I was very excited to read this book and had heard wonderful things about it. It was a creative book but hard to get through. I listened to this on audio book which probably didn't help any; the audio book was very deliberately read making the story move even slower. I ended up stopping listening to this book about 2/3rds of the way through; it was just too tedious.
The story goes between four main characters. The first is a genetic scientist, a calorie man, named Anderson who is scouring the city to find its mysterious Seed Bank; he is masquerading as a plant owner. The second is Tan Hock Seng an aging Chinese Yellow Card who is trying to make a life for himself and gain back his former glory. The third is a wind up girl named Emiko who has been forced to work in a brothel after being sold to it by her Japanese master. The fourth is Jaidee, an officer of the Environmental Ministry and a revolutionist, who is determined to take back Thailand from the foreigners. In this depressing version of Thailand, a land where calories are the greatest commodity, these four characters will eventually influence not only each other but the fate of the whole country.
First I will say there are some good things about this book. The ideas present in the book are fabulous. The idea of calories being more important than anything after viruses have wiped out most vegetation is unique and compelling. The story is told with wonderful description; such that, as a reader, you can almost feel the heat and smell the smells of the city. Those were the things that kept me reading this book as long as I did.
Now for the rest of the things. The characters (if you can even say they have enough humanity to call them characters) are very dry, they apparently don't have many feelings and kind of just stumble through the story. There are no good characters in this book, they are despicable for different reasons. I did not enjoy a single one of them. Emiko was my favorite, but the passivity she showed at letting herself being constantly raped and tortured was a real turn off. Which I should mention there are multiple scenes where Emiko is explicitly raped and humiliated; again not my favorite thing to read about.
The pace is horribly slow. For example let's say Anderson is going to walk from point A to point B, can he do that? No, he must go on a 30 minute (remember I was listening to this) dissertation on his history, the history of other things possibly irrelevant to the story, etc etc. Then finally many mind-boggling minutes later, when you have finally forgotten what the heck was even going on, he will make it to his destination.
I also have a quibble about the writing style; it is very dry. At times this came across more as a biography of the characters than a story. It was tough to stay engaged with either the story or the characters. I am aware that all of these little random events were probably leading up to something fantastic or mind-boggling...unfortunately I ceased to care about any of it. This audio book seriously put me to sleep while I was driving, it was becoming a hazard to my health (and other drivers) so I had to stop listening to it.
Something written in this type of analytical style would have made an intriguing short story, but as a full-length book it was just too tedious to get through.
Overall I did not enjoy this. The characters were depressing, the pace excruciating, and the world demoralizing. I may read future short stories by Bacigalupi since I find his ideas intriguing, but I will not be picking up any more full-length books by him.
This book won both Hugo and Nebula award and seemed like an interesting plot. However, I just couldn't get into the book. I'm not sure if it's wording (there's a lot of future-Thai words in there), plot, or whatever but getting through a couple of pages seemed like a chore.
I do like that the USA isn't central to the story, that's sadly an unusual thing.
The Hugo and Nebula, Locus, Compton Crook and the Campbell Memorial award was given to this book for a reason. I totally enjoyed every moment spent in reading it. Yes there was parts I found hard to read (not because it was badly written but because it was so, shall we say intense) This book makes you think outside the box and that is won the awards.
3 out of 5 stars: The author did a fantastic job creating a future as bleak and as well-realized as the one in "Blade Runner", but only 3 stars b/c he didn't do nearly as good a job with the characters.
This complex tale set in a possible, dystopian, steampunk future Thailand intertwines the tales of multiple people to tell one story of how civil war can erupt in a nation struggling with issues far larger than itself. For this particular nation, those issues are rising oceans due to global warming and food problems and diseases from genetic engineering.
For a story set in such a creative, specific vision of the future, Bacigalupi's evident struggles with world-building fight against the story for the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the book. He fails to fully explain things, so the reader is left attempting to fill in the gaps and envision action in a picture that is not quite complete. I believe this would have been a far better book if he'd spend even just the first few pages more clearly establishing the steampunk future Thailand.
The issues addressed in the book are handled well and creatively, as well as being quite interesting. What exactly is the next step in evolution? Will it occur "naturally," or will it occur due to humans using our own brains to genetically modify humanity? Is it wrong and dangerous to perform genetic modification on any part of nature? What to think of the results? What's the role of humanity on Earth? Additionally, Buddhism and Buddhist thought plays strongly in the book, along with the ideas and concepts of karma and fate. How much of our own life is under our control and how much is just fate?
It also features a truly surprising ending, in spite of knowing for most of the book that civil war will erupt. I always enjoy that in a book, and it made me feel satisfied at the end.
Overall, although Bacigalupi struggles with world building, his intertwined characters and themes are thought-provoking to read. I'm glad I went out of my comfort zone to read this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the themes of fate, evolution, nature, karma, or political intrigue.
Check out my extended review