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Reading a book

Some years ago I read Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi. I really loved it. When I talked enthusiastically about it to people, though, I found that many had been burned by their experience with The Windup Girl.

Well *now* I'm reading The Windup Girl, as a mother-daughter reading club experience (this is with Little Springtime; next I'll read Ancillary Sword, which I'm going to read with the ninja girl), and I can see where all the hackles and suspicion came from.

The Windup Girl certainly is giving us stuff to talk over, that's for sure. Some stuff has been so glaring that it almost has CRITICIZE ME pasted on its back--rape scenes, for instance. Other stuff is annoying to the two of us but maybe not so much to other readers, like the way in which non-English words are deployed, and which ones (actually, that leads into a more substantive criticism, but I'll save that for when I finish the book).

Even as we're criticizing elements, we can be enjoying or admiring other things, though. We've been greeting each other with things like "Careful not to run into any Japanese gene-hack weevil today" and "Seen any cibiscosis or blister rust this morning?" because Japanese gene-hack weevil, cibiscosis, and blister rust--three types of plague--get mentioned like every page in Windup Girl. And yet, truth is, I'm super impressed by Bacigalupi's imagining of future plagues and his feel for agribusiness names for crop strains and disease strains. It's very immersive worldbuilding.

More when I've finished.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 21st, 2015 07:13 pm (UTC)
Sounds quite an interesting book.
Jun. 21st, 2015 08:00 pm (UTC)
It's definitely that!
Jun. 21st, 2015 07:58 pm (UTC)
because Japanese gene-hack weevil, cibiscosis, and blister rust--three types of plague--get mentioned like every page in Windup Girl.

Are these human diseases or plant ailments? Or both?
Jun. 21st, 2015 07:59 pm (UTC)
They're both. The gene-hack weevil attacks plants, cibiscosis is a human ailment, and I'm not sure about blister rust. Some may be both!

ETA: Blister rust attacks both. And there are other ailments too.

Edited at 2015-06-22 11:59 am (UTC)
Jun. 21st, 2015 10:38 pm (UTC)
I had similarly mixed feelings about The Windup Girl. Fantastic world building, but the plot felt...muddled at best. And the less said about its gender politics, the better - sadly, it only gets worse.
Jun. 22nd, 2015 03:48 am (UTC)
There are definitely things I like about it and definitely other things I dislike about it.

The story has a very 19th-century or early 20th-century feel to it. Little Springtime was saying it's like he wanted to do steampunk, but also wanted to address present-day environmental problems--so he set the story in the future (so he could extrapolate about environmental disaster) but kept the 19th-century attitudes, with the reasoning being, as far as I can tell, that in this post-Contraction era, with fast travel no longer possible, people have, in their enforced insularity, reverted to (or discovered anew) the insularity and xenophobia of the past, and all the attendant attitudes. ... This doesn't speak directly to what you were saying about gender politics--I've gone off on a tangent.

Thinking about the gender politics, I think things would have been more palatable if the character pushing against a genetically programmed desire to please hadn't been a woman.** I like exploring the idea of whether and how much it's possible to push against genetically determined imperatives, but when it gets mixed together with pliant rape-able subservience, then you're venturing into porno territory, and it's hard to take the one thing as seriously as I'd like to when the other thing is going on too. You know, if he'd just kept the rape offscreen even (the way he did with the consensual sex--at least, according to Little Springtime, who's read further).

**And, in Ship Breaker, it *is* a character who's not a woman. I liked that better.
Jun. 22nd, 2015 04:03 am (UTC)
Yes, I think you've hit the nail on the head. There's possibly an argument to be made that the titular character represents by her very existence the pinnacle of wrongness that is the generally-accepted cultural masculine fantasy...but if that were the case, why the borderline pornographic sequences? I had a hard time seeing the point of those.

That's an interesting idea about it being a 19th-century story. I could see that - it has definite elements of a Victorian morality tale.

I actually have a copy of The Water Knife, his newest book, sitting on the coffee table. Despite my mixed feelings about The Windup Girl, I'm looking forward to reading it, and only a little bit because of how my direct experience with the toxic xenophobic racist backward political climate in Arizona means the concept gives me a certain vindictive pleasure. :)
Jun. 22nd, 2015 03:25 am (UTC)
Which book was written first?
Jun. 22nd, 2015 03:32 am (UTC)
The Windup Girl was written first. It's also for an adult audience, whereas Ship Breaker is for a young adult audience.
Jun. 22nd, 2015 04:08 am (UTC)
That was what I was wondering if Wind Up Girl was written first. Maybe the editor saw lots of potential in the author but didn't have time to correct or ask for a re-write.
Jun. 22nd, 2015 11:37 am (UTC)
The problems (as I see them--it's a case of one person's bug being another person's feature, I suspect) aren't with being a poor writer; they're deliberate stylistic and thematic choices. I think it's more that in Ship Breaker he made different choices, and that made the second book much more appealing to me.
Jun. 22nd, 2015 11:07 am (UTC)
Huh. I don't know a thing about those novels.
Jun. 22nd, 2015 11:35 am (UTC)
He's passionate about things like the problem of climate change and the way powerful capitalists predate on the rest of humanity, and that aspect of his work you'd appreciate. (I hear in other novels he's tackled other issues.) But he's got a pretty dark view of humanity and what we've wrought, and that's heavy going. And then this book's approach to portraying cultural attitudes and things (not to mention the rapes) is, for me, frustrating-bordering-on-enfuriating, though I guess I understand why he did it (both in an in-story and meta-sense). But more on that when I've finished the book.

If you want to try one, try Ship Breaker. I really liked that one; it made a strong and positive impression on me.
Jun. 22nd, 2015 11:42 am (UTC)
Thanks! After I wrote the comment I Actually Read the Comment Stream, and found your precis of concerns withThe Windup Girl very illuminating.
Jun. 22nd, 2015 01:44 pm (UTC)
I bounced so hard off the adult one, I still haven't had the courage to try the one meant for younger audiences.
Jun. 22nd, 2015 02:07 pm (UTC)
I completely understand. There are so many good books in the world, I don't think there's any need to revisit an author if you don't feel pushed to.
Jun. 22nd, 2015 11:49 pm (UTC)
I went to look up The Wind-up Girl - it sounds horribly close to so much that's real. :(

I think it's great that you can have a mother-daughter reading club.
Jun. 23rd, 2015 01:56 pm (UTC)
I'm really enjoying talking to Little Springtime about the book. She's got great insights.
Jun. 23rd, 2015 05:03 pm (UTC)
I read this book quite recently, and I didn't know what to think about it... Honestly, I had very little pleasure reading it. On the other hand, it *is* a very scary and well-constructed dystopia. In the end, it was one of those books that left me wondering whether it was really good or just smoke and mirrors.

(except for the rape scenes and the utterly degraded and objectified Japanese windup girl; I fairly certain of what I think about those parts :/)
Jun. 24th, 2015 02:20 am (UTC)
Now that I'm further in, there's more about it that I'm liking (Jaidee's storyline, mainly), but yes, it's a very grim vision of the future.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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