Bacigalupi's Message

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"The People of Sand and Slag" (2004) was my first exposure to Paolo Bacigalupi's work, and it blew me away. What sort of people would we be, what would we do to this planet, if we could engineer ourselves to live purely on bare rock? It was disturbing and depressing and it really stuck with me. The next year I read "The Calorie Man" (2005). Again, blown away. "Calorie Man" gave us a different and illuminating take on what powers economics, right down at the bottom. Since then I've been keeping up with his short fiction, most of which I've loved (with last year's "The Gambler" being another favorite). I looked forward to his first novel with keen interest. What I found in "Windup Girl" were many of Bacigalupi's strengths, but also a great bit glaring weakness that really hindered my enjoyment of the book. "Windup Girl" has been review in lots of places. So this review is going to slant more towards critique... and that means I'm going to talk about the ending. Don't read any further if you hate having endings 'spoiled!' Don't say I didn't warn you... and don't make me haul out the tag! "Windup Girl" takes place in Bangkok, Thailand. In this future, like modern-day Netherlands, Bangkok is holding back the rising waters that (literally) threaten to drown it. The world we're in is firmly the same universe as "The Calorie Man" and "The Yellow Card Man," (2006) both of which I recommend reading before embarking on the novel. I'm not entirely sure that the 'calorie man' concept came through clearly in the narrative if you read it without knowing the background. So, we have a post-oil near future. Global warming has hit in full with rising tides drowning many boats. In the absence of oil, everything from transportation to ... ... middle of paper ... ... so different from the images I have in my head of modern-day failed states--whether they be in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, or Africa--to shock me with how much worse things would be after the energy runs out. I still appreciate Bacigalupi's detailed vision of a post-oil future, but for me this milieu wasn't the best background against which to showcase that future. I must also mention that I was almost certainly put off the whole enterprise by the extraordinarily graphic and unpleasant descriptions of Emiko's sexual torture at the hands of her oppressors. I assume that Bacigalupi chose to show those scenes in such detail in order to make her ultimate revenge both justified and a cause of celebration. But I've never really been good at stomaching scenes like that; reading it hurt in a much more viscereal way for me than most other depictions of random violence.

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