Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Windup Girl -- Paolo Bacigalupi

My opinion about this book is difficult to nail down. It was rich and textured and engaged all the senses, the characters were fascinating, too, and the extrapolation and some of the ideas were excellent. I particularly liked the kink-spring technology and the semi-retro tech based on it, like the disc guns that are a reminder of a childhood toy. I enjoyed the genetic manipulation and the wind-up girl herself, though of course there were shades of Blade Runner there. However, what gave me pause was the heavy reliance on scares generated by the ‘green’ movement and the MSM, but of course, in present day establishment thinking, it is right on.

We have the scares about global warming and sea-level rise here, and you all know my opinion on them. Yes, we do have global warming, and we’ve had it since the Little Ice Age and it hasn’t come close to being as high as in the Medieval Warm Period and has flat-lined for over a decade. As for sea-level rise, putting aside Al Gore idiocy and desperate IPCC spin, the last time I looked it was few millimetres a year (as it has been for 8000 years), and if we can’t cope with a metre rise in sea-level in three or four centuries then we might just as well give up right now (it has also been dropping for the last three years). However, the clue is in the label. This is science fiction so writing about a future globally-warmed and flooded world is valid, though, extrapolating from historical climate cycles, and writing about a new Ice Age, would be more so.

Then we have the scare about genetic modification or, more specifically, the fear of GM under the control of the evil corporations (sigh). Here we seem to be going into Daily Mail ‘Frankenfoods’ territory, combined with the ‘capitalism is evil’ shibboleth of the left. I am a little doubtful about the idea that our scientists are going to abruptly pull masses of world-devastating monsters out of their arses that billions of years of competitive evolution has failed to manage. But whatever, again this is valid for science fiction, and is of course a very useful spanner in the SF toolbox. I also get tired of that constant portrayal in fiction and film of the evil corporation. It strikes me that corporations seem to come up with most of what improves our lives, while it’s the governments that enjoy bombing people back into the Stone Age.

(I also have to wonder … where are the windmills and tide-generators supplying if not electricity then joules for those kink-springs? Where, with such advanced biotech, are the tank-grown hydrocarbons and the CO2 absorbing microbes? Where, also, are the nuclear power stations? Maybe in the rest of the world?)

Thereafter, if the scares were true, the extrapolation in the book is on the button. I do see Luddite environmental police (white shirts much like Hitler’s brown or black shirts) destroying illegal and dangerous technology and pillorying those who are profligate in energy use. I do see an economy based on calories, and the kind of life-styles depicted in this book. And I do see human life being cheapened.

Now I have to add something more. I have, over time, started to make it a rule that I won’t review books I either don’t like or don’t finish. That I finished this book, considering my personal opinions, is testament to how much I enjoyed it. It’s a valid look at a future from one point of view and, unlike what I have seen in other SF books that venture into this sort of territory, the characters are people struggling to get on with their lives in difficult circumstances, and are not vessels created just to deliver righteous homilies.

Cue the visits by trolls to enlighten me in the ways of correct political thought.   


Kirby Uber said...

excellent; i wondered what you'd think of this one. i was really quite fond of it despite the agw madness currently raging in the media. though it played a significant role in the book, i had the feeling it wasn't "about that" really, so it didn't bother me, and i really enjoyed it.

glad you did too. 8)

Neal Asher said...

It wasn't heavy on the polemic, which helps. Perhaps a lesson I could learn there since I suspect I could do with pulling back on it.

Bob Lock said...

I thought you'd enjoy this one Neal, even though you did have your reservations. It think this towered above Mieville's The City & The City which it shared the 2010 Hugo with.

Shaun said...

Humanity's monsters arise accidentally, as do many of our angels. Anthrax? Penicillin? Even concentration camps were a 'hack' solution to a misunderstood problem, even when the British invented them to hold the Boers.

osh said...

Nice review Neal - I've got this one in my backlocg to read.

Do you stick to paperbacks, or have you moved onto e-readers (I ask cause I've just got a Kindle after years of resistance!!)

beak said...

way too many characters, i had to take notes..

Neal Asher said...

Well, I got it at your suggestion, Bob. I know that I could spend loads of time picking holes in it, hence that addition about energy sources, but the plain fact remains that I was engaged, read it all and enjoyed it.

Not sure I agree, Shaun. We can and do produce chemical and biological weapons and they can never be an accident. In this book I just question the catastrophic leaning of us producing them in such quantity. It's all part of the same catastrophist arrogance about how effective/important we are.

osh, I stick to paperbacks for my recreational reading because I grew up loving them. However, I am considering some sort of e-reader for reference.

You'll be buggered up by some of my books then, beak.

Anonymous said...

I too had ambiguous feelings about this book. Yes, it was well written, had interesting ideas and so on, but there was a niggling feeling that something important was missing, but I've never been able to decide what that is/was.

The ending has suggested to some that there's a follow-up somewhere in the pipeline. Perhaps that would resolve the mind-itch that some of us have.

Only part-way into it, but 'Seed' by Rob Ziegler is giving me the same itch. Interesting, though.

Also interesting that both books came from Night Shade.

Alberon said...

Seems a fair review to me even though I'm over the fence on the other side of the global warming argument. I've read a couple of short stories set in the same world that was in Gardner Dozois annual short story collections and it didn't really grab me.

I tend to agree that as long as the politics aren't rammed down your throat in long diatribes I'll read anything from anyone's point of view. But to be fair it is not just one side of the Global Warming argument (or one side of the political spectrum) that is guilty of producing work like that.

Bob Lock said...

Ahh! from my suggestion eh? Cool :)
I'd be interested to know if you read The City & The City and if so what you thought of it in comparison to The Windup Girl regarding its shared win of the Hugo.

At the moment I'm reading Ian McDonald's The Dervish House and although I can't devote a lot of time to read big chunks of it in one go I'm enjoying it.

It's set in Istanbul in 2027 and covers a whole gamut of subjects such as economics, terrorists, religion, politics and nano-tech to name just a few.

Neal Asher said...

BarryA, could it be that you feel like that because this is a first book - the author not quite into his stride? Yes, it is interesting that the book came from Night Shade. Maybe that publisher will be able to afford to pay me what they owe me now.

Alberon, very true. There's a lot to be said for the invisible author ... searches for portable cloaking device.

No Bob, I haven't read The City The City. Maybe I should drop a large hint in the direction of Macmillan to that end. I might give the McDonald a go. I think I got put off River of Gods by some puff on the back concerning climate change. Maybe publishers (and writers) are starting to realize that might not be a selling point any more.

Bob Lock said...

Aww, Neal put aside the climate change and read River of Gods, it's such a good book. McDonald's prose is excellent, I don't know how the hell he does it but I read that book with an Indian accent and with a wobbly head. Well worth the read.

beak said...

@neal - well yes, have read all of yours and at times have had to take notes ;)

Mason Loring Bliss said...

Alright, I can chime in as one of the brainwashed alarmists... What I want to note though is that the solution to the alarmist position is a good thing regardless of global warming being a natural trend or man-made. I grew up in Massachusetts but I'm living in Indiana now, and will be for another week until I move home. Massachusetts has emissions standards for cars. Indiana doesn't. The result of this is that I can't walk outside here without wanting to gag!

Is it a bad thing to want to limit our impact regardless of whether we're the direct cause of this current period of climate change? It's obvious with things like the pollution of fisheries and acid raid.

I guess I have a question, which is, what do we lose by regulating our pollution? What do we gain?

Neal Asher said...

Mason, there's a difference between regulating pollution and regulating an odourless colourless plant food. A gas, incidentally, that was around in much larger quantities during some of Earth's Ice Ages (so go figure that).

Notable last night bow the BBC, in its report on Durban, had as a backdrop a photoshopped picture of chimneys emitting steam, but that steam deliberately coloured black to make it look more threatening. CO2 is NOT smoke, monoxide, soot, sulphur, dioxins etc.

Marcus said...

I think this work's popularity is pretty much down to it's characters. Check out Hock Seng, the guy's a legend.

The book brings these people to life nicely. Unfortunately, Paolo isn't Charles dickens and he can't quite take them to the level where you really connect, although you can understand Anderson's frustration and Emiko's confusion, but he's done a cracking job at writing a book that grabs peoples attention and takes them to the end.

Fiction shouldn't be judged by it's technical accuracy, look at H G Wells, It's the story that really counts and the ability to capture the reader. War of the worlds never leaves my side because I can always run through it and enjoy it.

I loved Ian Banks's "Transition" because the characters light up and it was a brilliant novel. I had to push my girlfriend to read it and she devoured it in three days. Which for a chick lit reader is quite something.

The point about that is that well written stories will always be enjoyed.

2theD said...

It's nice to read a terrestrial-based science fiction book once in a while. I bought Windup Girl when it first came out because it's set in the town I live in: Bangkok! Will you be penciling in a week-long jaunt to Thailand, now? Been here yet?