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More on Windup Girl

The story won me over. I found myself caring very much about the power struggle between Future!Thailand's Ministry of Trade, which is eager to dance with the devil--the devil being the calorie companies, multinational Future!Monsantos that hold the world's perpetually famine-ready population hostage with their sterile seeds and their genetically engineered plagues--and the "white shirts" of Ministry of the Environment, which is sworn to protect the country from the same. In particular, I became a fan of Jaidee, an idealistic white-shirt captain, and his protégé Kanya. As Little Springtime pointed out, those two were the ones whose moral dilemmas were most complex.

When Jaidee reflects on all that the world's lost in terms of genetic diversity, there's real pathos:

On one wall, a bo tree is painted, the Buddha sitting beneath it as he seeks enlightenment.

Suffering. All is suffering. Jaidee stares at the bo tree. Just another relic of history. The Ministry has artificially preserved a few, ones that didn't burst to kindling under the internal pressure of the ivory beetles breeding, the beetles burrowing and hatching in the tangled trunks of the bo until they burst forth, flying, and spread to their next victim and their next and their next...
In a thousand years, will [people] even know that bo trees existed? Will Niwat and Surat's great-grandchildren know that there were other fig trees, also gone. Will they know that there were any many trees and that there were of many types? Not just a Gates teak, and a generipped PurCal banana, but many, many other as well?

Will they understand that we were not fast enough or smart enough to save them all? That we had to make choices?

It makes you want to go running outside and start seed saving. [view spoiler (click here)].

(To add just a smidgeon of criticism, that "all is suffering" talk? Although it's pretty appropriate at that particular moment, one annoying tic of characterization is that good-guy Thai characters always-always think in terms of kamma [karma], dhamma [dharma], and other Buddhist principles. However, as Jaidee and Kanya get involved in trying to foil Trade's dealings, there's enough going on that that ceased to bother me.)

The way the plot came together--the way everyone's stories intersected at key points--was brilliant. And the way Bacigalupi laid the groundwork was perfect too. A hint here, a mention there, and then when something blossoms into Big Trouble, it's been coming all along.

Anderson Lake--an undercover agent of AgriGen,** a calorie company--is the most opaque character. Why do you be so unconcernedly evil, Mr. Lake?

**Can I note that AgriGen's executives have the most badass Evil Outfit. Because they do. Click here to see.

Hock Seng, Anderson's factotum, is the most painfully stereotyped character (for some rants on that, click this), but his character gradually opens up. His post-traumatic stress, having suffered through ethnic cleansing in Future!Malaysia (reminiscent of historical mass killings of Chinese in Indonesia in the 1960s), is very believable, as is the tenuousness he and his compatriots feel as refugees in Thailand.

He and Anderson make a good contrasting pair, with Anderson several times assuring would-be killers and other opponents that a win-win deal can be worked out and Hock Seng, contrariwise, always assuming imminent catastrophe and needing to talk himself down.

Emiko, the titular windup girl, comes pretty magnificently into her own, though not before suffering two on-screen, no-holds-barred rapes. Yeeeaah. I completely understand that being an absolute deal breaker for people. As for me, I was more bothered by the stereotyping of Japanese women. It was uncomfortable to read. But as we got into her internal struggle to live life on her own terms and to come free of training and genetic predisposition, she became more interesting.

In the end, I was won over by the worldbuilding, the intricate and (for me) satisfying plotting, and Jaidee and Kanya's storyline. The stereotyping that had incensed me at first seemed to grow less as time went on and we moved from generalizations about characters to particulars, but it's also true that I was willing to put up with Jaidee's name-checking kamma and Emiko saying "Anderson-sama" and the many many ways of saying "foreign devil" because I was so absorbed in the plot. I'm definitely not trying to change people's opinions of it; all I'm doing here is explaining how it came to pass that I ended up feeling differently.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 2nd, 2015 07:17 am (UTC)

As you'll know the US has tried to bully Europe into GMO's and we're not, repeat not, going there and for once our governments and the EU agree. They're banned and any imported products containing them have to be labelled as such.

The US really is the only soldier in step on this issue.
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:20 pm (UTC)
IN 2007, Monsanto and DuPont (the latter I know as a chemical company, but it's apparently also a seed company--charming!) between them owned 48 percent of the world seed market. A truly dreadful thought.

We all just have to keep pushing back against attempts to steal the common heritage of the planet out from under us. Seed saving should never be illegal; sterile seeds are an abomination, and towns, cities, states, and nations should be able to outlaw genetically modified products if they want to.
Jul. 2nd, 2015 07:40 am (UTC)
I'm definitely not trying to change people's opinions of it; all I'm doing here is explaining how it came to pass that I ended up feeling differently.

I think that's legitimate!
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:21 pm (UTC)
I found it very absorbing and very, very thought provoking. I wanted (want) to talk and talk and talk about it--which isn't always true of stories that I just unalloyed-ly love.
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:29 pm (UTC)
I wanted (want) to talk and talk and talk about it--which isn't always true of stories that I just unalloyed-ly love.

That makes sense to me; I have trouble talking sometimes about things I love wholeheartedly, and stories that are flawed and fascinating sometimes offer the most to think critically about. I never wrote about the novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, although it was one of the loveliest reading experiences of 2006; I just finished writing two thousand words on LJ/DW about the finale of the miniseries, because some of it really worked for me and some of it really didn't and the reasons in both cases are interesting for me to think about. I am still thinking. Sometimes a thing being done not quite right brings into focus what it is you value about what the work was attempting to do.

Edited at 2015-07-02 06:31 pm (UTC)
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:41 pm (UTC)
I cannot WAIT to read your 2000 words! We've seen through episode two; this weekend we'll arrange to see episode three (we're lagged even behind US airing times)--wait, have you posted? Must refresh my friends page!

Sometimes a thing being done not quite right brings into focus what it is you value about what the work was attempting to do. --Absolutely.

Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:46 pm (UTC)
--wait, have you posted? Must refresh my friends page!

Yes! Last night. It's the sort of thing I should probably have waited another four weeks to post so that most of my U.S.-based friendlist could have the chance to see the complete series first, but now is when I've been thinking constantly about it . . .
Jul. 2nd, 2015 08:01 am (UTC)
I was so absorbed in the plot.
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:21 pm (UTC)
It's a gripping tale!
Jul. 2nd, 2015 01:32 pm (UTC)
It sounds really hard to read - I mean because it's so close to what is real and present. :(
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:23 pm (UTC)
In that sense, it's very effective activist literature. It depicts a very awful extrapolation of what could happen if certain trends continue as they are.

I'm less pessimistic about human nature and the future, but his fears are well founded, all the same.
Jul. 2nd, 2015 02:00 pm (UTC)
It's been a while since I've read The Windup Girl, and the worldbuilding was definitely more memorable than the actual plot.
On Hock Seng, I remember someone from Malaysia talking about Malaysia and its tolerance and saying what happened to the Chinese in The Windup Girl would never happen in real life.
Real life spoiler alert: When people say "it could never happen here," "it" usually does.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to find something short to sate me until I obtain The Goblin Emperor.
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:15 pm (UTC)
I agree exactly: world-building more memorable than plot. I do remember liking the calorie currency thing, which isn't unique to this book, but I found its depiction here to be engrossing.
Jul. 4th, 2015 11:19 am (UTC)
Yeah, I guess a bunch of his short stories are in the same future-visioning (I only have read one), and so are Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities.

One thing Little Springtime and I wondered about was how come so many currently available--and historically available, i.e., pre-Industrial Revolution--technologies for power generation weren't in evidence. I understand that oil is supposed to be pretty much gone, and we're told about wars over coal, but how about hydro power? How about wind power (clipper ships do use it, but)? Breeding megadonts (which are going to need an awful lot of calories in *feed* to do their calorie-using work) doesn't seem like a very efficient way to get power.
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:26 pm (UTC)
Yeah, people are always, always capable of atrocities against minorities in their midst. Any people, sad to say.

Wish I could think of something short for you to try....
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:30 pm (UTC)
Meanwhile, I'm trying to find something short to sate me until I obtain The Goblin Emperor.

*shameless self-promotion*

(I wrote a novelette and I'm not afraid to use it.)
Jul. 2nd, 2015 06:37 pm (UTC)
YES OF COURSE!! I always thing of all your fiction as being only in hard copy, but That is not the case
Jul. 2nd, 2015 10:52 pm (UTC)
When did you read this, is this a run-on from a previous series of posts? I did see the one just previous...

Yes, it's quite a tale, and a great piece of futurism!

Did you just finish it, and the posts all burst out today?
Jul. 4th, 2015 11:12 am (UTC)
This post and the one I linked to I prepared together. I wanted to have a place to put spoilers that was more hidden than just an LJ cut, so I created a separate entry and backdated it to 2007. I set both that entry and this one to personal (i.e., no one could read them but me) until I had checked the coding and made sure everything worked, and then I changed the settings on both of them so that everyone could see them. So yeah, the effect was that both entries got revealed at once. And then there was one earlier entry that I posted from when I started reading the book--so three in total.
Jul. 4th, 2015 04:37 am (UTC)

How did you enjoy the experience of going through it together? Did you learn anything that surprised you regarding her perspective?

Jul. 4th, 2015 11:09 am (UTC)
Not anything surprising, because she's always pretty forthcoming about her attitudes, and the issues that come up in The Windup Girl are things we've talked about--but I was impressed by her attention to detail. She read more carefully than I did and was able to answer things I wondered about with stuff that was actually in the text.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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