Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A few days ago, I finished The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, winner of the 2010 Hugo for best novel.

The Windup Girl is a dystopia set in Thailand, after a collapse due to the end of the petroleum age and then a second collapse caused by plagues of mutated genetically engineered crops.  The narrative is split between four characters, a North American businessman in Thailand to undermine the government and get access to the Thai market for his companie's crops, a Malaysian refugee trying to survive in a country hostile to foreigners, a soldier of the enforcement arm of the Thai government's environmental ministry, and the titular windup girl - a genetically modified human abandoned by Japanese businessmen.

It's hard to find anyone to sympathize with.  The windup girl herself is an innocent, abused horribly throughout the novel and constrained by her breeding and training, but is so helpless through most of the novel that it is hard to identify with her.  The businessman is amoral and thoughtless.  The refugee is scheming and dishonest.  The soldier is a bully and a proto-fascist.

I suspect the author wants us to sympathize with the latter character, and his lieutenant who takes over the narrative part way through, due to his efforts to protect the local environment and loyalty to the Thai government, but this is hard to go along with given the obvious comparisons between his "white shirts" and the historic "black shirts" or "brown shirts".

Even with the lack of a sympathetic protagonist, the book is still well written and compelling. 

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