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the spoilers and rants page (July 2, 2015)








Don't read this page if you don't want spoilers for The Windup Girl.

First spoiler--about seed saving

This is also what makes the end, with the monks taking the seeds from Thailand's secret seedbank to a new secret location, so moving:

And then the monks are streaming out of the seedbank, carrying the boxes on their shoulders, a river of shaven-headed men in saffron robes, bearing forth their nation's treasure. Hock Seng watches, breathless at the sight of so much genetic material disappearing into the wilds.

Second spoiler--Evil AgriGen Costume

A blond, scowling woman called Elizabeth Boudry is at their head ... She has a long sweeping back cloak as do others of the AgriGen people, all of them with their red wheat crest logos shining in the sun.

Doesn't that just reek of evil? Here's Elizabeth Boudry... only it's late, and I forgot to color in the wheat red.



Rant about Hock Seng

OMG at first he's just an assemblage of every stereotypical thing that's ever been said about Chinese businessmen. Arghhh! And furthermore, he does this thing I hate: he refers to his daughters (and girls generally) as "daughter mouths," a literal translation of a denigrating term that can't possibly carry the feeling in Chinese that it conveys when rendered literally in English. To take an example from Japanese (since I don't speak Chinese): in Japanese the polite word for "wife" is "okusan" which, if you rendered it literally, would be "Mrs. Inside" or "Mrs. Inner Depths"--but that's simply not what anybody thinks when they say "okusan," any more than we think of barrel makers every time we hear of someone named Cooper. Using language this way to deliberately exotify bothers me a lot.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
heliopausa
Jul. 2nd, 2015 01:28 pm (UTC)
about the first spoiler: I expect you know about the scientists who saved the seeds, in the Seige of Leningrad? It moves me to tears.

about the last: it can be really hard to translate such things! :( I agree with you about exotifying, but sometimes there is something which can't fit in the precise emotional space which the more-or-less equivalent word occupies in English (or whichever other language). Maybe "daughter" doesn't quite cut it.
(By the way, in some UK English variants, the term "her, indoors" would be plainly understood as "my wife" :) )
asakiyume
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:36 pm (UTC)
That's true about "her, indoors"! Good point :-)

And yes, it can be hard when it's not just language but the actual feelings and way of thinking are different. And that's probably in part what he was trying to do. But while it maybe does introduce people to a fact about the culture that they don't know, it does so in a way that's totally misleading about how people live and what the culture feels like on the inside. ... I guess there's always going to be a tension between making the alien comprehensible, and showing common humanity, and respecting and highlighting differences, which are what make cultures unique. As I said to Sovay below, I just wish he'd somehow been able to more thoroughly get into the mind-set of the people he's portraying. But that's a very tall order.
queenoftheskies
Jul. 2nd, 2015 04:32 pm (UTC)
Reading your posts about this book make me want to read it.
asakiyume
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:34 pm (UTC)
I found it very absorbing. It's very brutal, though, and infuriating in places. But very moving, too, and the worldbuilding is amazing.
sovay
Jul. 2nd, 2015 05:45 pm (UTC)
Using language this way to deliberately exotify bothers me a lot.

Is this a problem Bacigalupi has in his other novels?
asakiyume
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:10 pm (UTC)
I don't remember it particularly in Ship Breaker or The Drowned Cities, but those books were set in the remnants of what was the United States.

I think he's trying to get the sense that this is a polyglot region and he wants to play up the sense of difference--and that's important--but although I think he does *try* to get inside the different outlooks, there's a very heavily American flavor to that attempt. What things would Americans notice or find different about SE Asian Chinese, or Thai, or Japanese? Well here they are then! Whereas if there was a more thorough attempt to look out through those eyes, not with an American mind-set, but with a Chinese, Thai, or Japanese mind-set, I think it would be different. I know it would be different. But that's really hard. I don't know if anyone could do it really well. It did get more persuasive/acceptable to me as the story went on...

I think part of the problem is that all the characters, except Jaidee (who has fridge-able family), are unmoored. Hock Seng's family has been massacred and he's too damaged by that to get close to anyone (though by the end he sort of has). Kanya is also family-less. Anderson never thinks about parents, siblings, friends back in the Midwest Compact or here in Thailand, and certainly not lovers, spouse, or children. (And Emiko is a manufactured person, with no family.) Culture largely has to do with how we interact with those people. Absent that, then yeah, you end up having to reference your religion/philosophy, your history, and your profession a whole lot, and that feels a bit forced. E.g., this line that Jaidee says, early in the book: "It is your damma to protest. It is mine to protect our borders." A little stagey, you know?



Edited at 2015-07-02 06:11 pm (UTC)
sovay
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:26 pm (UTC)
What things would Americans notice or find different about SE Asian Chinese, or Thai, or Japanese? Well here they are then!

Yes; unless your single viewpoint character is American, I can see that being jarring and frustrating (and much worse if you come from any of the cultures being written about). And I agree that the limited perspective of the inside of the writer's head is a difficult problem to amend, but it sounds like Bacigalupi could have done more work in that direction than he did.

Culture largely has to do with how we interact with those people. Absent that, then yeah, you end up having to reference your religion/philosophy, your history, and your profession a whole lot, and that feels a bit forced.

"Among my people . . ."

E.g., this line that Jaidee says, early in the book: "It is your damma to protest. It is mine to protect our borders." A little stagey, you know?

Ack. Yes.
asakiyume
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:33 pm (UTC)
It also bothered me that Hock Seng trotted out the "the nail that sticks out will be hammered down" proverb, which is Japanese... Is that a slip-up on Bacigalupi's part? Is he intending to have Hock Seng reference a Japanese proverb? Is there, unbeknownst to me, also a Chinese version of that proverb (I don't see one when I make a quick search though). That was hugely jarring to me and Little Springtime--kind of like he was just throwing East Asian culture on the wall to see what would stick.
sovay
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:42 pm (UTC)
That was hugely jarring to me and Little Springtime--kind of like he was just throwing East Asian culture on the wall to see what would stick.

And that's the sort of thing that loses a writer a lot of trust with their audience. I think I'm even more impressed that the book ended up winning you over.
yamamanama
Jul. 3rd, 2015 03:29 am (UTC)
An aside: I actually learned about that proverb from a mid-90s Macintosh RPG called Odyssey: The Legend of Nemesis.

I was in utter disbelief when I learned it was a real saying and not just one made up by a society that enforces extreme conformity. And I mean extreme, to the point where nobody uses names, everyone switches jobs every day so that no one will become too good, everyone eats the same food, and clothing is provided by a machine and everyone must wear a specific color each day under penalty of death.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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