, exactly as we are. They look back of course, as do we. In their case, wonderingly to a time known as "The Expansion", when Thailand was allegedly the "Land of smiles", quite unlike the misery that has become the lot of its average citizen.

If you'd like to sample Bacigalupi's writing, some of his short stories are available on his Pump Six website.

Aidan McKeown is an editor and writer living in the Netherlands. He can be contacted at aidanmckeown@gmail.com.

You can purchase The Windup Girl from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Book Review: The Windup Girl

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  • by Wingfat (911988) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:49PM (#38946109)
    such an indepth review i feel like there is no need to get it now.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Every generation of scholars from the ancient Greeks to the present day has complained about people like you: children of privilege and promise whose intellectual laziness signals their parents' failure and their culture's fall. Happily, those old geezers have all been full of shit... at least up until the last 10-15 years or so. Now, their lamentations ring loudly in our ears. They sound less like the grousing of irrelevant reactionaries, and more like warnings of an undeniable and very inconvenient tru

      • by pscottdv (676889)

        Every generation of scholars from the ancient Greeks to the present day has complained about people like you: children of privilege and promise whose intellectual laziness signals their parents' failure and their culture's fall. Happily, those old geezers have all been full of shit... at least up until the last 10-15 years or so. Now, their lamentations ring loudly in our ears.

        Nothing's changed except you have become one of the geezers.

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:38PM (#38946589) Homepage Journal

      such an indepth review i feel like there is no need to get it now.

      Having read both the novel and the review, I can say for sure that there is still every need to get the book and read it.

      The review is thorough, but it doesn't scratch the surface of what makes the novel so compelling, any more than looking at the Cliff's Notes to Midsummer Night's Dream obviates the need to read the great play.

      • by Anomalyst (742352)
        "Forbidden Planet" was good enough for me.
        • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

          "Forbidden Planet" was good enough for me.

          Don't sell yourself short that way. You deserve better.

        • by PCM2 (4486)

          "Forbidden Planet" was good enough for me.

          "Forbidden Planet" was based on "The Tempest," not "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

      • by samwichse (1056268) on Monday February 06, 2012 @08:29PM (#38948043)

        I just finished reading this book 3 days ago, and it was absolutely a page turner!

        My work is in agricultural (food crops) research, and so many people do GMO research there... heck, people in my group are with the Plant Exchange Office that goes to other countries looking for new genetic diversity to add to the US breeding stock.

        It was great to find a _____ punk genre that exactly fit what I do!

        From beginning to end, there is no black/white, good/bad dichotomy evident, every character has their selfish wants (some more than others) and their demons. The pace of the novel was fantastic, and I won't give anything away, but this book will probably be getting a sequel. Although some of the story arc seems a bit pointless the way it fizzles out and is wrapped up at the end.

        Seriously the most original scifi I've read in a LONG time.... is it speculative fiction/biopunk? Where are the nightshades? Awesome!

        Sam

      • The review is thorough, but it doesn't scratch the surface of what makes the novel so compelling,

        Hmm, bad review then? I mean, I'd expect a review to at least "scratch the surface of what makes the novel so compelling", otherwise WTF is the point of the review?

        • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

          Hmm, bad review then? I mean, I'd expect a review to at least "scratch the surface of what makes the novel so compelling", otherwise WTF is the point of the review?

          You can describe. You can endorse. You can summarize. And still never get to what makes a novel great.

          There's a lot more to a story than the storyline. A good piece of literature is not only more than the sum of its parts, it's something categorically beyond the sum of its parts. It's love as to pornography. It's a meal as to a recipe. Th

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      Why is this modded interesting? You can't replace the experience of reading a complex work of fiction in a summary of a few hundred words. People don't write 360 pages of filler and 1 of actual substance.

      You're probably one of those people who think a murder mystery can be summed up as "the butler did it".
  • by MikeTheGreat (34142) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:51PM (#38946135)

    ...since it's 8/10, rather than the Packt-standard 9/10 :)

  • by Monty845 (739787) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:51PM (#38946145)
    There were a lot of interesting ideas discussed in the book, but it fails to really explain why things like solar power were not used... at all... not to mention any other form of green energy that is available even today. It seemed a pretty big hole to me.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by needs2bfree (1256494)
      How does it compare to Oryx and Crake [wikipedia.org]? It sounds really similar.
      • by Daetrin (576516) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:35PM (#38946563)
        First, in response to your post, they're really not at all similar. Oryx and Crake is a _real_ apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic novel. At the end almost everyone is dead and there's not much hope for the survivors. (The second part of that could certainly be debated, but doing so would definitely involve somewhat spoilery stuff.)

        In Windup Girl the world has gone through a cataclysm, and you could call the "present" world a post-apocalyptic one if you really wanted, but it's not a nearly dead world. At the point we join the story there are a number of civilizations in the world. They're all worried about further calamities, but most of them are doing pretty well. They're growing and expanding, world trade is starting to come back (despite somewhat justified opposition) a lot of progress is being made in genetics and the harvesting of kinetic energy, and they're able to produce high tech items like computers in at least limited quantities.

        Which is why the grand-parent comment is so telling. They can make computers, so why can't they make solar panels? And why is there no nuclear power? And dear gods why no hydro power? They've definitely got the tech to build turbines and water wheels are about the oldest tech out there, and windmills ought to be just about as easy to build.
        • by HeckRuler (1369601) on Monday February 06, 2012 @06:28PM (#38947095)
          Well a big plot element is that the powers that be, the calorie-men, have an established business, and they hold the world by the throat. Imagine if you will that the oil tycoons were in charge of not only transportation, but food. In a time of famine. It's also a time of plagues, which they also have a hand in.
          I'm not sure if it's specifically spelled out, but it's implied that the calorie-men were responsible for releasing plagues that decimated crops of competitors.

          But anyway, if you have an immensely powerful establishment, and you try to introduce alternatives, it turns out that they don't look kindly on that sort of thing.

          The complete lack of hydro-power is kinda damning though. Solar and wind too, but they lack the pun.
    • by Fubari (196373)
      Great book; ntl;eri (not too long; enjoyed reading it).
      r.e. solar: I got the impression they 1) didn't have the infrastructure to make new solar or electric things, and 2) famine was the new normal, actually eating was a challenge. Very very interesting social modeling; the book author put a Lot of thought into crafting this world.
      As for a the "Reviews of two+ year old books suxorz" *shrug* 1) it is still a good book today, and 2) some geeks might enjoy reading it. (unless this is a dup and Windup Girl h
      • by Monty845 (739787)
        See, thats where it doesn't make sense. They have the infrastructure to make the kinetic energy storage devices and to continue bio engineering, so they should be able to produce solar/wind/hydro/tide power, and did use a limited amount of fossil fuel generated electricity. Even if it wasn't economically viable for the masses, certainly the rich and or gov't would have been able to afford some as a prestige item or for critical purposes. Both solar and wind have major drawbacks, but in a time of such energy
        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          What drawbacks do solar and wind energy have, other than not being terribly economical at present due to cheap oil? In a time of energy scarcity, they'd be rolled out in huge numbers. They also have scalability problems (e.g., you're probably not going to power the Seattle metro area (at present consumption levels) with solar power even if you put panels on every rooftop because there's simply not enough sunlight, and you're probably not going to power other cities with wind power if there isn't that much

      • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:37PM (#38946581)

        2) famine was the new normal, actually eating was a challenge.

        If there was mass famine, wouldn't human and animal labor be the last source of energy you would want to use? That would just create an even greater need for food.

        • If there was mass famine, wouldn't human and animal labor be the last source of energy you would want to use?

          Depends on how much of a priority the mid- to long-term survival of those humans and animals is.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Nope. It depends on what the animals eat. Dumb vegetarians, for instance, are always complaining about the use of animals as food, saying that we could just use all that pasture land as farmland instead and grow crops for people to eat directly. What they totally miss is that people can't eat grass. Cows, however, can eat grass (as can goats, and various other animals), and turn completely useless scrubland into a food source for humans. And no, you can't necessarily turn that land into farmland becaus

        • by Fubari (196373)
          Short answer: you're right.
          Longer answer: you're right, and - our food supply is essentially based on our oil economy (industrialized agriculture, fertilizer...).
          So let's talk about oil for a moment:
          An optimist might say we (the Human Race) are transitioning from an oil economy to renewables.
          A pessimist would say we're moving far too slowly.
          What happens if we never get around to replacing oil before it runs out?
          What if something (maybe a world war, or plague, or blight, or a financial crisis) upset th
      • by ralphdaugherty (225648) <ralph@ee.net> on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:39PM (#38946599) Homepage

        Thanks for the review. I like this Bladerunner kind of stuff. I'll be ordering it, and also checking out other similar books mentioned here.

        IMO the no solar energy and reliance on animal powered cranks (and especially in a dense urban environment) is totally unrealistic but dramatic license.

        The 23rd century is way too optimistic. The ocean will have flooded Thailand well before that and there will be massive death from starvation and a runaway bioengineered disaster even before that. Human nature being what it is, it's guaranteed we will do nothing to prevent it.

      • by PCM2 (4486)

        As for a the "Reviews of two+ year old books suxorz" *shrug* 1) it is still a good book today, and 2) some geeks might enjoy reading it.

        Bummer for me is that I picked it up from the library Sunday afternoon and I haven't even started yet, so this thread couldn't have worse timing.

    • by billstewart (78916) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:28PM (#38946495) Journal

      I was fine with the dystopian energy-crisis food-shortage spy-novel paranoid stuff - it was creative, and some of it was well-written, and I wasn't bothered by the cartoon-physics use of genetically engineered elephants to wind fancy springs that seems to annoy a lot of engineers. But the genetically-engineered-women-just-deserve-sex-slavery-and-killing theme that makes up about half the book was really vile. I found it far more squicky and offensive than when a bad imitation Conan the Barbarian character rapes his conquests, and IMHO that part was almost as badly written.

      I didn't see how it rated a Hugo award, in spite of the creativity and the complexity of the plot.

      • by hoggoth (414195) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:47PM (#38946687) Journal

        Heh, if you think that is vile, try reading Bacigalupi's 'People of Sand and Slag'. He's a brilliant writer, but he always gets under my skin and makes me sad for human nature. For a real fun treat, read Vicker's 'The Featherless Chicken'. http://www.strangehorizons.com/2005/20051024/featherless-f.shtml [strangehorizons.com]

        • Sand and slag wasn't vile. It wasn't even sad if you accept that the world had simply moved on and the dog was a buggy-whip. An adorable buggy-whip that beat the odds and somehow managed to survive through cataclysmic hell-scape and still crawls into bed with you to feel safe.
          Ok, maybe a little vile.
        • I remember reading "People of Sand and Slag" when it was published. At the time, I was in the hospital and some friends stopped by and brought me a copy of the current (2004) "Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction".

          I don't think it was vile, but it was sad. Both a sad story and a sad look at human nature. Still, a very good read. It's a short story and doesn't take along to finish. Better still, it's available online:

          http://windupstories.com/pumpsix/the-people-of-sand-and-slag/ [windupstories.com]

      • protip: What happens in a book does not always reflect the author's desires, nor should the exposition necessarily instruct your morals.

        You noticed that genetically modified people may not be great candidates for slavery. Good for you. That was one of the major points that I think the author wanted to make by, in this case, describing the negative aspects of such a situation.
      • Well, it's rape and forced prostitution, but I'm being redundant. It's kind of a vile subject.

        So, uh... Spoilers!

        There's also the important undertone that uber-men must be regulated as they're dangerous in the short term and the risk that they'd replace us in the long term. So they're gimped and made illegal. But, as always, some slip through the cracks and find their existance in direct opposition to the law, which makes the seedy underworld their only real option. Hey! Guess what the seedy undergrou
      • by epyT-R (613989)

        if the freedom of speech was limited by the collective average outlook of people like you, who insist on getting 'offended' to 'prove' their social decency, we'd have none at all. get over it.

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          if the freedom of speech was limited by the collective average outlook of people like you, who insist on getting 'offended' to 'prove' their social decency, we'd have none at all. get over it.

          Fuck off, GP didn't say it should be censored by the government, he just said he found it vile. Freedom of speech includes having the opinion that not everything is equally good or bad, you know.

          I find a lot of things vile and offensive, and there's something psycopathic and morally empty about anyone who doesn't.

      • by bcrowell (177657)

        IMO the real problem is that the most important POV character in the book, Anderson Lake, is portrayed as a total blank. He just kind of walks on and off stage and does stuff, and you never get any insight into why he does what he does. It's not that Bacigalupi can't do characterization -- he does a very nice job with the other characters in the book. He just fails in the case of Lake.

        ****************** SPOILER WARNING ********************

        This creates real problems when Lake uses Emiko as a sexual tool and

        • I would tend to agree with you, but it was in some ways even worse than that. Anderson Lake was basically a tool for the current part of the story. I counted at least four times throughout the book that his personality completely changed for no better reason than it served that part of the story. And not just "growing" or even being deceitful (which he is)... some of his behaviours were distinctly at odds with established behaviours from earlier in the narrative. It's almost as if the author did four differ

    • by stanlyb (1839382)
      Calories. Everything is calories. How many calories do you need to build the "solar panels"????
    • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

      What part of dystopian did you miss? There can't be any good news... the evil corporations stole all the sunlight and charges you a royalty for a copy of a photon.

      Sci Fi is all about the guilt trip and foreboding warnings from those smarter than you who use just as much (or more) natural resources.... ...And catch phrases, you damn dirty ape!

    • by Ragica (552891)
      It's been over a year since I read Wind-up Girl, with many books between then and now, so my memory is kind of hazy... but thinking back, I can't remember any electrical energy in that world. Was it all mechanical? If it's all mechanical (for whatever reason), that really limits what sort of energy sources are useful. Especially portable energy sources. Most current energy sources, green or otherwise, are to produce electricity. I'm have no idea why (if I am even recalling correctly) electricity doesn't wor
    • Seemed pretty obvious to me.... they repeatedly mentioned the megodont union... which wielded huge amounts of power and seemed to act like a guild, excluding others etc.

      The feeling I got from the book was that megodont power winding kink-springs was an asian or at least south asian thing... the western nations could easily have used electricity generated by whatever, although the power density of batteries could hardly seem to reach the kink springs. Which is probably why they were so universally used.

      Sam

    • by F34nor (321515)

      Really? If you have lost the hi-tech manufacturing complex how in the fuck are you going to make wafers? Anyway the pushed disease from Monsanto was far more interesting than another re-write of the ideas brought up in lets say Dune in the 1960's.

  • by heptapod (243146) <heptapod@gmail.com> on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:53PM (#38946171) Journal

    The Windup Girl came out in September 2009 and now you're getting around to reviewing it?

    Let me tell ya, there's an awesome book by this guy named Bob Heinlein. He named it "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and I heard it's pretty good. I'd better get cracking on that review before it's too late!

    • Reviewing old books is perhaps not that bad an idea. Many people haven't read The Windup Girl, or even The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Especially with RAH, with no new books coming out, there are no big advertising pushes for his works, even though they're republished periodically. Moon isn't even available in Kindle format for some bizarre reason. (I'm about to scan one of my copies so I can have it on my Kindle. If it's ever available in Kindle format, I'll buy it.)

      I was at a sci-fi con a couple of years ag

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        I was at a sci-fi con a couple of years ago, and the _only_ author who had a discussion panel dedicated to their works - was Robert Heinlein. Sadly, the average age of the people there was quite high.

        That's because younger people generally don't care for sci-fi. Just look at the demise of the Sci-Fi channel, the near-total lack of real sci-fi movies these days, etc. Remember back in the 70s and 80s, when there seemed to be a big new sci-fi movie every week? Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, Alien, Alie

    • by Macgrrl (762836)

      Oddly enough, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is our book club book for next month.

      It's my turn to pick next and we will be doing "Brave New World".

      Just because a book is 'old' doesn't mean it's not worthy of consideration or that everyone is familiar with it.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      The Windup Girl came out in September 2009 and now you're getting around to reviewing it?

      Let me tell ya, there's an awesome book by this guy named Bob Heinlein. He named it "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and I heard it's pretty good. I'd better get cracking on that review before it's too late!

      The best thing about that book is the title. As soon as the irritating narrator's voice starts to grate on you (i.e. after about a page) it becomes like swimming through treacle to see the occasional bright nugget of gold in the murk.

      He's much better at ideas than characters, plot or, indeed, writing.

  • Slashdot: (Score:5, Funny)

    by Chris Mattern (191822) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:57PM (#38946207)

    News for Nerd. Stuff that matters. Reviews of fiction published two years ago.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      yeah well apparently the reviewer thinks it's ok to push it because it paints a bleak omg fossil fuels end and then it's shit for everyone picture of the world..

      like.. fuck.. could just as well review Make Room! Make Room! then..

      real kicker is of course that it's actually an advert. no, i'm not going to buy it on amazon. I didn't buy it when I read the synopsis on the paperback either. I might read it, some day, but it seemed cliche shit from the synopsis and this review doesn't help that impression.

      "Baciga

  • by gweihir (88907) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:02PM (#38946255)

    Unfortunately, it bogs down after a while and things move glacially and in circles. I did not finish the book and stopped somewhere in the middle. Pretty rare for me. For me that makes is more a 3/10.

    • by c0d3g33k (102699) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:26PM (#38946485)

      Agreed. This book received more buzz than was warranted, and the substance was lacking. As you say, it starts off strong, but never really delivers. I slogged through until the end, but more out of stubbornness than because it was a compelling read. I couldn't help but think that in the hands of a more capable writer, this could have been an incredible story, but the reality was less compelling.

      • by Pescar (1150203)

        I've only read "pump six and other stories", his collection of short stories mostly from the same universe, and I thought it was amazing.
        The creativity and originality of the world and ideas he packed into those short stories was astounding, so if "The Windup Girl" flags towards the end, I recommend you give pump six a look.

        • by c0d3g33k (102699)

          Interesting. The Windup Girl doesn't quite work (for me) as a narrative, but I will agree the ideas presented were quite thought provoking. It seemed more a problem of execution than ideas, though, so I can totally buy the idea that the author might come up with some really interesting stories in the short form in this particular make-believe world. I will most certainly read these short stories, based on your recommendation. Thanks.

      • I agree. It start with an intriguingly imagined world with interesting characters. Sadly it all gets lost in the middle, as if he couldn't really figure out what to do with them. He does have some good descriptive language skills, but I think this book suffers terribly from the lack of a good editor. Sometimes you see that in big name writers who think they are too hot to listen to an editor, but this guy doesn't have that status. Too bad; it could have been really good.
    • by gmhowell (26755)

      Any idea why it got so many awards? Is there a dearth of good, new sci-fi, or does this touch upon some politically popular ideas amongst the crowd who give awards?

      • Along with Ian McDonald, Bacigalupi is part of a wave of authors doing a good job of using non-traditional, non-fluff settings for near-future fiction. His characters, despite what the GP would have you believe, are pretty vividly drawn. Calling the white guy the main character is a non-starter. It's a collisionist book, with many threads crossing one another to paint a more complete picture of the setting and the action. The actual language is beautiful. There are hard things about the book that seem
        • Sorry, I mis-tracked the GP. Nonetheless, other commenters have suggested those are issues. They are not. As to the plot, it never really bogs down. He switches threads more than often enough to keep your attention in my opinion.
        • by gmhowell (26755)

          In general, it's just good writing, period. Not easy writing, not obsessive compulsive series fiction,

          This might be the answer. I've noticed many with a penchant for sci-fi lean towards a bit of OCD.

          Regardless, I added both this and the short story collection to my Amazon wish list.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        I think that many awards stem not from complete reading, but from reading, say, the first 50 pages, and then skimming the rest quickly. Doing that, the book does look very good indeed. The setting is compelling, the characters are vivid, the world is nice and though-provoking. But after a while, you notice that this is not going anywhere and gets bogged down in detail. This could have made an excellent novelette (7,500 and 17,499 words, something like 40-90 pages).

        Serves to show that buying by award-count i

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          I think that many awards stem not from complete reading, but from reading, say, the first 50 pages, and then skimming the rest quickly.

          No, I expect they just pull them out of their ass, like your comment.

  • While I like "classic sf" (meaning technology and adventure), this was a very good read. It has enough stuff to cause some thinking, not just the entertainment value. I highly recommend it to anyone who's getting a little bored with current SF.

  • by schlesinm (934723) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:17PM (#38946423) Homepage
    Yes there were some minor plot holes, but overall it was a wonderful book(my review [blogspot.com]). Bacigalupi is one of my new favorite writers.
  • by wisebabo (638845) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:20PM (#38946433) Journal

    So, for a dystopian novel (and if you read it closely it is VERY dystopian with what's left of mankind scavenging for what few "calories" they can) I thought is was a "fun" read. Maybe that's because I've been to BKK many many times (I live in Vietnam) and it is the preferred destination for most expats R&R. (In addition to being a "Disneyland for adults", Bangkok consistently is rated the world's top tourist destination for being cheap AND fun! ;). The author gets many details about Bangkok right while projecting it into the despairing future; I especially like the abandoned skyscrapers that are today the icons of the city.

    Unfortunately for the novel (but very fortunately for us!) there is no way the world will turn out that bad at least not due to the overwhelming shortage of energy he predicts. Even if we completely run out of fossil fuels (unlikely) or have their use almost completely prohibited worldwide to stop climate change (a bit less unlikely), it looks like renewables will save our energy butts. Even now solar and wind are *only* a factor of two or three times more expensive than fossil fuels; we may be headed for a poorer world (and one in which air travel will again be a luxury only for the rich) but we won't be so desperately scavenging for energy as to make genetically engineered animals (and people!) a necessary substitute. Of course he did this partly to play up the "wind up" aspects of a society which requires this animal energy to be stored up somehow but I'm very glad it won't come to pass.

    His climate change predictions, on the other hand, are much more spot on and do foretell a world where the major coastal cities of the world are under constant threat of inundation. :(. As well as it being very hot and humid. :( :(

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:21PM (#38946445)
    I enjoyed the book, though another poster was correct that no mention of solar or biomass energies was a gaping hole, though I imagine the lack of biomass fuels was due to the difficulties in growing actual food stuffs. The stories of the world and the Windup Girl herself are simply coincidental but work nicely together. Overall a well written, but fairly conventional plot and progression.

    I recently read the Jump 225 Trilogy by David Louis Edelman [wikipedia.org] consisting of Infoquake [sffworld.com], Multireal, and Geosynchron. and found them more interesting, but think the author was uncertain how to wrap up the series, which left me a little unsatisfied at the end.

    If you want hardcore sci-fi, try Alastair Reynolds [wikipedia.org] and his Revelation Space [wikipedia.org] series.

  • xkcd recently covered this kind of presumption of current trends continuing forever [xkcd.com].
  • by steveha (103154) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:41PM (#38946615) Homepage

    A friend told me the book was great. It won Hugo and Nebula awards, more evidence that it's great. But I am stopped reading it and I'm finding it difficult to make myself pick it up again.

    My main complaint is that I'm around ten chapters in, and so far I don't like anyone. Maybe I should like Emiko, but I haven't seen much of her. But the business exec is harsh, people around him are plotting to stab him in the back, the union that controls the matodonts is corrupt and obnoxious, Thai government officials are corrupt and obnoxious... I find the book unpleasant to read.

    Reading this book made me think: in any story you need to make a connection with at least one of the major characters. Usually it should be a positive connection: you are rooting for the hero and want him/her to triumph. Sometimes it can be a negative connection: you start to really want to see the character's plans foiled.

    In my favorite stories, there is not just one but several characters I connect with, and usually right from the first chapter. Not so this book.

    And, like another Slashdotter commented, I have to wonder why solar power doesn't seem important. The concept of treadle-operated office computers is kind of cool, but it doesn't really make sense to me. Business desktop computers of the 90's were less powerful than today's ARM or SOC computers, so you ought to be able to run business computers 100 years from now on sunlight. Especially in Thailand!

    If you love steampunk sort of stuff, then the "bio-punk" in this novel might capture your imagination. I certainly found the background and the technology more interesting than the characters. Global warming has made the seas rise, and fossil fuels are depleted, so the technology is all different. They use "mastodonts" to wind "kink-springs", and these "kink-springs" are sold to anyone who needs portable power without putting carbon emissions into the atmosphere. So airships run on kink-spring power, and sailing ships ply the oceans, and nobody can afford to operate airplanes or motorized ships anymore. (You might think the Internet would be hugely important, since it is so much cheaper to ship bits through a cable than to move humans around, but it doesn't figure much into the chapters I read.)

    steveha

    • My main complaint is that I'm around ten chapters in, and so far I don't like anyone. Maybe I should like Emiko, but I haven't seen much of her. But the business exec is harsh, people around him are plotting to stab him in the back, the union that controls the matodonts is corrupt and obnoxious, Thai government officials are corrupt and obnoxious... I find the book unpleasant to read.

      It's a cautionary tale and, I imagine, is suppose to be unpleasant on several levels. You're right not to like anyone in t

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      My main complaint is that I'm around ten chapters in, and so far I don't like anyone.

      You must be pretty disappointed bymost fiction then. Great (or even good) novels don't depend on you liking the characters, they just have to be believable, or at least interesting.

      Most of the characters in Brave New World or 1984 aren't people you'd want as friends.

  • I thought it was very entertaining. However, it had some very glaring holes. For example, why the fixation on batteries? Why were they manufactured in such an absurdly complex manner? Why no solar power? Wind power? Tidal? Clearly, some of those decisions were made for the sake of the establishing a plot.

    I did feel he did a good job of establishing tension, especially when the uprising began. I also thought he did a reasonably good job of conveying ex-pat culture from the perspective of the ex-pat. But he a

  • by TheSync (5291) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:50PM (#38946713) Journal

    Did they manage to wide-scale convert to IPv6 by the 23rd century?

  • by Graftweed (742763) on Monday February 06, 2012 @06:45PM (#38947257)
    I'm surprised this wasn't linked from either the review of the comments so far, but the wonderful lads at Baen have the DRM-free ebook edition [baenebooks.com].
  • having just lived through the 'girl with the dragon tattoo' i can go another 5 years without an extended anal rape scene

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      having just lived through the 'girl with the dragon tattoo' i can go another 5 years without an extended anal rape scene

      Hint: the authors probably didn't introduce these for positive erotic effect.

  • The Unincorporated Man is another great, recently written, dystopian future kind of book. The underlying premise to the book is that in the future, every person is a corporation unto themselves. People's stock is bought and sold on the market. In effect, people become investors in each other. Obviously the majority of people end up being owned by others. The greatest accomplishment for a person is to reach "majority", to have the controlling stake in themselves.

    All in all, it is a well written and ente

  • I read The WIndup Girl about two years ago. Part of the backround is is that the "expansion" , the 250 year run of expanding economies, has come to a horrible end, with famine, wars, genocide and ethnic cleansing. In spite of the technical holes in the book, it rings true to me and I have been reading science fictiion since 1954.

    Every time I walk into a supermarket and observe the incredible plenty around me I think "The Expansion". I hope my worries do not come true.

    • I hope my worries do not come true.

      It occurs to me that no one hopes their worries become true.
      Good folks worry about bad things happening; Evil people worry about good things happening.

      Me? I am neither Good or Evil, for I know everything is happening all the time.

  • Yes, this all sounds fine, but did they get around to any chess [wikipedia.org] in the book?

  • With this book Bacigalupi managed to rekindle my ten-years-dorman love for science fiction. Rich characters and wonderful prose.

    I still don't see the point of reviewing it now, though. By this time everyone interested in reading it has probably already read it.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming

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