"She waits, expecting him to strike her. No one tolerates impudence from New People. Mizumi-sensei made sure that Emiko never showed a trace of rebellion. She taught Emiko to obey, to kowtow, to bend before the desires of her superiors, and to be proud of her place. Even though Emiko is ashamed of the gaijin's prying into her history and by her own loss of control, Mizumi-sensei would say this is no excuse to prod and bait the man. It hardly matters. It is done and Emiko feels dead enough in her soul that she will pay whatever price he chooses to extract."
reviewWhile perusing the shelves in the SF section at work, the cover art for a particular book continued to draw my eye. We had a single copy of The Windup Girl available then. Every time I'd pass the book, even if I was with a customer, I'd find a free moment to ogle over the image. You can see it for yourself. It's certainly worth a second... third... fourth look.
Dirigibles score the smog-ridden skies of a ruined metropolis. A creature akin to an elephant ambles alongside littered streets lined with souks that brim with whatever miscellany of wares. And what are those!? What else? Teetering telephone poles: seeming relics of a dystopia that has achieved autonomy over the expensive oil that once pumped through its historical veins.
That was my initial reaction to the cover alone. And I have to give mad props to the artist, Raphael Lacoste, for hitting the story's main nerve head on. I came away from the image with only questions. Without so much as reading the back, I had an accurate impression that the story had real depth to it, as though this image were a feasible shadow resulting from the socio-political blunders of our own time.
When the news reached me that The Windup Girl had received the Nebula Award for best novel, I couldn't hold out any longer. It went straight to the top of my list. How fortunate that Paolo Bacigalupi's prose do not fall flat to Lacoste's beautiful setup. I can't say I was disappointed--far from it. If you'd like a sample of his writing style, Bacigalupi currently has a few stories available on his site.
How do we experience the future of Thailand? We see it through the eyes of a cynical expatriate with his unending ulterior motives. As a bitter, self-serving old man, former royalty of a fallen empire. As an idealistic native, willing to die for a cause even if it means taking the whole world down with him. As a woman who lives a contradiction of the things she knows and the things she wants to believe in...
Finally, we see it as Emiko, the windup. She offers a nonhuman view of our future selves: how will we appear once removed from our most grievous misdeeds? And as irony would have it, we find in this "soulless husk" the most human perspective of all.
I feel The Windup Girl deserves an exceptional rating at four out of five stars (three being average). The quality of this novel is mind-boggling considering it was Bacigalupi's first. It had emotional depth and cultural relevance, despite his caveat in the credits. Already it has received the Nebula and is up for a Hugo. I fully enjoyed the ending. But I do feel the arc of the story is not quite wound as tightly as it could be. It left me wanting more--which is a marketable quality. It's also the kind of thing that loses you half a star from jerks like me. That's what you get for making the world wait for a sequel, Mr. Bacigalupi.
That said, it has become a book I enjoy recommending to customers. I hold a copy at Customer Service for just such a purpose.
available works by paolo bacigalupi