12 member(s) found this review helpful.
A few months ago, after a service project in Cambodia, I was trying to find if any science fiction had been set there. This book is set in 22nd century Bangkok, and in the background there is a war going on between Thailand and Vietnam. Well, Cambodia is sandwiched right between them, and this would not be the first time that Cambodia and the Mekong River served as the conflict zone of these two historically rival powers. While there, I ate ngaw every day. Apparently, the word for this delicious juicy fruit is the same is both Thai and Khmer. The locale of this book felt authentic, although the level of institutionalized corruption was a lot higher than the reality today.
I was shocked by the brutality of the performance sexual humiliation that Emiko was forced into. It had its place in the plot, but will limit to whom I might recommend this book. Was it really necessary?
The book has no real hero; every character has an evil or corrupt side, except perhaps Emiko. But Emiko is a character I wasn't able to identify with; because she is subject to the numb motivations for which she was designed, and is experiencing her own feelings only incompletely. Anderson Lake is an antihero. The secondary characters Hock Seng , Kanya, Jaidee, Carlyle, Akkarat, Pracha, Raleigh are all partially or fully corrupt. Philosophically, the characters frequently express the Buddhist aphorism that life is suffering, but they seem to have lost the corollary that one purpose of life is to ease the suffering of one's self and others. So from a character point of view, the book is attractive in the same way we are compelled to gape at a car accident.
Pacigalupi's dystopic world is oil-depleted, and climate-changed. The world has turned to biomass as a primary source of energy; somehow nuclear, wind, and tide power seem to have been lost along with the oil. Genetic engineering has not just run amuck, but has become an instrument of war. Corporate powers release designed blights, in order to force the purchase of their products, in a form of international slavery. Some of these make the jump to animal and human disease. Numerous extinctions have taken place in this population-depleted world, and some designed species have thrived. New People, like Emiko are among them. Bacigalupi's own politics may be showing in the thoughts of Kanya: "She wonders if it was really better in the past, if there really was a golden age fueled by petroleum and technology. A time when every solution to a problem didn't engender another. She wants to curse those farang who came before. The calorie men with their active labs and their carefully cultured crop strains that would feed the world. Their modified animals that would work so much more efficiently on fewer calories. The AgriGens and PurCals who claimed they were happy to feed the world, to export their patented grains, and then always found a way to delay." My own feelings on this are that the genetic engineering and other technologies are not simply good or evil, but complicated. You have to understand them well, in order to figure out the right and wrong of their use.
After a slow start, I found the action of the story very compelling. I read the book during every spare moment over a period of two days, and that's a sign of a good book to me. In the end, I give the book a guarded thumbs-up. I don't really think it is literary enough to win a Nebula, but it seems like a strong candidate for Hugo to me. I was reminded of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (aka Bladerunner); anyone else have that reaction?
4 member(s) found this review helpful.
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.
4 member(s) found this review helpful.
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.