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Book Review: The Windup Girl

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the read-all-about-it dept.

Book Reviews 164

New submitter Hector's House writes "'Nothing is certain. Nothing is secure,' reflects one of the characters in Paolo Bacigalupi's novel The Windup Girl. In 23rd century Bangkok, life for many hangs by a thread. Oil has run out; rising seas threatens to engulf the city; genetically engineered diseases hover on Thailand's borders; and the threat of violence smolders as government ministries vie for power. Environmental destruction, climate change and novel plagues have wiped out many of the crop species that humanity depends on: the profits to be made from creating — or stealing — new species are potentially enormous. After a century of collapse and contraction, Western business sees hope for a new wave of globalization; Thailand's fiercely guarded seed banks may provide just the springboard needed." Keep reading for the rest of Aidan's review.In a street market, Anderson Lake—a prospector for a US agribusiness giant—comes across an entirely new fruit. Drawn by the promise that it might lead him to the Thai kingdom's seed banks, he follows a trail that leads him to the backstreet club run by dissipated expat Raleigh. Here he encounters Emiko, the "windup girl" of the title. In the club's signature live sex show, she is subjected to—quite graphically described—abuse on stage. Genetically engineered in Japan as a "New Person", to be companion, secretary and translator to wealthy patrons, Emiko—a sort of transgenic geisha—has been abandoned in Bangkok by her former patron. Having been trained since infancy to be compliant, and carrying canine DNA that makes life outside of a strict hierarchy unthinkable, Emiko is trapped both by her own nature and by her characteristic tick-tock stuttery movements, hardcoded into her to make her manufactured origins immediately apparent. Genetically "unclean", Emiko daily faces the threat of extermination by the environment police: she takes to the streets only at night, when she can more easily "pass". Lake is fascinated by the exotic Emiko; she in turn is drawn to him, not least as an escape from slavery—even possibly to the fabled north, where New People reputedly live in freedom. Their relationship is an ambiguous one. Lake is not inherently a tender character (he considers the murder of business associates who threaten his plans). Moreover, his status as an unwelcome corporate outsider already puts him at risk; a transgressive liaison with a "windup" endangers him further. Emiko herself (like the Thai authorities) doesn't feel that she is genuinely human. However, she is fully capable of experiencing pain and loss and—with devastating results—rage.

Bacigalupi's novel is not new, nor is it obscure: published in 2009, it went on to win the highly esteemed Nebula and Hugo awards for science-fiction writing in 2009 and 2010. However, it deserves a place on the pages of slashdot, both for its vision of the future, and how naturally that is embedded in a well-crafted, intelligent action thriller. The book takes a qualified view of our future technological development. Fossil fuel depletion has resulted in a retraction of progress. Now, human and animal labour wind massive crank shafts—a dramatic ramping up of the technology used in hand-cranked radios and windup lanterns. Everything is recycled: even sewage produces methane to light the city's gas lamps. Where technology has leaped forward is in genetic engineering. This has yielded startling benefits: megodonts, hybrid beasts of burden, the result of the splicing of the DNA of elephants with that their massive prehistoric ancestors. It has also imposed dire costs: laboratory-manufactured plagues have swept the planet, Thailand surviving only because of the extreme zealousness of its environmental police.

The setting of an Asian culture, the dystopian image of people crammed into a crumbling city, and the relationship between a cynical, jaded man and vulnerable, artificial woman inevitably recall Bladerunner; however, even if that story provided some inspiration, The Windup Girl doesn't feel derivative: Emiko is the leading protagonist, not a supporting character. And the book takes off from that point of comparison: it's not stuck there. Weaving in with the main plot are a number of sub narratives, the book drawing much of its momentum from this crisscrossing. Hock Seng, Lake's elderly Malaysian Chinese assistant, a refugee from bloody ethnic cleansing, plots his escape from the chaos he feels must ultimately engulf Bangkok. Fiery, ebullient environment police captain Jaidee Rojjanasukchai and his austere female lieutenant Kanya Chirathivat pursue genetic transgressions in an attempt to preserve what is left of Thailand's ravaged ecosystem. Meanwhile their Environment Ministry vies with the Ministry of Trade, which seeks to open up Thailand to resurgent Western business. Plot and counter plot wind the characters together into a climactic conflict sensed only dimly at the start of the book.

It is perhaps here where the book, not falls down, but stumbles. The complexity of the plot towards the end of the book becomes dense and – for me, on first reading – slowed the book's momentum. This complexity might, however, also be a strength. For the purposes of the review I came back to the book, which I had read some eight or nine months previously; it bears rereading, and the largely tight structure is rewarding, as is the plot development. The sense of place is very strong—the press of street markets, the stench and press of humanity in the crumbling high-rise apartment buildings, the tropical setting ("[the] night was black and sticky, a jungle filled with the squawks of night birds and the pulse and whir of insect life"), as is the sense of—literally—the daily grind, as men and animals wind the cranks that keep the city powered. And many of the ideas have the power to jolt: the "cheshires", cats with chameleon DNA that recall Lewis Carroll's fictional creation by changing color to melt into their surroundings, the better to exterminate already-threatened bird populations; the Dung Lord, a mafia don who controls the trade in human waste, a vital part of the city's economy. While not all the characters remain with you afterwards, fittingly, Emiko, the lonely and conflicted protagonist does. Interestingly, hers is also the character for whom the greatest leap of imagination is required—the genetically altered outsider, who makes a journey from abject slavery to a realization of her potential.

Science fiction often suffers because while much attention may have been paid to the technological aspects, the author fails to capture the complexities of the new society or convincingly grasp the characters. Bacigalupi – largely – succeeds because he recognizes that human nature doesn't change over time: elites are only too willing to exercise control with force; the outsiders and those are who different are always vulnerable; human culture, in all its strangeness and mundanity, continues. A key strength of the book is that the subjective portrayal of the characters' inner lives and thoughts means that we feel them to be inhabiting their own present, exactly as we are. They look back of course, as do we. In their case, wonderingly to a time known as "The Expansion", when Thailand was allegedly the "Land of smiles", quite unlike the misery that has become the lot of its average citizen.

If you'd like to sample Bacigalupi's writing, some of his short stories are available on his Pump Six website.

Aidan McKeown is an editor and writer living in the Netherlands. He can be contacted at aidanmckeown@gmail.com.

You can purchase The Windup Girl from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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164 comments

thanks.. dont have to get it now (3, Interesting)

Wingfat (911988) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946109)

such an indepth review i feel like there is no need to get it now.

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (3, Insightful)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946475)

Every generation of scholars from the ancient Greeks to the present day has complained about people like you: children of privilege and promise whose intellectual laziness signals their parents' failure and their culture's fall. Happily, those old geezers have all been full of shit... at least up until the last 10-15 years or so. Now, their lamentations ring loudly in our ears. They sound less like the grousing of irrelevant reactionaries, and more like warnings of an undeniable and very inconvenient truth.

So have another Adderall and hit the showers; your work here is done.

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946603)

Wow, and I thought I was a grumpy old bastard.

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946649)

It's the 7 digit UID. It makes him irritable.

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (0, Troll)

Wingfat (911988) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946625)

"complained about people like you" I could say the same you I guess.. but what I am wondering is the personal attack on me? I said that the review was in-depth.. very informative on the book.. much like Cliff Notes.. yes reading Cliff Notes is not reading the real book, but will give you the just of it to get you by without spending tons of time reading something that has already been complied for you. Now I’m betting you’re a Troll. & the ancient Greeks loved me when I was there. & children of Privilege? my parents died when i was young and have had to do everything on my own. and have made it from being homeless to being a manager at a bank and own a home, have a wife and a son, two cars, and more PCs than you. My intellectual Laziness includes taking courses at MIT, developed the RE-Maxx reality website for the first two years it was up. I am MCSE+I cert, A+ cert, HVAC trained, able to work on Freon units in Cali, Trained Sword fighter, and much more.. ohh i see more replys are coming..

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946671)

I am MCSE+I cert, A+ cert

In your head was that supposed to sound.impressive?

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946695)

Am I in the presence of a holder of both the MCSE *and* the A+ certifications? You, sir, are a unique wonder who have traveled a path nobody else has dared tread.

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (3, Insightful)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946869)

The only kind of person who would think that review was anything even approaching a cliff's notes version of the book are people who haven't read the book. For example saying that Hock Seng is Anderson Lake's "assistant" glosses over at least a quarter of the narrative.

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (0)

Wingfat (911988) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946915)

not like this book is Hitch Hickers Guide or anything. if it ever gets to video... i'll boycott it then too. I almost thought about getting it.. but now i'm going the other way. it is funnier that way. with out humor we as a people will not grow.

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947041)

Smug ignorance, you are doing it right!

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947093)

I bow to your vast and well-documented experience.

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (0)

Wingfat (911988) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947143)

HEHEHEHE thanks.. i dont think these people have any idea who I am

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947325)

They just don't care.

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946899)

Was this your attempt to make yourself sound like the biggest tool alive, rather than a standard, garden-variety /. tool? Because if so, bravo, sir, bravo!

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38947047)

dude, please stop sucking your own cock, I'm afraid your back will snap any time....

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (1)

pscottdv (676889) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947719)

Every generation of scholars from the ancient Greeks to the present day has complained about people like you: children of privilege and promise whose intellectual laziness signals their parents' failure and their culture's fall. Happily, those old geezers have all been full of shit... at least up until the last 10-15 years or so. Now, their lamentations ring loudly in our ears.

Nothing's changed except you have become one of the geezers.

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (5, Interesting)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946589)

such an indepth review i feel like there is no need to get it now.

Having read both the novel and the review, I can say for sure that there is still every need to get the book and read it.

The review is thorough, but it doesn't scratch the surface of what makes the novel so compelling, any more than looking at the Cliff's Notes to Midsummer Night's Dream obviates the need to read the great play.

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (1)

Anomalyst (742352) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947573)

"Forbidden Planet" was good enough for me.

Re:thanks.. dont have to get it now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946887)

Clerk: "Would you like to rent it, sir?"
Homer: "Why, I just saw the best part! Heh heh heh heh..."

Ok, I'l believe this review... (2)

MikeTheGreat (34142) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946135)

...since it's 8/10, rather than the Packt-standard 9/10 :)

Good book, but has some holes (5, Insightful)

Monty845 (739787) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946145)

There were a lot of interesting ideas discussed in the book, but it fails to really explain why things like solar power were not used... at all... not to mention any other form of green energy that is available even today. It seemed a pretty big hole to me.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (3, Interesting)

needs2bfree (1256494) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946279)

How does it compare to Oryx and Crake [wikipedia.org] ? It sounds really similar.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (0)

heptapod (243146) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946519)

Oryx and Crake has more rape fulfilling Atwood's sick dystopian fantasies.

Also Atwood doesn't write science fiction. You won't find any squids or rocketships in Oryx and Crake. Squids and rocketships are mainstays of science fiction like busty women being eaten by squids aboard a superluminal rocketship.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (3, Insightful)

Daetrin (576516) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946563)

First, in response to your post, they're really not at all similar. Oryx and Crake is a _real_ apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic novel. At the end almost everyone is dead and there's not much hope for the survivors. (The second part of that could certainly be debated, but doing so would definitely involve somewhat spoilery stuff.)

In Windup Girl the world has gone through a cataclysm, and you could call the "present" world a post-apocalyptic one if you really wanted, but it's not a nearly dead world. At the point we join the story there are a number of civilizations in the world. They're all worried about further calamities, but most of them are doing pretty well. They're growing and expanding, world trade is starting to come back (despite somewhat justified opposition) a lot of progress is being made in genetics and the harvesting of kinetic energy, and they're able to produce high tech items like computers in at least limited quantities.

Which is why the grand-parent comment is so telling. They can make computers, so why can't they make solar panels? And why is there no nuclear power? And dear gods why no hydro power? They've definitely got the tech to build turbines and water wheels are about the oldest tech out there, and windmills ought to be just about as easy to build.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (1)

Wingfat (911988) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946677)

agreed! i mean really now.. Water Wheels have been used forever!

Re:Good book, but has some holes (5, Insightful)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947095)

Well a big plot element is that the powers that be, the calorie-men, have an established business, and they hold the world by the throat. Imagine if you will that the oil tycoons were in charge of not only transportation, but food. In a time of famine. It's also a time of plagues, which they also have a hand in.
I'm not sure if it's specifically spelled out, but it's implied that the calorie-men were responsible for releasing plagues that decimated crops of competitors.

But anyway, if you have an immensely powerful establishment, and you try to introduce alternatives, it turns out that they don't look kindly on that sort of thing.

The complete lack of hydro-power is kinda damning though. Solar and wind too, but they lack the pun.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947647)

I'll add both those books to my list for later.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38947769)

the most important difference: oryx and crake is written by margaret atwood, who is actually a very talented writer. paolo bacigalupi, on the other hand, ... he is nearly as bad as china mieville.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (2)

Fubari (196373) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946327)

Great book; ntl;eri (not too long; enjoyed reading it).
r.e. solar: I got the impression they 1) didn't have the infrastructure to make new solar or electric things, and 2) famine was the new normal, actually eating was a challenge. Very very interesting social modeling; the book author put a Lot of thought into crafting this world.
As for a the "Reviews of two+ year old books suxorz" *shrug* 1) it is still a good book today, and 2) some geeks might enjoy reading it. (unless this is a dup and Windup Girl has already been reviewed on /. but that is a dup issue, not a "two years too late" issue).
p.s. Thanks you to Samzenpus for taking the time to write a nice, well thought out review.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (2)

Monty845 (739787) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946447)

See, thats where it doesn't make sense. They have the infrastructure to make the kinetic energy storage devices and to continue bio engineering, so they should be able to produce solar/wind/hydro/tide power, and did use a limited amount of fossil fuel generated electricity. Even if it wasn't economically viable for the masses, certainly the rich and or gov't would have been able to afford some as a prestige item or for critical purposes. Both solar and wind have major drawbacks, but in a time of such energy scarcity, the draw backs could be lived with.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947245)

What drawbacks do solar and wind energy have, other than not being terribly economical at present due to cheap oil? In a time of energy scarcity, they'd be rolled out in huge numbers. They also have scalability problems (e.g., you're probably not going to power the Seattle metro area (at present consumption levels) with solar power even if you put panels on every rooftop because there's simply not enough sunlight, and you're probably not going to power other cities with wind power if there isn't that much wind there), but again, in a time of scarcity, these sources would still be better than nothing.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (3, Insightful)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946581)

2) famine was the new normal, actually eating was a challenge.

If there was mass famine, wouldn't human and animal labor be the last source of energy you would want to use? That would just create an even greater need for food.

I are not an cannibule (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947307)

If there was mass famine, wouldn't human and animal labor be the last source of energy you would want to use?

Depends on how much of a priority the mid- to long-term survival of those humans and animals is.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (2)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947309)

Nope. It depends on what the animals eat. Dumb vegetarians, for instance, are always complaining about the use of animals as food, saying that we could just use all that pasture land as farmland instead and grow crops for people to eat directly. What they totally miss is that people can't eat grass. Cows, however, can eat grass (as can goats, and various other animals), and turn completely useless scrubland into a food source for humans. And no, you can't necessarily turn that land into farmland because growing crops requires a lot of water, whereas wild grasses don't; freshwater is in limited supply in many places. Goats can be even better than cows in many places because they can live on extremely rugged terrain that cows can't handle, and human wheeled machines can't operate on.

So if the beasts of burden you use normally eat grass and other inedible stuff that grows in the wild without using up precious resources (namely water), then it makes perfect sense. If the beasts require a constant supply of corn, however, that wouldn't work so well.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (3, Insightful)

ralphdaugherty (225648) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946599)

Thanks for the review. I like this Bladerunner kind of stuff. I'll be ordering it, and also checking out other similar books mentioned here.

IMO the no solar energy and reliance on animal powered cranks (and especially in a dense urban environment) is totally unrealistic but dramatic license.

The 23rd century is way too optimistic. The ocean will have flooded Thailand well before that and there will be massive death from starvation and a runaway bioengineered disaster even before that. Human nature being what it is, it's guaranteed we will do nothing to prevent it.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (1)

eternaldoctorwho (2563923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947061)

tma;dr (too many acronyms, didn't read)

Re:Good book, but has some holes (1)

zubiaur (1207636) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946353)

Indeed, no nuclear, wind, or hydro energy sourced energy is mentioned. I did like the idea of calories as currency (not a new idea) and the whiteshirt girl (kanya?) subplot was fantastic. I enjoyed the book.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946453)

I think, he argued, that all other forms of green energy are less efficient than genetically modified bio-energy.

Vilest book I've read in years (3, Informative)

billstewart (78916) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946495)

I was fine with the dystopian energy-crisis food-shortage spy-novel paranoid stuff - it was creative, and some of it was well-written, and I wasn't bothered by the cartoon-physics use of genetically engineered elephants to wind fancy springs that seems to annoy a lot of engineers. But the genetically-engineered-women-just-deserve-sex-slavery-and-killing theme that makes up about half the book was really vile. I found it far more squicky and offensive than when a bad imitation Conan the Barbarian character rapes his conquests, and IMHO that part was almost as badly written.

I didn't see how it rated a Hugo award, in spite of the creativity and the complexity of the plot.

Re:Vilest book I've read in years (3, Informative)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946687)

Heh, if you think that is vile, try reading Bacigalupi's 'People of Sand and Slag'. He's a brilliant writer, but he always gets under my skin and makes me sad for human nature. For a real fun treat, read Vicker's 'The Featherless Chicken'. http://www.strangehorizons.com/2005/20051024/featherless-f.shtml [strangehorizons.com]

Re:Vilest book I've read in years (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947269)

Sand and slag wasn't vile. It wasn't even sad if you accept that the world had simply moved on and the dog was a buggy-whip. An adorable buggy-whip that beat the odds and somehow managed to survive through cataclysmic hell-scape and still crawls into bed with you to feel safe.
Ok, maybe a little vile.

Re:Vilest book I've read in years (1)

DamnStupidElf (649844) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947115)

protip: What happens in a book does not always reflect the author's desires, nor should the exposition necessarily instruct your morals.

You noticed that genetically modified people may not be great candidates for slavery. Good for you. That was one of the major points that I think the author wanted to make by, in this case, describing the negative aspects of such a situation.

Re:Vilest book I've read in years (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947219)

Well, it's rape and forced prostitution, but I'm being redundant. It's kind of a vile subject.

So, uh... Spoilers!

There's also the important undertone that uber-men must be regulated as they're dangerous in the short term and the risk that they'd replace us in the long term. So they're gimped and made illegal. But, as always, some slip through the cracks and find their existance in direct opposition to the law, which makes the seedy underworld their only real option. Hey! Guess what the seedy underground does to women with no other option? Yeah. Which in turn justifies, at least to the reader, the path of rampant murder that the girl chooses. Oh look, that whole "risky" thing is circularly justified. And with her long-term goal of seeking out and joining the colony of her kind, the long-term risk also presents itself.

It's a lesson about how these sort of prohibitive rules make for self-fulfilling prophesies.

Re:Vilest book I've read in years (1)

epyT-R (613989) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947561)

if the freedom of speech was limited by the collective average outlook of people like you, who insist on getting 'offended' to 'prove' their social decency, we'd have none at all. get over it.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (1)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946715)

Calories. Everything is calories. How many calories do you need to build the "solar panels"????

Re:Good book, but has some holes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946901)

No, that is not a big hole. The hole is that of the optimistic futurism going on today. Green energy will not solve our problems by a long shot. One only need to explore enough of the math involved and trends to see that. Nuclear next generation is hype which may not come to pass; it may not result in something even remotely close to the promises being made. It might and fusion may solve everything... or it may not! You have other issues like energy loss produces waste heat; therefore, you can't have unlimited energy use...

The whole economy is based upon oil and coal. The vast majority is directly propped up by it and can not literally live without it. Currently, it is about 10:1 calories of oil to food. The population continues to grow at faster rates and has been too high for many decades (hint: the amount man-made global climate change a directly related to population size.) All the green energy production runs short of the ever increasing demand. So does oil (we already see this, post peak oil.) So does coal.

Sure, one could say modern diseases, DNA software bugs (or runtime errors like natural mutation) may kill off much of the human infestation of the planet; this does not mean that life may continue as normal (but with less people.) A cost effective wind generator that can handle extreme weather (and upkeep) is more difficult and more costly when less infrastructure exists to support it. Solar has more infrastructure requirements and nuclear is the worst of all.

The cost of power will rise greatly; its highly unlikely to go down. This makes it cheaper to use animals and self-powered devices. A beast of burden has an upkeep cost but it reproduces itself cheaply and while it may not run as well as a machine it requires less infrastructure which may become so costly that it comes out cheaper to operate.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (2)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947507)

Whoa there, don't be a negative nancy. Seriously, this sort of doomsaying is what gets the fundies' undies in a twist.

The next generation of nuclear plants is not fusion. You're looking WAY too far down the road. For that matter, CURRENT generation nuclear plants are perfectly viable. Sure, they have that risk of meltdown and the fuel isn't renewable. But meltdowns are rare, and there's quite a lot of fuel.

The whole economy is based upon oil and coal.

Oil is transportation and coal is grid power. And yes, those are two fundamental resources that our society needs. But there are alternatives. And... there is no such thing as "peak green". Oil, coal, and even nuclear material peaks because there's a set amount of it. That's the whole gimmick of renewable resources. If you want more, go make it. How will we go make it? Well we'll need resources to go make it, ie, people.

may kill off much of the human infestation of the planet

Yeah. This. This right here. This is the sort of evil megalomaniac spiel that paints you as "that evil guy". It puts the entire "think green" movement in REALLY bad light.

The cost of power will rise greatly; its highly unlikely to go down. This makes it cheaper to use animals and self-powered devices. A beast of burden has an upkeep cost but it reproduces itself cheaply and while it may not run as well as a machine it requires less infrastructure which may become so costly that it comes out cheaper to operate.

Well thank god you made an attempt to steer this back onto the topic of the book. Listen, it's fantasy. Using animals as energy conversion tools doesn't work out. It's a bio-punk book. Just like steam-power is a romantic notion that doesn't really pan out, neither does this. But it's fun to pretend.
If that was your rational for how to suspend your disbelief for a little while, that's fantastic. But taken together with the rant above it, I've got to tell you to step away from the sci-fi section and go get a healthy dose of reality.

Re:Good book, but has some holes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946989)

perhaps we can find solace in the fact that this might truly be science "fiction" ?

Re:Good book, but has some holes (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947381)

What part of dystopian did you miss? There can't be any good news... the evil corporations stole all the sunlight and charges you a royalty for a copy of a photon.

Sci Fi is all about the guilt trip and foreboding warnings from those smarter than you who use just as much (or more) natural resources.... ...And catch phrases, you damn dirty ape!

Re:Good book, but has some holes (1)

Ragica (552891) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947673)

It's been over a year since I read Wind-up Girl, with many books between then and now, so my memory is kind of hazy... but thinking back, I can't remember any electrical energy in that world. Was it all mechanical? If it's all mechanical (for whatever reason), that really limits what sort of energy sources are useful. Especially portable energy sources. Most current energy sources, green or otherwise, are to produce electricity. I'm have no idea why (if I am even recalling correctly) electricity doesn't work, but it would only take a sentence to reasonably dismiss electricity entirely in a sci-fi world. You can write that sentence for yourself in your head while reading, if it doesn't exist.

Of course one thinks first of steam, for mechanical power. But what do you burn to get steam? That's a problem. Also, while the oceans are still abundant, fresh water seems like it might be kind of dear in that world ... at least so it seems, as I'm recalling the torture the Windup Girl undergoes constantly trying to get water to keep herself from overheating, and it not being easy to acquire.

It should be noted that Windup Girl takes place in a world already mostly established by Bacigalupi in his short stories in Pump Six. Pump Six is a collection of short stories. Windup Girl is sort of, in some ways, like a really long short story. Not everything is explained. (I think Pump Six is a significantly better work than Windup Girl, though Windup Girl is still quite well done.)

Three year old book review? (3, Insightful)

heptapod (243146) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946171)

The Windup Girl came out in September 2009 and now you're getting around to reviewing it?

Let me tell ya, there's an awesome book by this guy named Bob Heinlein. He named it "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and I heard it's pretty good. I'd better get cracking on that review before it's too late!

Re:Three year old book review? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946319)

That's pretty typical. RickJWagner used to "review" years-old Packt books as well.

reviewing old books (plus RAH) (2)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947043)

Reviewing old books is perhaps not that bad an idea. Many people haven't read The Windup Girl, or even The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Especially with RAH, with no new books coming out, there are no big advertising pushes for his works, even though they're republished periodically. Moon isn't even available in Kindle format for some bizarre reason. (I'm about to scan one of my copies so I can have it on my Kindle. If it's ever available in Kindle format, I'll buy it.)

I was at a sci-fi con a couple of years ago, and the _only_ author who had a discussion panel dedicated to their works - was Robert Heinlein. Sadly, the average age of the people there was quite high. I can't help but wonder if some new reviews on a site like Slashdot might encourage the young'uns to pick up some RAH and give it a go. Maybe some even older stuff like E.E. Doc Smith.

Re:reviewing old books (plus RAH) (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947371)

I was at a sci-fi con a couple of years ago, and the _only_ author who had a discussion panel dedicated to their works - was Robert Heinlein. Sadly, the average age of the people there was quite high.

That's because younger people generally don't care for sci-fi. Just look at the demise of the Sci-Fi channel, the near-total lack of real sci-fi movies these days, etc. Remember back in the 70s and 80s, when there seemed to be a big new sci-fi movie every week? Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, Alien, Aliens, Silent Running, I could go on and on with movies set in space, in space ships. Where are they now? They don't make any; the only recent one I can think of is Avatar (made by the same old guy who made Aliens back in '86), and that only had a couple of minutes of footage showing people in a space ship right at the very beginning.

There's probably more sci-fi movies being made in Europe now than in the US.

Slashdot: (4, Funny)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946207)

News for Nerd. Stuff that matters. Reviews of fiction published two years ago.

Re:Slashdot: (2)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946407)

yeah well apparently the reviewer thinks it's ok to push it because it paints a bleak omg fossil fuels end and then it's shit for everyone picture of the world..

like.. fuck.. could just as well review Make Room! Make Room! then..

real kicker is of course that it's actually an advert. no, i'm not going to buy it on amazon. I didn't buy it when I read the synopsis on the paperback either. I might read it, some day, but it seemed cliche shit from the synopsis and this review doesn't help that impression.

"Bacigalupi – largely – succeeds because he recognizes that human nature doesn't change over time: elites are only too willing to exercise control with force; the outsiders and those are who different are always vulnerable" -- fucking black and white shit bred in fear and almost as bad english as my ramblings, but to me it sounds like the writer just went where the fence is lowest and didn't even bother to think how real people would act in the long run in the scenario he thought up, just evil elite vs. poor bullied underlings crap. the reviewer even admits that the book isn't captivating, yet somehow feels compelled to recommend it - perhaps it's the only fucking book he managed to read in few years and this just because the title is almost like out of GITS?

since this is a book thread I'd recommend Spook Country because it's pretty much the only book I remember reading last year, even if bit cliche at least it's captivating.

Re:Slashdot: (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946479)

I read The Windup Girl and didn't find anything redeeming about it. Hell, it was just yellow peril fiction written by an alleged latter-day liberal.

Cory Doctorow will dub it "brownpunk" relating to the color of their eyes and skin where the west is marginalized and asian powers come to prominence. Everything's working on springs because of a lack of fossil fuels (OH MY GOD WHAT AN INTRIGUING PLOT POINT!!!) in a dystopia (NOBODY'S EVER DONE DYSTOPIA BEFORE!!!) since the civilized west deserves to be knocked down a few pegs and taught humility by some guy pounding out books for a nickel a word when he's not working at Geek Squad.

Give this one a pass. Bacigalupi is putting modern day ideas into a science fiction parable that's without a cogent lesson beyond "life sucks and boy howdy it's gonna suck in the future! LOOK OUT!!!" No different than your little cousin building Lego cities then demolishing them because he can't think of anything to do once he's finished with the project. Sad that Paolo isn't buying into Stephenson's Innovation Starvation [worldpolicy.org] and doing something to make people think about moving forward towards a beneficent future rather than perpetuating a culture of assigning blame to others and thinking that's more than enough.

In sixty years, The Windup Girl is going to be aughts kitsch science fiction that people will smile about much in the same fashion people giggle at science fiction from the 1930's full of ships earnestly powered by vacuum tubes.

Re:Slashdot: (0)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946947)

Man, if you read only one last year, or at lest that's what you do remember.....thank you but NO, thank you. I do not need your advise or review for any books at all. Go play with your little train, or wii (whatever that means, lol).

Re:Slashdot: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946537)

Apparently it's a good book that nobody reviewed here. I haven't read it (or heard of it). Don't see a problem worth crying about.

The reason I don't read sci-fi anymore (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946227)

Is rubbish like this book.

Plagiarism... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946233)

Of ever so many DNC "Chicken Little", fear mongering talking points. Is there no originality or creativity left anywhere?
   

Dresden Dolls? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946247)

Sequel to Coin Operated Boy?

Starts strong, then levels of and gets boring (2)

gweihir (88907) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946255)

Unfortunately, it bogs down after a while and things move glacially and in circles. I did not finish the book and stopped somewhere in the middle. Pretty rare for me. For me that makes is more a 3/10.

Re:Starts strong, then levels of and gets boring (3, Informative)

c0d3g33k (102699) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946485)

Agreed. This book received more buzz than was warranted, and the substance was lacking. As you say, it starts off strong, but never really delivers. I slogged through until the end, but more out of stubbornness than because it was a compelling read. I couldn't help but think that in the hands of a more capable writer, this could have been an incredible story, but the reality was less compelling.

Re:Starts strong, then levels of and gets boring (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946553)

unfortunatelly i must agree. good start and then a slowdown. i'm in the middle and the windup girl from title still has no meaning or usage in plot. i would really like to know more about the history of this world, in particular the reasons for no solar, wind or nuclear power.

Re:Starts strong, then levels of and gets boring (2)

Pescar (1150203) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946571)

I've only read "pump six and other stories", his collection of short stories mostly from the same universe, and I thought it was amazing.
The creativity and originality of the world and ideas he packed into those short stories was astounding, so if "The Windup Girl" flags towards the end, I recommend you give pump six a look.

Re:Starts strong, then levels of and gets boring (1)

c0d3g33k (102699) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947091)

Interesting. The Windup Girl doesn't quite work (for me) as a narrative, but I will agree the ideas presented were quite thought provoking. It seemed more a problem of execution than ideas, though, so I can totally buy the idea that the author might come up with some really interesting stories in the short form in this particular make-believe world. I will most certainly read these short stories, based on your recommendation. Thanks.

Re:Starts strong, then levels of and gets boring (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38947849)

I completely agree. Paolo Bacigalupi is just not a very good writer. His ideas are good, but not well executed. He is like China Mieville, who also has good ideas, but is a terrible writer. For good sci fi I'd recommend margaret atwood and probably never let me go (Kazuo ishiguro)

Would you like to know more? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946287)

Cheeky reference aside, if you want to learn more about the author, a local alt-weekly I read sometimes did a fairly good article on him. [westword.com]

Paolo Bacigalupi is what my REAL girlfriend gave (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946325)

And I had to take pills for a week!

What is this?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946359)

Is this science fiction? That's disgusting! I don't want to read about that; I want technology, not fiction! Fiction makes me sick and sad. Reality is bad enough.

It's a good story (2)

ngreenfeld (321295) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946405)

While I like "classic sf" (meaning technology and adventure), this was a very good read. It has enough stuff to cause some thinking, not just the entertainment value. I highly recommend it to anyone who's getting a little bored with current SF.

Enjoyed the book (2)

schlesinm (934723) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946423)

Yes there were some minor plot holes, but overall it was a wonderful book(my review [blogspot.com] ). Bacigalupi is one of my new favorite writers.

Fun read, not quite (scientifically) accurate (3, Informative)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946433)

So, for a dystopian novel (and if you read it closely it is VERY dystopian with what's left of mankind scavenging for what few "calories" they can) I thought is was a "fun" read. Maybe that's because I've been to BKK many many times (I live in Vietnam) and it is the preferred destination for most expats R&R. (In addition to being a "Disneyland for adults", Bangkok consistently is rated the world's top tourist destination for being cheap AND fun! ;). The author gets many details about Bangkok right while projecting it into the despairing future; I especially like the abandoned skyscrapers that are today the icons of the city.

Unfortunately for the novel (but very fortunately for us!) there is no way the world will turn out that bad at least not due to the overwhelming shortage of energy he predicts. Even if we completely run out of fossil fuels (unlikely) or have their use almost completely prohibited worldwide to stop climate change (a bit less unlikely), it looks like renewables will save our energy butts. Even now solar and wind are *only* a factor of two or three times more expensive than fossil fuels; we may be headed for a poorer world (and one in which air travel will again be a luxury only for the rich) but we won't be so desperately scavenging for energy as to make genetically engineered animals (and people!) a necessary substitute. Of course he did this partly to play up the "wind up" aspects of a society which requires this animal energy to be stored up somehow but I'm very glad it won't come to pass.

His climate change predictions, on the other hand, are much more spot on and do foretell a world where the major coastal cities of the world are under constant threat of inundation. :(. As well as it being very hot and humid. :( :(

Read it, liked it, try this... (4, Informative)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946445)

I enjoyed the book, though another poster was correct that no mention of solar or biomass energies was a gaping hole, though I imagine the lack of biomass fuels was due to the difficulties in growing actual food stuffs. The stories of the world and the Windup Girl herself are simply coincidental but work nicely together. Overall a well written, but fairly conventional plot and progression.

I recently read the Jump 225 Trilogy by David Louis Edelman [wikipedia.org] consisting of Infoquake [sffworld.com] , Multireal, and Geosynchron. and found them more interesting, but think the author was uncertain how to wrap up the series, which left me a little unsatisfied at the end.

If you want hardcore sci-fi, try Alastair Reynolds [wikipedia.org] and his Revelation Space [wikipedia.org] series.

Makes no sense (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946465)

We can splice canine DNA into human DNA and make a "clockwork" girl, but we can't modify algea to create fossil fuels efficiently? This story has some pretty major flaws from the sounds of it.

Re:Makes no sense - also (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946565)

Everything is recycled: even sewage produces methane to light the city's gas lamps.

Wouldn't it be way esier to burn the methane at a power generation station and ship electricity to the lights rather than create a gas distribution network and burn gas for.. light (and waste all the heat it generates). This book was not well thought out.

Re:Makes no sense - also (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947437)

Sounds like the author was definitely no engineer. You're absolutely right; if you already have an electric distribution network, why would you go backwards to a 19th century gas distribution network? And a central power station can get far higher efficiency that simply burning a hydrocarbon for light, especially if you use LED lights. An energy shortage would drive people to use more efficient technologies, not go backwards to horribly inefficient ones.

Re:Makes no sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946775)

We can splice canine DNA into human DNA and make a "clockwork" girl, but we can't modify algea to create fossil fuels efficiently?

Well, it's not that easy. I mean, even with all of the benefits of modern technology, some people can't even spell algae.

Re:Makes no sense (1)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947025)

Actually, we can, but did you read the book actually??? It was written plainly: PLAGUE. The problem is not that we could play god, but that we do not understand the consequences playing god. If the nature decided that mixing fish DNA and spider DNA is not good idea, then accept it. IT IS NOT GOOD IDEA. Do you happen to know why the irish people immigrated to USA? Have you read the history? And all this happened only because of some little, tiny bug. Impressive.

Re:Makes no sense (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947443)

If the nature decided that mixing fish DNA and spider DNA is not good idea, then accept it.

Actually, I'm pretty sure that if you compared fish and spider genomes, you'd find they share a lot of DNA.

Re:Makes no sense (1)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947599)

And if you compare the human's DNA and pig's DNA, they also have a lot of common.....actually, not only the DNA is the same....

Re:Makes no sense (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947699)

Yes, they even have similar-looking noses [squarespace.com] , unless you're one of those freaks with a little pointy nose, in which case you need to undergo a medical procedure to fix this aberration.

Re:Makes no sense (1)

sphealey (2855) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947845)

=====
It was written plainly: PLAGUE. The problem is not that we could play god, but that we do not understand the consequences playing god.
=====

The implication was fairly strong that the plague(s) were the result of the biofood corporations fighting wars against one another.

sPh

Re:Makes no sense (1)

Rinikusu (28164) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947777)

Read the book and realize that the author is taking Green/Sustainable culture to a dystopian end...

xkcd (1)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946569)

xkcd recently covered this kind of presumption of current trends continuing forever [xkcd.com] .

Re:xkcd (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946639)

Obviously it can't keep on like that. In reality it would peak out at "Only millionaires can afford to use the word sustainable, if they're careful."

Unlikeable (2)

steveha (103154) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946615)

A friend told me the book was great. It won Hugo and Nebula awards, more evidence that it's great. But I am stopped reading it and I'm finding it difficult to make myself pick it up again.

My main complaint is that I'm around ten chapters in, and so far I don't like anyone. Maybe I should like Emiko, but I haven't seen much of her. But the business exec is harsh, people around him are plotting to stab him in the back, the union that controls the matodonts is corrupt and obnoxious, Thai government officials are corrupt and obnoxious... I find the book unpleasant to read.

Reading this book made me think: in any story you need to make a connection with at least one of the major characters. Usually it should be a positive connection: you are rooting for the hero and want him/her to triumph. Sometimes it can be a negative connection: you start to really want to see the character's plans foiled.

In my favorite stories, there is not just one but several characters I connect with, and usually right from the first chapter. Not so this book.

And, like another Slashdotter commented, I have to wonder why solar power doesn't seem important. The concept of treadle-operated office computers is kind of cool, but it doesn't really make sense to me. Business desktop computers of the 90's were less powerful than today's ARM or SOC computers, so you ought to be able to run business computers 100 years from now on sunlight. Especially in Thailand!

If you love steampunk sort of stuff, then the "bio-punk" in this novel might capture your imagination. I certainly found the background and the technology more interesting than the characters. Global warming has made the seas rise, and fossil fuels are depleted, so the technology is all different. They use "mastodonts" to wind "kink-springs", and these "kink-springs" are sold to anyone who needs portable power without putting carbon emissions into the atmosphere. So airships run on kink-spring power, and sailing ships ply the oceans, and nobody can afford to operate airplanes or motorized ships anymore. (You might think the Internet would be hugely important, since it is so much cheaper to ship bits through a cable than to move humans around, but it doesn't figure much into the chapters I read.)

steveha

Re:Unlikeable (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947113)

My main complaint is that I'm around ten chapters in, and so far I don't like anyone. Maybe I should like Emiko, but I haven't seen much of her. But the business exec is harsh, people around him are plotting to stab him in the back, the union that controls the matodonts is corrupt and obnoxious, Thai government officials are corrupt and obnoxious... I find the book unpleasant to read.

It's a cautionary tale and, I imagine, is suppose to be unpleasant on several levels. You're right not to like anyone in the story. Just the thought of the GM food corps being the most powerful entities in the world, pushing all manner of sterile seeds and fighting each other (and presumably non-GM growers) with GM crop viruses - to the detriment of us all - creeps me out as being something I can actually see happening.

Good, not great. (1)

MaWeiTao (908546) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946617)

I thought it was very entertaining. However, it had some very glaring holes. For example, why the fixation on batteries? Why were they manufactured in such an absurdly complex manner? Why no solar power? Wind power? Tidal? Clearly, some of those decisions were made for the sake of the establishing a plot.

I did feel he did a good job of establishing tension, especially when the uprising began. I also thought he did a reasonably good job of conveying ex-pat culture from the perspective of the ex-pat. But he also overdid that, suffering too much from the noble savage mindset. Westerners were all exploitive and evil, Thai were uniformly noble to a fault and the Japanese, despite doing everything the Westerners did, somehow came off as neutral.

I really liked the world Bacigalupi created, but I couldn't get past a lot of those nagging details.

IPv6 (2)

TheSync (5291) | more than 2 years ago | (#38946713)

Did they manage to wide-scale convert to IPv6 by the 23rd century?

Fiction! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38946731)

You know it's fiction because it includes anthropogenic climate change. Just like Al Gore's fairy tale "An Inconvenient Truth"

sucked (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38947085)

Sloppy, bereft of morals. Anyone notice how the author changed a character's gender partway through? I guess he was too busy getting off on his sexual sadism to pay attention to such minor details.

What sucks most is that I picked this up looking forward to a gritty, compelling page-turner. Filth is not the same as grit.

Save your money - go watch Blade Runner again The movie tells a better story.

this book is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38947191)

Al Bore's fav bedside reading (besides Moby Dick)

DRM-free ebook edition at Baen (3, Informative)

Graftweed (742763) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947257)

I'm surprised this wasn't linked from either the review of the comments so far, but the wonderful lads at Baen have the DRM-free ebook edition [baenebooks.com] .

Don't Buy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38947537)

At least, that's my recommendation. It feels like yet another Neal Stephenson wannabe. Much like "The Unincorporated Man" there's a ton of futuristic stuff being explained all the time. But just like that novel, and unlike Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, or Anathem none of the actual futuristic stuff feels all that plausible, nor is it really explained, nor even terribly interesting. I couldn't get past the third chapter, at which point I'd already picked out what felt like a hundred something engineering and scientific faults and impossibilities.

coincidence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38947553)

I just started reading it this morning! haha

uhm no thanks (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947805)

having just lived through the 'girl with the dragon tattoo' i can go another 5 years without an extended anal rape scene

The Unincorporated Man (1)

dave562 (969951) | more than 2 years ago | (#38947871)

The Unincorporated Man is another great, recently written, dystopian future kind of book. The underlying premise to the book is that in the future, every person is a corporation unto themselves. People's stock is bought and sold on the market. In effect, people become investors in each other. Obviously the majority of people end up being owned by others. The greatest accomplishment for a person is to reach "majority", to have the controlling stake in themselves.

All in all, it is a well written and entertaining book. I will probably appeal to most /. readers.

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