Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The WindUp Girl by Paulo Bacigalupi

In all seriousness, this book may be the most original bit of fiction ever set to paper.  Bacigalupi is absolutely overflowing with ideas and concepts that haven't been touched on before yet remain a distinct possibility in our not too distant future.  It's not so much a book that I would call dense: the prose isn't overwhelming or spectacular in a sense that demands a slower reading pace; The Windup Girl does present an over abundance of new views and unexplored courses of action that you won't be flying through the reading experience.  In short, 'experience' is the best word I can think of for this book.  The Windup Girl is unlike anything else and I'm glad to have taken part.  

The planet--and all of it's inhabitants: animals, plants, people--have suffered some horrific set backs.  The Age of Expansion, is a term used by people to refer to our times of right now.  What has changed is nearly every facet of organic life.  There are diseases that affect planet life; some of which can't be overcome.  There are new illnesses that threaten human life, plagues that can't be tamed or put down until they run their course.  Worst of all and most prominent in the book are the conditions in which food is grown, dispersed and valued.  There are genetic food companies that vie for monopolies in global food distribution.  They offer foods that are safe, government approved, and very expensive.  These food companies are some of the most powerful organizations in the world.  Copyright protection, patenting of certain food procedures and the need for control produce a host of spies, double spies, rampant corruption, and distrust.

The Windup Girl is set in the Thai Kingdom, one that came out of the old expansion era much better than most.  The city that Bacigalupi creates is stunning in its complexity, diversity, hierarchy of political powers.  Not only is the cast huge, but Bacigalupi also has a lot of say about a host of topics in this book.  He never once overstepped his powers as a writer in dealing with too many characters or drawing lame conclusions from the ideas he presented.  That said, it wasn't until the last thirty pages or so that I had any idea as to what was going on in this book.

Perhaps even more odd than not being able to identify any central plot elements that drove the book forward was the fact that I didn't mind.  It's difficult to explain exactly how bizarre (said in the best of ways) the world that the reader is dropped into really is.  Things make sense and they flow; there is some allegory here; some social commentary there; only there isn't a catalyst to keep things moving forward or bring all events together. 

The Windup Girl, Emiko, and others like her are a human creation; an attempt at improvement on human life though with limitations.  She is immune to the illnesses that plague the population.  Her only concern is overheating and a penchant for ice, which is a precious commodity itself.  Emiko offers a different point of view than all other characters in the novel concerning the world, oddly her's is the most readily understandable for a reader even if she is programmed into her genes to obey and only think of others and not indulge her own interest or thoughts.  When not being humiliated for the entertainment and profit of others, she thinks about independence and freedom with others of her kind, rather than the base desires of seemingly everyone else around her. 

As I said earlier this is not a book that I ever felt I had a firm grasp on, but pacing is not an issue; it works.  I'm not even sure if I would recommend it to anyone else to read.  It lacks the intimacy of characters and the interaction among people that I generally crave or define as a universal in what I could call, 'books I like to read.'  It's not a plot driven book where story events hurl the action along.  The Windup Girl is unique in that it creates a world that can hold readers attention based of sheer detail and convincing believability on all the Bacigalupi outlines.  I really don't feel that books like this are published everyday, perhaps just once a generation.  Perhaps it is because of the book's strengths that my enjoyment felt stunted as trying to appreciate all Bacigalupi offered upon first reading is such a rare and monumental task.  

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