Feb 10 2010

The Windup Girl

Today, I finished Paolo Bacigalupi’s 2009 sci-fi novel, “The Windup Girl“. Bacigalupi (who I’d never heard of before I picked-up this book) is an up and coming sci-fi author with a penchant for environmental issues. He’s been nominated four times for a Hugo award (not for this one… yet) and receives rave reviews on Amazon, LibraryThing, etc. I decided to give him a try and now that I have, I’m not really sure what all the buzz is about.

The book plods along for the first 300 pages, following half-a-dozen characters as they struggle with cultural, economical, and political intrigues in post-Expansion Thailand. As the story unfolds, the reader discovers that the world has been ravaged by rising sea levels, climate change, exhaustion of fossil fuels, and a number of pandemics stemming from agricultural genetic engineering. Most world governments have collapsed leaving power in the hands of the agri-corps, which hold the remaining population in thrall with the controlled supply of sterile gene-ripped crop strains. None of this is explained in the book; it’s up to the reader to infer these things from the conversations and thoughts of the book’s characters. Which brings me to my biggest problem with the book, the writing…

OMG is it dry! Everything is written in short clips of present tense. Maybe the book was supposed to be emotionless? I really don’t know. Maybe I’ve been reading too much 19th century writing to appreciate this style. It was hard to tap into the emotions of the characters, the unfolding conflict… The story itself is interesting enough, maybe even compelling to some degree (for the last 60 pages or so). I would have preferred that more be explained from the outset, so I could understand what was being said, characters’ motivations, &c. Instead, I was obliged to push through a number of story lines with I wasn’t particularly interested in, in order to figure out what was going on. I wasn’t even sure why the windup girl (see title) was anything but a secondary character until the story’s end. Maybe I should have read an earlier novelette of Bacigalupi’s (i.e., “The Calorie Man”) but there was no indication that this was a sequel. *sigh* Would it be so hard to have a short glossary (for all the Thai terms and phrases), perhaps a time line or prologue explaining some of the history leading to the present state of things? I guess so. Is that considered trite in serious science fiction? *shrug*

In the end, after pushing myself to finish it, I just didn’t care. I’m left with a story with some good ideas mired in a writing style that was simply frustrating.

“We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.”

3 out of 5