Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book Review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

In a future Thailand, calories are the greatest commodity. Anderson is a calorie-man whose true objective is to discover new food sources that his company can exploit. His secretary, Hock Seng, is a refugee from China seeking to ensure his future. Jaidee is an officer of the Environmental Ministry known for upholding regulations rather than accepting bribes. His partner, Kanya, is torn between respect for Jaidee and hatred for the agency that destroyed her childhood home. Emiko is a windup, an engineered and despised creation, discarded by her master and now subject to brutality by her patron. The actions of these characters set in motion events that could destroy the country.

Oh gods, Oh gods I tried. I am not known to give up on a lot of books. There are even some books I give up on and decide I'll likely come back to....sadly, Paolo Bacigulpi's THE WINDUP GIRL is not one of them.

Now I am clearly in the minority here as the book has won both the Nebula award and tied for first for the Hugo (and I am pretty sure that China Meiville's THE CITY & THE CITY is more worth the win), but oh my god I was bored and annoyed.

Firstly, if you approach this book from any kind of grounded, believable scientific/futurist standpoint you will only be frustrated. This is the story of a future world where the human race can't seem to re-engengineer power after the oil industry goes south, but genehacking fruits and veggies is easy-peasy....but has also produced oodles of accidental bio-engineered diseases that kind of run rampant. Wait, so you're telling me it's a BAD idea to tamper with the genetic makeup of foods but everyone does it the point that calorie is king and currency? Who knew the future scientific minds were so dopey. Please. If you try to tell me that the worlds scientists will revert to coiled springs for power in a plant that is run by dirty marketeers and giant bio-engineered elephants turn wheels, and algea growing tanks that have these screens that take the skim off the top, and then there's these giant wooden pins that...

...are you asleep yet?

Cause I sure was. I can't even harp on this book properly cause it's so boring.

Emiko, the windup girl (artificial sex doll human) of the title, who is abused and degraded by her patron and Bangkok society at large, is at least a BIT interesting, but she just kind of gets lost in amongst the other crap. I mean here we have a character that could be the very pinpoint story in this book. The one that has all the conflict and humanity-shuns-robot thing...and what do we do with her? We give her over to the main protagonist Anderson Lake....and she stagnates there. Anderson Lake is completely irredeemable and unlikable entirely. Hock Seng, his factory worker who deals with day to day stuff and the like is actually worse, and comes off as petty, spiteful and ridiculously annoying. The young character of Mai is too connected to Hock Seng to be of any interest, and then there are the ministries of Environment and Trade....*snnnnoooore....snkkrrfkkk...* Wha? Hello? What were we talking about?

So yeah, you know that crap you didn't like in the Star Wars prequels about the whole Trade Federation and political blockades? Yup, that's the kind of bollocks that is going on in this book too, and it's more boring here. Things like the mob boss that Hock Seng is in cahoots with, and the Muay Thai person, and the other assorted characters...all boring.

This is a story for people who like politics, and environmental law and maybe a little bit of philosophy. Wikipedia calls it Bio-punk....and I loathe that word. Don't invent a word to describe a sub-genre of sci-fi that only qualifies as sci-fi LOOSELY. Beyond that the prose is kind of all over the place. It's not bad perse, but rather its kind of "scatterbrained". Then there's the constant need to use Thai and Chinese and Malay words in italics...which is odd. Bacigulpi uses them in the first chapter, explains them, and then continues to use them in italics. It's as if he's saying "Hey look! I'm am so smart! I can rock this in another language" which bugs me anyways, as the book is in english and while talking about people "wai" (hands pressed together to forehead) is appropriate as it is a cultural thing (though no need for the constant italics dude, we get it), it's a lot of then other terms used that don't really need to be in Thai. I mean, you wrote the book in English dude....why give sporadic words or terms (non-cultural specific!) unless you are just showing off? Offputting to say the least.

You've also got one decidedly overly-graphic rape scene and one that we don't see but is described. My god. I'm sorry, but I don't sit down and enjoy reading about a girl (creche grown or not) being raped by a champagne bottle. Sorry, to me that IS NOT entertainment. That's the sort of sick crap we hear about in the news. Personally, I read books to escape and be entertained, not to be disturbed on various levels. How this guy won the HUGO and Nebula is kind of beyond me. It's almost as if Fantasy/Sci-Fi Awards have decided to start awarding the big prizes to genre writers who are attempting a masquerade as contemporary literary authors. Note to Bacigulpi: You can do social commentary without it being overtly offensive or obvious...ask Alastair Reynolds how to do it, cause that guy writes readable books.

To finish up. I made it about 3 quarters through and then skimmed to the end. I want to be nice, so I WILL say that buried somewhere in this giant needless volume is a story worth telling, and I think it is mainly Emiko's story (minus the graphic rape), but it never goes where it should go to be worthwhile and in the end she is totally WASTED. This could be social commentary on the use of her as an object ect. (Like BI66ER in the Matix:The Second Renaissance) and seeing her freak out, but it never has the cleverness of that and ends up being decidedly heavy-handed and offputting. I could give two craps about Anderson Lake, Hock Seng, Mai, Lord Dung, Algae, Springs, Megodonts, Giant wooden spikes, gene-altered fruits and therefore diseases, and I care even less for trade and environmental ministries and the inner workings of factory lines. Seriously there is a chapter that describes how the factory line all works...and then it is destroyed. So Mr. Bacigulpi...please explain to me the need to put us through the tedious explanation of the factory line and the algae tanks if you are only going to destroy it i the next scene?

Like I said, I am in the minority here as A LOT of people like this book, but I guess the story just wasn't my bag and it only served to bore me. Sorry folks, I didn't get into this one and I tried as I heard so many good things.


  1. Honestly, I gave this book a try and just could not get into it at all, which is sad because the concept behind it all really interests me.

    I respect honest reviews... and appreciate this one.

  2. Thanks for your review. I've still got this book on my TBR list, but I won't be in any hurry to get to it, because it sounds like it may not be my thing.

  3. I had the same response. I think the book would be very assisted by a dictionary of 'odd terms' in the back, as some books have. I'm still not sure what some of the Thai or future-words mean.

    Okay - however - partly because I didn't have any other books around that interested me this month, I kept going.

    And while I came really, really close to stopping at page 80, 100, etc, at around page 250 - 300 the story and characters really got going. Jaidee became very interesting and his connection to Kaynee (don't have book right here, not sure of name) was great, the Anderson/Carlyle thing was fun - yeah Hock Seng is like a bug not so much a person, but I was curious how he would make out, and basically the 'back half' of the book was a serious page-turner for me. Really, really good.

    But, yeah, I was also put-off by constant terminology that I didn't understand...



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