Friday, February 11, 2011

The Windup Girl: A Book Review...

Paolo Bacigalupi's novel has been given numerous awards by both SciFi groups and the mainstream media (named as the ninth best work of fiction for 2009 by Time magazine) but in truth is a much more limited work than that.

Bacigalupi's use of language and ability to draw the reader within a fictional world is remarkable.  Reading The Windup Girl you do feel as if you are living within a future Bangkok and the detail within the book is some of the best I've read.  The dirt, heat, grime, humidity, and fear are all palpable on every page. 

Bacigalupi's characters are complete and multi-faceted.  His plot lines are interwoven and extremely (perhaps too much so) similar to those found in the works of William Gibson while the pacing begins appropriately slow as the setting is created yet never drags on its way to an ending with a staccato of action.

Truth be told, the book reads like one of the best novels I've come across.  The problem lies in the fact that the basic premise of the novel is so flawed that one cannot take all the other thoughts, projections, analysis and creations seriously.

Falling squarely into the "enviro-punk" genre of SciFi, Bacigalupi's world, some 200+ years from now (or thereabouts) is one in which the carbon fuel based world in which we currently reside (petrol cars, coal fired energy plants, and all forms of transportation/energy) has more or less collapsed.  Regardless of all the other things which Mr. Bacigalupi extrapolates upon from our current world (Genetically modified food companies dominating the world, continued rise of Muslim and Christian extremists, rising oceans, etc.) which may or may not be reasonable projections this singular assumption ruins the rest of the book.

I don't disagree with Mr. Bacigalupi that the very basic carbon based fuel world is doomed and already in decline.  Nor do I disagree with him on the fact that this change will result in a massive reshaping of the political and socioeconomic world.  My problem lies in the fact that in Bacigalupi's world, some 200 years from now, NOTHING has come to replace carbon fueled energy sources.  Not wind, not nuclear, not hydrogen, not wave, not geothermal, not something yet heard of.

Given the pace of change in the world, the already near term existence of not only pure electric transportation but hydrogen based fuel sources and the current state of countries that ALREADY power their societies via nuclear and other sources, does it seem likely that we will be returning to dirigibles, sailboats, sewage/garbage based methane for lights and bicycle driven computers?  No.  On its very face the proposition is laughable.

While I don't suspect that we'll be whizzing around in flying hydrogen cars tomorrow, Bacigalupi's Earth-First enviro-holocaust doom world is so far out of left (and I do mean left) field that the book borders on the farcical.  He has let his Sierra Club membership take over his writing abilities and the novel suffers greatly for it.  While some in the media have and will continue to claim that this book is revolutionary and part of some "new wave" of environmental issue based SciFi genre it is more likely to age poorly and be relegated to the dustbin containing talented writers who failed to put a believable idea down on paper.

1 comment:

Belgie said...

Paolo Bacigalupi is fast becoming one of my favorite writers. Not because he so deftly speculates on the more pressing social and environmental issues currently ignored by most of our so-called leaders, but that he does so with such an effortless ease in mixing his ominous messages with exciting and thought provoking stories. Readers like myself may just enjoy the escapism of a good, suspenseful dystopia without getting depressed that it might actually be true within a few decades.

Bacigalupi's science fiction is odd in that there is an uneasy anachronistic feel to his near-future milieu. His stories are set against omnipresent backdrops and/or rumors of rising seas, dissolving borders, and energy scarcity (coal,oil). The only energy available is that which humans expend or is inefficiently dissipating within their makeshift and inefficient coils and springs.