Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Windup Girl

Paolo Bacigalupi's debut novel, The Windup Girl, is almost unbearably brutal. It is also extremely good.

Set in a future Thailand, the book follows a half-dozen characters as they struggle for power in a bleak future devastated by bio-plagues, famine, and global warming. Thailand has kept itself a functioning country through its Ministry of the Environment, which destroys all imports that might be carrying any genetically engineered or mutated pathogens. However, destroying imports tends to inhibit trade, and so there is a natural, ongoing, and fierce struggle between the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Trade. Bacigalupi draws most of his characters from these two organizations, then throws in an American "calorie man," who is a representative of one of the giant agribusinesses that control food world-wide, plus the "windup girl," a Japanese-made android programmed to do things not even she suspects at first.

The political maneuvering is constant, intricate, and all too believable. So is the inevitable violence. However, more interesting than either are the choices -- moral, practical, philosophical, emotional -- that the characters are driven to make. These are not admirable people, but they spring plausibly and solidly from an unadmirable world. I believed every word of this book, including its brutality. Paolo Bacigalupi is prodigiously talented, and I will recommend this book for the Nebula it deserves.

It's interesting, however, to note that in person, Paolo is a cheerful, engaging fellow. Nobody knows what goes on in the hidden minds of writers -- at least not until it emerges onto the page. Our public personae are not us.

81 comments:

Richard said...

Interestingly, if I read him correctly, Freud talks about "primary process thinking" being the root of craziness...UNLESS it happens in service of art....sort of like nuk-lar energy being a useful thing in controlled environments and destructive in uncontrolled ones. Maybe that's why we scribblers are (mostly) sane: we have our "outlet."

Nancy Kress said...

I'm not sure that "we scribblers are (mostly) sane" -- writers have a higher-than-average rate of depression, for instance.

Merc said...

Thanks for the review--I'm going to have to check this one out!

Nick A said...

Thanks! Didn't know his novel was coming out, just ordered it on Amazon.

Adam said...

Been excited for this book for a long while now. Glad to know it'll be worth my money when it drops in Sept.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

But consider this, Richard--we creatives (and I'm talkin' 'bout writers, musicians, artists, etc.) got our start as tiny folks whose parents =loved= our stuff. And we moved on to be the class storyteller, or the promising singer whom Music Teacher cherishes, or the tiny artist, or =whatever= in the schools up-the-line. All is well and good!

Then you try to make it in the Big World, against folks =just= as talented as you! And they've had all that good feedback too. "Why am I not =automatically= loved?" (And that's why we do it--for love.)
Disappointment comes. You can give it up, you can persevere, and commonly, you can drink and drug into oblivion.

Charles Manson was =not a bad songwriter=. I have his boot cd. Not bad!

But who could call him "sane?"

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