Friday, August 14, 2015

The Windup Girl (a book review post)

Imagine a world where genetic engineering is just getting started. Oh, like this one with our new glow-in-the-dark animals. (You have seen those, right?) Just a little farther ahead than we are now, though, and a brilliant scientist decides to make a Cheshire cat for his daughter for her birthday. It has complete camouflage abilities and can seemingly fade in and out of existence as it moves around. Sounds like a cute idea for a little girl who loves Alice in Wonderland, right?

Except... Except the Cheshire was just an augmented house cat, and it's new genetic abilities carried over in breeding almost 100% of the time. Within a few years, regular house cats had become extinct and replaced with a creature with uber stealth technology. The ultimate hunter. Birds, at least what we generally call song birds, had also become extinct.

They learned their lesson, though, and subsequent genetic creations were made to be sterile and given a hitch in their movements so that they looked like windup toys when they moved, hence The Windup Girl.

Paolo Bacigalupi has created a fascinating world with Windup Girl. It's detailed and textured in a way that few books are, and he does it without stopping to explain all of the science(fiction) to the reader. There's no break in the story where he stops and has someone explain how things work just so that he can show off how creative and cool he is for having ideas. The characters accept their world as real and, therefore, so do we.

The story is told in present tense, which is not something I generally enjoy (because, with many writers, it seems forced), but it works here. Mostly, I didn't notice it once I got going, and it provides a clean break for the very few flashback sequences which are, of course, told in past tense.

The characters are all very interesting but not all of them very likable. In fact, some of the protagonists actively work against each other, but there aren't really any "bad guys" in the story. Or rather, maybe all of them are bad guys. They all have their own motivations and agendas and there's no one thing that any of them are trying to defeat or overcome.

The book is a fascinating read with some very interesting ideas in it. It sucked me in pretty quickly. However, possibly because of the lack of a clear conflict, I wasn't satisfied with the ending. By the time I was about half way through, I began to worry about the ending, because I couldn't really see a path for him to bring  the characters through, and once I hit the three quarters mark, I was sure that I was right and that the ending would be the weakest section of the book for me, which it was. Well, except for the character who starts talking to a dead guy; that really came from out of nowhere, and I had a hard time with that character once that started happening.

Overall, I'd say it's a great read. It's good enough that I want to look into Bacigalupi's other books. Which I will.

Oh, also, the edition I read has two associated short stories at the end. I liked "The Calorie Man" quite a bit, but I didn't care for "Yellow Card Man." "Yellow Card Man" is centered on one of the characters from Windup, the character I liked the least (although I think he was supposed to be one of the more sympathetic characters), so I actually struggled to get through that one, even though it was just a short story.

17 comments:

  1. Oh, sounds interesting! I love the premise!

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    1. Hart: It is interesting. The world is fascinating.

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  2. Real Cheshire cats? Sounds disastrous. Somehow, I think they'd still show up at mealtime. Now, if someone engineers cats with opposable thumbs, they'd have no need for us anymore.

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    1. TAS: I know! Right!
      I mean, the Cheshire cat wasn't exactly a force for good in Alice.

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    2. Combine Cheshire ability with thumbs and our days at the top of the food chain are over.

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  3. That sounds like a really interesting read. It kind of stinks that the ending was weak, but I'd still give it a try.

    I'll take ten of those cats. Finally, no more being woken up by those annoying birds.

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    1. Jeanne: It might just be me with the ending.

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  4. This sounds pretty interesting! Not sure I could read it knowing there's no clear conflict though. Eh, we'll see. Adding to tbr list!

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    1. Madilyn: There is plenty of conflict, though; it's just not of the "defeat the bad guy" kind. It's more like life, I suppose.

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  5. He's a local, so to speak. Colorado author. I've yet to read one of his books, but I should. A friend had a crush on him, and I had to hear about him way too much, which always drives me away from things. Random fact for you there. The making them sterile thing sounds reminiscent of Jurassic Park. Is it different enough to be worth it?

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    1. Shannon: It's nothing like Jurassic Park. At all. Crichton's stuff is always about how a series of mistakes and oversights leads to some kind of disaster, and that's not what this book is.

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  6. Hmmm.... Science that messes up the ecosystem in its shortsightedness. Kinda rubs me raw. And no clear conflict makes me itchy. I hate when I'm reading and KNOW that the resolution isn't going to happen (setting up for a sequel) when a book isn't billed as part of a series.
    While intriguing I'll probably give it a miss.
    Veronica

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  7. Veronica: There is a resolution; it's just not the normal kind of resolution. This is not a book that is set up for a sequel. Which is not to say that another book could not come after, but it wouldn't really be a sequel since this book really did come to a close.

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  8. I love the premise of this novel, and I do like a bit of present tense too so I should enjoy it!

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    1. Denise: Seeing that I had to overcome that barrier, you should do okay.

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  9. I always knew cats aren't to be trusted--especially when they're genetically altered.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Janie: Owning a cat, I know that, too.
      Despicable creatures.

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