The Windup Girl

Given that lots of people are hailing this book as one of the standout science fiction novels of 2009, I shouldn’t need to tell you how good it is. I had been nervous about it, because I think Bacigalupi’s short fiction is overrated. The novel, however, while set in the same world as many of his successful stories, allows much more room for nuance and for exploring the issues. I was very impressed.

So basically The Windup Girl [buy isbn=”9781597801577″] is a great book and one that I think ought to be on the Hugo ballot. As there is not a lot more to say, I’m going to pick a few small nits. Because they are spoilery, I’m putting them behind a cut.

Firstly I think the whole embittered evil genius in wheelchair meme has pretty much run its course. Yes, I know it has an ancient and honorable tradition, but…. So for the next few years can we have a bit less of Dr. Strangelove and Davros, and a bit more of Charles Xavier, please?

Second, the book paints a picture of south-east Asia that is dominated by race politics. The Thais hate the Chinese, the Chinese hate the Thais, everyone hates the Japanese, and the Muslims (mainly Malaysians) hate everyone. Given the scarcity of resources in the world Bacigalupi describes, I think increased levels of racism are inevitable. However, I would have liked to see one or two characters being a prepared to kick against it.

Finally, any book that includes a character who is an artificial woman will be readable as an allegory about trans women. The fact that the book is set in Thailand massively increases expectation in this area. Yet katoeys feature only briefly in the book. They appear as prostitutes in a brothel, and are described as exaggeratedly giggly. And they appear again as a harem for the aforementioned evil genius, presumably to show just how sick and perverted he is. There was an opportunity missed here, I think.