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Topic: The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Subject: The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
Date Posted: 2/24/2010 1:29 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
Posts: 723
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I've started this thread because the book has been placed on the final ballot for 2009 Nebula Best Novel award, and it looks like several of us will be reading it over the next few weeks.  If you've previously posted about it, feel free to re-post your comments here.

We should avoid posting an ending spoiler, but detail spoilers are inevitable.  If you are planning to read it soon, and do not want to see detail spoilers, I recommend you not read this thread yet.

Subject: TomHl's review
Date Posted: 2/24/2010 1:33 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
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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?



Last Edited on: 2/25/10 7:55 AM ET - Total times edited: 3
Date Posted: 2/24/2010 8:07 PM ET
Member Since: 9/3/2008
Posts: 447
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Although I was originally interested in this book, I think I'm going to have to skip it -at least for now.  It sounds way too depressing.  I do like at least one (and usually more) good guys in a book.  So I'm glad you wrote a review!  I actually have started re-reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep though.

Subject: my take
Date Posted: 3/3/2010 11:27 PM ET
Member Since: 7/26/2006
Posts: 385
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the book is attractive in the same way we are compelled to gape at a car accident

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You nailed it Tom.  Just finished The Windup Girl.  The book was good - I didn't know where the action was gonna go and I was totally sucked into this world.  It's not a fun place.  It might be considered depressing, yet has a somewhat hopeful ending for a few of the main characters.  You would have to believe in reincarnation to tolerate the suffering caused by climate change, political corruption, war and the energy and food problems, only a few characters were actually trying to better themselves or their surroundings. 

Bacigalupi told us a good story, the characters were fleshed-out and I could empathize (read Pump Six for other story background).  I enjoyed this book - thumbs up from me.

And YES - it has the same flavor as Dick's Electric Sheep book.  A cautionary tale - how does humanity survive and respond to adversity???  

I do kinda wonder if Bacigalupi has ever written anything with a happy ending............................

Subject: and the winner is....
Date Posted: 5/22/2010 7:42 AM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
Posts: 723
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It looks like my prediction was off, and this book was in fact the winner of Nebula for best novel this year.
Subject: relevance
Date Posted: 5/22/2010 9:46 AM ET
Member Since: 7/26/2006
Posts: 385
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It won the nebula?  Well, OK then.  I've been thinking of this book ever since the accident off of  Louisiana.  And then I was watching BBC news and they had a segment on GM cotton seeds (genetically engineered) being grown in India and the resulting mish mash of problems (including drought and suicides).  Wow - this book is dead on.