Monday, February 22, 2010

Book: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

As I was halfway through this, they announced this year's Nebula Awards. The Windup Girl is nominated, along with the previous book I read, Boneshaker. Since this makes 3 of the 6 Best Novel nominations I've read (including China Mieville's The City & The City, which I read last year), I immediately went to the SF Public Library's site and reserved the other 3. I'll be adding those to the pile as soon as they come in.

The Windup Girl is another post peak oil novel. It's not just the end of cheap energy that's changed the world, though, it's also excessive genetic engineering of crops and the rapid mutation of deadly diseases. The book is set in a Thailand under siege by the Calorie Companies (as they call agribusiness), desperately attempting to shore up barriers high enough to keep sterile genetically engineered hybrids from swamping native varietals. In Bangkok's case, the barriers are literal: sea walls hold back a risen ocean.

In place of electrics or gas, the main method of energy storage is a method of mechanical storage, called "kink springs". They need to be wound, but apparently are capable of very efficient storage of the energy put into them. The title character is a product of extensive prenatal engineering--effectively an artificial woman, bred to obey, among other things. To distinguish her kind from the naturally-born, her makers have given them a herky-jerky clockworkesque motion. All clockwork, though, when wound too tight, snaps.

Of the three nominees I've read so far, this is the one that I'd be inclined to honor. It's certainly the one that has the most resonance on the current times, and is a tremendous first novel.

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