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Posts Tagged ‘steampunk’

Book Review: Ticker by Lisa Mantchev

Book Review: Ticker by Lisa MantchevSummary:
Penny Farthing, member of the wealthy elite, is full of tons of energy she mostly uses to ride her motorized high wheel bicycle and collect robotic butterflies.  Unfortunately, her clockwork heart doesn’t always entirely keep up with her. Plus she has to wind it.  Much more troubling to her, though, is the fact that the creator of her clockwork heart, Calvin Warwick, is now on trial for murdering dozens of people he abducted from the street to practice on before giving her her new heart.  When there is an explosion at her family’s factory and Warwick escapes prison immediately after being found guilty of murder (oh, and her parents disappear), Penny and her twin brother and two of their closest friends embark on a journey of intrigue to bring her parents home and Warwick to justice.

Review:
I rarely am actually interested in anything in the Kindle First email (a once-monthly email that informs Kindle owners as to four books they can access ahead of publication for free).  I am also not often into most steampunk books.  It’s an idea I love, but I often find isn’t executed as well as it should be.  When this one popped up, though, I was intrigued for its transhumanist explorations.  The book definitely explores the concept of transhumanism via the steampunk idea of augmentation, but it mostly is a story about a young girl’s first love and a bit of a mystery/thriller search for a murderer.

The basic premise that a teenager finds out that the medical device that saved her life was the result of the brutal torture and murder of dozens of people is awesome.  This is a more extreme version of the types of realizations that young adults often have.  (For instance, I will never forget the first time I realized that sometimes scientists must experiment on innocent animals in the pursuit of cures and the ethical quandary that resulted for me).  It works quite well because it is set in an alternate universe.  This allows the reader to have some distance to view the ethical issue through but the alternate universe is still similar enough to our own that it is relatable.  Penny is always firmly against any unwilling human experimentation (as she should be) but she is left wondering how much responsibility and guilt she should feel for the tortures and murders when she herself was indirectly responsible.  She is so grateful to be not only alive but able to function better than she could before.  But she is also traumatized at the thought of how she got there.  This is the book’s real strength, and I am glad it is out there for the YA audience to read.  That said, there are other elements of the book that just don’t quite work for me.

First, the level of steampunk is sometimes a bit ridiculous and isn’t explained well enough.  For instance, the world seems to have only robotic butterflies and horses.  Why is that?  For that matter, it’s deeply confusing to me why this culture would develop a robotic horse and carriage, particularly when they also have motorized bicycles (I won’t call them motorcycles, because they definitely are not nearly so eloquent nor sexy as motorcycles).  It’s not a far leap to car from there.  The reasons behind the steampunk features are simply never explored.  They just are.  This may be fine to some readers, but I found it dissatisfying.  I particularly really needed to know why the animals are robots.

Second, the society Penny lives in is clearly meant to be a parallel to the British Empire in its heyday.  It is highly stratified, classist, regal, and feels oppressive (except for Penny and her family of course *eye-roll*).  I have no problem with a book containing this type of society but it is not only never questioned it seems to be held up as an excellent way of living.  It’s great that the military just jumps right on in and solves everyone’s problems (including abducting civilians up to their sky fort).  It’s oh so wonderful that Penny’s family has all this wealth.  It’s tragic for Penny’s family that they lose some product in the factory explosion but the workers and their injuries and lives are barely touched upon.  It ends up feeling like whenever any of the elite people in the book (and most of the main and secondary characters are elite, with the exception of one young girl who is saved from her poor destitute life by the military) discusses anything bad about being the lower class, they do so in a “See, I’m a good person because I care about them” tone but not out of any sincerity.  None of them have any desire to actually change or fix anything.  Indeed, one of the main characters excitedly jumps right in when they are asked to become an honorary member of the military.  The book has the tone that the only thing wrong with this alternate universe is the fact that Warwick is a very bad man who experiments on people he snatched from the street.  Everything else is fine!  When it clearly is not.

Finally, I just don’t particularly care for the main character, Penny Farthing.  First there’s her name, which is exactly the same as the name of the style of bicycle she rides (only motorized) (info on the penny farthing).  That’s just a bit too cutesy for me.  Second, she is a person who is oblivious to her privilege of wealth and access to medical care, even when it is smacking her in the face.  She never learns, changes, or grows (beyond falling in love).  She briefly realizes “hey, maybe things have been rough on my twin brother too,” but she glosses over that quite quickly.  She also eats incessantly in a way that reminds me very much of The Gilmore Girls (here is a great article that talks about why this trope is annoying as hell).  Basically, she eats whatever she wants, whenever she wants, primarily junk food, and everyone finds it “oh so adorable” that she is constantly hungry.  Oh that Penny Farthing!  And she does this all while staying the classic western media ideal of what is attractive!  Without working out! So basically she never does that annoying thing women can sometimes do which is to eat a salad and never eat a burger because she’s watching her figure (which men find annoying) but she also is definitely not fat (which men also find annoying).  She is the best of both worlds.  In Penny’s case, this mystery is explained as the fact that she needs to eat to keep her clockwork heart going.  The “science” of that drives me absolutely batty, by the way.  My best guess is that the author was possibly going for the idea of how some people, such as people with diabetes, need to eat at evenly spaced times to keep their blood sugar even.  However, no one would tell a person with diabetes to eat primarily sugary baked goods at those intervals, which is what Penny mostly eats.  Also, diabetes does not equal heart disease so…..the “science” of this makes very little sense.  It reads as an excuse to use the Gilmore Girls junk food trope.  Finally, it really bothers me that she collects the robotic butterflies.  Yes, I know people do this in the real world with real butterflies, but it has always struck me as cruel, and I think it says a lot about her character that she seems so cool with trapping what in her world are perceived of as essentially living creatures for her own amusement and collection.

All of that said, the plot and mystery of Warwick, his escape, and finding Penny’s parents is fast-paced and unpredictable without ever verging into the land of plots that make no sense.  It’s an interesting world with an engaging plot built around a cool premise.  Where it is weak is primarily in the elements that were either not sufficiently well thought-out, explored, or explained, such as the robotic animals, the functioning of Penny’s heart, etc…

Overall, this has an interesting premise and an engaging plot.  It unfortunately doesn’t explore the workings of the society or the steampunk it has created enough, and the main character can be a bit annoying and hard to root for at times.  However, those who love steampunk with a dash of mystery and romance will likely enjoy adding it to their repertoire, provided they are ok with the issues outlined above.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon Kindle First (Free copy of the book provided by Amazon to those with kindles who request it.  Requesters are under no obligation to provide a review).

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Book Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

October 23, 2012 5 comments

Woman holding parasol in front of city skyline.Summary:
Alexia Tarabotti isn’t just suffering from being half-Italian in Victorian England, she also is soulless.  Unlike vampires, werewolves, and other supernaturals who successfully changed thanks to an excess of soul, or even having just enough soul like day dwellers, she simply has none. Plus as a preternatural she turns the supernaturals human when she touches them.  Obviously they aren’t a fan of that.  Except for one particularly persnickety werewolf, Lord Maccon, who is Scottish to boot.  And to top it all off a mysterious wax-faced man suddenly seems very interested in kidnapping her.  None of this seems particularly civilized.

Review:
The Parasol Protectorate series was all the rage when this book made it onto my tbr pile back in 2010.  That was kind of the beginning of the steampunk craze, before you could find gears on everything in the costume shop.  I can see why this series is popular, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

The world building is wonderful and is what kept me reading.  A good steampunk blends history, science, and fashion to make for a semi-familiar but deliciously unique world that’s delightful for history and science geeks alike to play around in.  Carriger pulls this off beautifully.  The fashion is Victorian with a steampunk edge.  The politics are recognizable but with the supernatural and steampowered sciences taking a role.  A great example of how well this world works is that in England the supernatural came out and became part of society, whereas America was the result of the Puritans condemning the acceptance of the supernatural who they believe sold their souls to the devil.  This is a great blend of reality and alternate history.

The plot wasn’t a huge mystery, which is kind of sad given the complexity of the world building.  What really bothered me though was the romantic plot, which suffered badly from a case of instalove.  Although we hear of delightful prior encounters between Alexia and Lord Maccon, we didn’t see them.  We mostly see him going from hating her to loving her and demanding her hand in marriage. It just felt lazy compared to the other elements of the book.  I get it that Carriger could be poking fun at Victorian era romances, but I think that would have worked better if it didn’t have such a Victorian ending.  Plus, I didn’t pick up this book to read a romance. I wanted a steampunk mystery with a strong female lead.  I didn’t like how quickly the romance took over the whole plot.

Potential readers should take a glance at the first chapter and see if Carriger’s humor works for them.  I can see how if I was laughing through the whole book I’d have enjoyed it more, but the…decidedly British humor just did not work for me.  It didn’t bother me; I just didn’t find it funny.  I mostly sat there going, “Oh, she thinks she’s being funny…..”  Humor is highly personal, so I’m not saying it’s bad. It just isn’t my style. It might be yours.

Overall this is a creatively complex steampunk world with an unfortunately average plot overtaken by instaromance and seeped in dry, British humor.  It is recommended to steampunk fans who find that style of humor amusing and don’t mind some instalove all up in their story.  That does not describe this reader, so I won’t be continuing on with the series.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: The Bound Soul by Joseph Robert Lewis (Series, #3)

Woman holding a giant eagle.Summary:
The group from the first two Halcyon adventures are resting up in Marrakesh, albeit in their own separate mini-groups, when a mysterious assailant with a fiery sword shows up and manages to kill Don Lorenzo.  Immediately bent upon revenge, Qhora takes Mirari and an old enemy with an interest in the famous seireiken (flaming swords) on a new airship piloted by Taziri on a chase not just to avenge the Don’s death but also to free his soul from the aetherium.

Review:
I discovered the hidden gem in the steampunk world that is Joseph Robert Lewis’s indie series The Other Earth back when he offered me the first copy in the series for review.  The series consists of two trilogies and a set of companion novels.  He sent me one of the trilogies for review, and I picked up the fourth book in the series (first in the second trilogy) on one of his frequent 100% off coupon code/giveaway days he has on his site (which you should definitely follow if you’re into the series and want a chance to flesh it out without buying them all at once).  All of which is to say, I clearly am a fan of the series.  I would certainly hope so.  I can’t imagine reading a series beyond book 1 or 2 if you didn’t like it.

In any case, I’ve come to expect two things from Lewis’s writing that make me enjoy it so much: strong world-building and editing and creative stereotype-defining characters.  Alas, these weren’t quite so strong in this entry.  I think perhaps the book suffers from the classic third book in the trilogy problem that is seen in many many trilogies.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it. I simply found the earlier books to be better.

Part of what I enjoyed about the earlier books was the unique marriages going on, particularly Qhora and Lorenzo’s.  They had just finished sorting out their differences, so killing off Enzo felt a bit like an odd choice to me.  While I enjoyed the plot of the seireikens and discovering more of the East in this reimagining of the world, I wish that we hadn’t lost the unique pairing of a religious, pacifistish Caucasian man with a fiery, independent Incan woman.  I know characters die, but it still took that unique aspect out of the book that I had so enjoyed.  In fact, we now verged a bit too close to stereotype, what with a terrorist-style Aegyptian and a revenge-seeking Native.

Similarly, I don’t feel that Aegypt was as creatively built as the other alternate history areas of Marrakesh and Espani.  Espani keeps some semblance of its Catholicism with its more conservative culture and following the “three-faced god,” but it still is creative with its vastly different climate of ice and culture that creates.  In contrast, Aegypt is still a desert. It is full of undesirables and criminal culture from everywhere. People wear what appears to be the same clothing as one would expect in Egypt today, and women are still oppressed.  If we’re imagining an alternate vision of Earth, why couldn’t we have a progressive Middle East?  Maybe one where the women wear scarves for a practical reason (such as to keep dust out of their hair) but hold positions of power within the culture and city.  That’s the sort of thing I was expecting from Lewis, so I was a bit disappointed to see such a stereotypical portrayal of the Middle East.  Remember. This is an alternate history series.  The whole idea is how things might be different if a few aspects of history were changed, such as weather and disease transmission.  He’s not tied to reality, which leaves room for a lot more creativity than is seen in this reimagining of Egypt.

In contrast, the fantastical and scientific concepts are still strong.  The idea of the seireiken–a sword made from aetherium that steals the soul of those it touches–is a great addition to the world Lewis has built.  Similarly, Taziri’s new airship is yet again surprising, in spite of seeing two airships from her before.  Another element of fantasy enters that I won’t reveal, because that would ruin the surprise and flair, but that I felt fit in well with the world and was a nice touch.  Similarly, the fight scenes are well-written with neither too much description nor too little.  Also, although more new characters are added, it never feels overwhelming or hard to keep track of them.  Readers with an interest in having differently abled people represented will be pleased to know that one of these new characters is a well-written Little Person.

One other thought, I have to say that I was disappointed in this cover.  Qhora does not look like a Native Incan woman to me.  She struck me as Caucasian.  In fact, it wasn’t until I was reading the book and realized that Turi (the eagle) only rests on Qhora’s arm that I realized this woman is supposed to be her.  (Google Image Search “Incan woman” to see what I mean).

Overall then, although this book is not as impressive or thought-provoking as the first two in the series, it still tells an engaging story with lots of action.  I’m hopeful that Lewis’s ability demonstrated in the first two books to see multiple possibilities for various cultures and peoples will return to its previous strength in the next books in the series.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Previous Books in Series:
The Burning Sky (review)
The Broken Sword (review)

Friday Fun! (Cool People I Follow!)

March 2, 2012 2 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  I don’t have too terribly much to update you on today since I managed to get bronchitis “with a touch of strep” and have been down for the count all week.  I am on antibiotics now.  They are a beautiful beautiful thing.  Anyway, so since my life this week has mostly consisted of laying around with a fever watching Big Bang Theory and Battlestar Galactica on repeat, I thought I’d do something different today and let you guys know about a few unique folks I follow in my GoogleReader that you might want to check out.

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog is a book blog I just recently discovered that focuses in on the literature of Australia and New Zealand.  The instant I saw the title of the blog I went, “Wow, duh, what a gap in my reading!”  She has a great page featuring a listing of must read ANZ lit titles.

Joe’s Blog is one of the few author blogs I follow (as opposed to authors who happen to have book blogs.  I follow a few of those).  Joseph Robert Lewis is an indie author whose books are available as ebooks, and he is a smart dude.  Not only does he write scifi/fantasy/steampunk with a feminist slant out of a desire to write the types of books he wants to be available for his daughters to read, he’s also a really giving guy.  He has a great section of advice for fellow writers looking to self-publish and maintains a great relationship with his readers (um, including me).  His blog itself is an awesome mix of posts on what inspires his scifi/fantasy/steampunk worlds, his own life, and musings on writing.  Oh, also, he came up with this awesome idea for a series co-written by a bunch of authors who have never met before all set in the same universe, and he’s actually pulling it off.  The dude is creative and productive.  Check him out, even if his books aren’t your genre.

Native Appropriations is run by fellow Boston gal, Adrienne, who is a member of the Cherokee tribe and currently studying for her PhD.  Her posts discuss representation and appropriation of Native American culture in American pop culture and media.  Her posts are thought-provoking and eloquent.  Seriously, get rid of your People Magazine and Cosmo subscriptions and read what this smart lady has to say instead.

No Meat Athlete is run by a male vegan who also is, you guessed it, an athlete.  He primarily runs marathons, but his posts feature great information for any type of athlete or fitness fan who is plant-based.  I particularly found his post 7 Secrets of Post Work-out Recovery super useful for this plant-based weight-lifting lady.  He’s also going to be doing the Boston Marathon. Yeahhhhh!

Finally, for everything vegan from vegans in the news to animal rights to product reviews, definitely follow Vegansaurus.  They are my go-to site for sane animal rights coverage (unlike PETA *cough*).  They also feature real life help this one situation here this one time if you can shout-outs that help me feel connected to the animal rights community.  (Like one time we all got together to help a gal get her pup needed surgery, because, you know, who actually has insurance for their pets?)  Between that, the cookbook reviews, the recipes, the products, and the news bits, it’s one of my favorite news sources.

I hope you all found some new reading material.  Happy weekends!

Book Review: The Broken Sword by Joseph Robert Lewis (Series, #2)

February 6, 2012 1 comment

Man with sword in front of tiger.Summary:
The international bunch from the first book is back, this time with their lives intersecting in Espani.  Taziri is now flying the Halycon 2, which is an airplane instead of an airship.  Major Zidane is working as flight security, and Keenan is her copilot.  Qhora and Lorenzo are married and living in Madrid running a fencing school.  One day, Taziri’s flight drifts a bit off-course, while bringing passengers from Italia to Mazigh, and they happen to spot a brand-new Espani warship that promptly shoots at them.  Forced down over Espani, Taziri takes her passengers to Lorenzo’s home, where they stumble into the middle of his personal quest to find the skyfire stone.  A stone that fell from heaven in the frigid northern part of Espani, and that is supposed to emit heat that Lorenzo hopes will save the faith of his fellow Espanis.

Review:
In the first book, Lewis surprised me by writing a steampunk that I actually enjoyed.  In this one, he managed to do that with a fantasy.  Definitely impressive.

Whereas the first book focused on Taziri and the Mazigh steampunk science, this one focuses in on Espani–a culture that shuns science and instead trusts in faith.  This is certainly not a set-up that would lead me to be sympathetic toward Lorenzo at all, and yet.  It’s hard to blame someone for having faith in a country where people routinely interact with ghosts and water spirits.  Eventually it comes to make sense why the Espani are so steeped in their faith and why it’s important to Lorenzo.  It is his culture, after all.  His culture, his land, his people.  He’s afraid that the steampower and innovations from the southern nations are going to overpower and ruin Espani.  It’s a culture clash from history only turned a bit on its head with Europe being the one to cling to the old ways.  I think addressing the issue this way makes it more understandable and thought-provoking for the reader.

My complaint in the first book was there was too much exposition and it took too long to get the action going.  Not a problem here!  The plot jumps right in with both feet and sweeps along at a good, steady pace.  The method of switching character perspectives in each chapter also works better in this book than in the first one.  Perhaps this is because we know and understand them better, but I also think that the overall plot is just better and more tightly structured this time around.

The settings evoked are again stunning, only this time the direct opposite of Mazigh.  The frozen north is something I have an affinity for myself, having grown up near the Canadian border in Vermont, and Lewis demonstrates how weather affects culture quite well.

Not to be outdone, Syfax imitated her [taking a shot of vodka] and almost choked on the burning in his throat, but he held it back and managed a grin. “You drink this for fun?”
“No, I drink it to get drunk, major. When you live in a climate like this, some nights are best spent with your brain on fire, burning your blood from the inside out.” (location 1929)

Can I also say, this book has a very hot, sex-positive, sex scene, and I like it, and can we get more of that please? 😉

Two things I didn’t like quite so much.  First, Taziri’s plot again mostly involves her wanting to get back to her family and missing her daughter.  This feels a bit too much like a repeat of the first book.  Second, where were all the Espani women?  I cannot think of a single significant one encountered in a whole book set there.  This made me sad after the large presence of females in the first book.  Qhora talks about Espani female gentility and such, but we don’t ever really see it.

Overall, this is a fulfilling follow-up to the first book that does not suffer from the middle book in the trilogy plight that so often occurs to book two.  The setting is different, and the action is tighter.  I’m excited to read the final book in the trilogy and am certain fans of the first book will not be disappointed by this one.

Oh, and Lewis?  Can you please write something set in the New World?  I need more giant, purring tigers in my life.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from the author in exchange for my honest review

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Previous Books in Series:
The Burning Sky (review)

Book Review: The Burning Sky by Joseph Robert Lewis (Series, #1)

November 23, 2011 2 comments

African woman near gears and airships.Summary:
In an alternate vision of history, the Ice Age has lingered in Europe, slowing down Europeans’ rate of civilization and allowing Ifrica (Africa) to take the lead.  Add to this a disease in the New World that strikes down the invaders instead of vice versa, and suddenly global politics are entirely different.  In this world, steam power has risen as the power of choice, and women are more likely to be the breadwinners.  Taziri is an airship co-pilot whose airfield is attacked in an act of terrorism.  She suddenly finds herself flying investigating marshals and a foreign doctor summoned by the queen herself all over the country.  Soon the societal unrest allowing for a plot against the queen becomes abundantly clear.

Review:
Can I just say, finally someone wrote a steampunk book I actually like, and it’s a fellow indie kindle author to boot!  All of the possibilities innate in steampunk that no other book I’ve read has taken advantage of are used to their fullest possibilities by Lewis.

I love that Lewis used uncontrollable environmental factors to change the political dynamics of the world.  Anybody who has studied History for any length of time is aware how much of conquering and advancement is based on dumb luck.  (The guns, germs, and steel theory).  Lewis eloquently demonstrates how culture is created both by the people and their surroundings and opportunities.  For instance, whereas in reality the Native Americans had to rely on dogs for assistance and transportation against invaders on horseback, Lewis has given the Incans giant cats and eagles that they tame to fight invaders.  Similarly, in Europe the Europeans are constantly fighting a dangerous, cold environment and have dealt with this harsh landscape by becoming highly superstitious, religious people.  This alternate setting allows for Lewis to play with questions of colonization, race, and technology versus tradition in thought-provoking ways.

Women are in positions of power in this world, but instead of making them either perfect or horrible as is often the short-coming of imagined matriarchies, there are good and bad women.  Some of the women in power are brilliant and kind, while others are cruel.  This is as it should be because women are people just like men.  We’re not innately better or worse.  Of course, I couldn’t help but enjoy a story where a soldier is mentioned then a character addresses her as ma’am, without anyone feeling the need to point out that this is a woman soldier.  Her gender is just assumed.  That was fun.

Although Taziri does seem to be the main focus of this book, the story is told by switching around among a few main characters who find themselves swept together in the finale for the ultimate battle to save or assassinate the queen.  This strategy reminded me a bit of Michael Crichton’s Next where seemingly unrelated characters suddenly find how their destinies are all connected together.  Lewis does a good job with this, although personally I found the beginning a bit slow-moving.  It all comes together well in the end, though, with everything resulting in a surprising, yet logical, ending.

What kept me from completely loving the book is that I feel it needs to be slightly more tightly edited and paced.  Some sections were longer than they needed to be, which I can certainly understand, because Lewis has made a fun world to play around in, but as a reader reading what amounts to a thriller, I wanted things to move faster.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the steampunk world Lewis has created after a couple of years of loving the fashions and possibilities but finding no steampunk books I liked.  If someone were to ask me where to start with steampunk, I would point them here since it demonstrates the possibilities for exploring race, colonization, and gender, showing that steampunk is more than just an extended Victorian era.

Overall this is a wonderful book, far better than the traditionally published steampunk I’ve read.  I highly recommend it to fans of alternate history, political intrigue, and steampunk alike.  Plus it’s only 99 cents on the kindle.  You can’t beat prices like that.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Won on LibraryThing from the author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

October 28, 2010 5 comments

View of a city skyline with megadonts in front.Summary:
In this steampunk vision of a possible dystopian future, carbon usage and genetic engineering caused the world to nearly collapse.  Whole nations have been lost to starvation due to exorbitant prices charged by the genetic engineering calorie companies and also due to the rising seas from global warming caused by carbon usage.  Domestic cats have been wiped out by cheshires–genetically engineered cats that can appear and disappear, just like the cat in Alice in Wonderland.  Thailand, through strict military enforcement of calorie and carbon consumption, has managed to hold back both the sea with a sea wall and starvation.  The Thai work diligently to rid their nation of windups–genetically engineered living creatures.  As Buddhists, they believe these windups have no souls.  Within this world we see glimpses of five very different lives.  There’s Anderson, a foreigner from Detroit who claims to be running a factory but is actually a calorie company spy.  His manager, Hock Seng, is a survivor of the Malaysian civil war where Muslim fundamentalists attempted to kill all the Chinese immigrants.  Jaidee and Kanya work for the Environment Ministry, also known as white shirts.  They are the military enforcers of all the environmental laws, but they are struggling against the Trade Ministry that wants to open their borders back up to foreign trade.  Finally, there’s Emiko.  She is a Japanese windup girl.  The Japanese created windups due to a severe lack of young people to care for the old.  She came over both as a secretary and lover of her owner who had to do business in Thailand, but he then decided it would be cheaper to leave her behind than to take her on the return trip.  She now is a spectacle in sex shows in the ghetto of Krung Thep.  These lives slowly intertwine, and through them, Bacigalupi shows how easily civil war can erupt.

Review:
I fully admit that this book was out of my comfort zone.  I don’t normally read books on political intrigue and intertwining lives.  I tend to stick to ones that talk about one individual person, and that’s what I was expecting from a book called The Windup Girl.  That’s why I took the time to write a detailed summary, so you all would have a clearer picture of what this book is about than I did.  This is another one of those books that I almost gave up on early in.  Bacigalupi doesn’t take the time to truly set up the world.  Things have names and are briefly or not at all described, so you have to fill in the gaps yourself.  I think if I hadn’t read steampunk before, I would have been at a loss.  For instance, he never explains exactly what a dirigible is, although we know they are sky ships.  It is not until the end of the book when one gets blown up and a character refers to it as a creature that it becomes apparent that they are living creatures used as sky ships.  This is just one example of many ways in which the world building is sloppy.  It takes until solidly halfway through the book for a clear picture of Krung Thep to emerge.  Additionally, this is one of those books that tosses around non-English words where English ones would entirely suffice.  For example, all of the foreigners are called farang, not foreigners.  It makes sense to use a Thai word where there is no English equivalent, but it’s just superfluous to toss them around when there is one.  Technically these characters are supposedly speaking entirely in Thai.  We know that.  Bacigalupi doesn’t need to throw Thai words in periodically just to remind us.  Still, though, I kept reading beyond the first couple of chapters, mainly because I bought the book on my Kindle app, and I don’t tend to waste money.  In the end, I’m glad I kept reading.

Although the setting and world building is rough, the story itself is quite interesting.  Many perspectives are offered on these issues that potentially could become issues in real life.  What are the rights and roles of genetically engineered living beings?  Is nature the way it’s always been better or genetic engineering the next step in evolution?  One of the pro-genetic engineering characters states:

We are nature.  Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving.  We are what we are, and the world is ours.  We are its gods.  Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it. (Location 6347-6350)

It is an interesting question.  Will our next phase of evolution happen in the traditional manner, or is the next phase actually us using our brains to improve?

The Buddhist concepts sprinkled throughout the text are also quite enjoyable.  The characters struggle to maintain their belief in karma and reincarnation in spite of the issues of windups.  It clearly depicts how religion must struggle to adapt to change.  Additionally, the concepts of fate and karma and how much one can actually do to improve one’s lot in life are explored in an excellent manner through multiple characters.  It reminded me a lot of how the Dark Tower series explores the similar idea of ka (fate).  One sentence that really struck me on this theme was:

He wonders if his karma is so broken that he cannot every truly hope to succeed. (Location 8388-8393)

I was just discussing a similar concept with a friend the other day, so it really struck me to see it in print.

Additionally, the ending truly surprised me, even though it’s evident throughout most of the book that a civil war is coming.  I always enjoy it when a book manages to surprise me, and this one definitely did.

Overall, although Bacigalupi struggles with world building, his intertwined characters and themes are thought-provoking to read.  I’m glad I went out of my comfort zone to read this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the themes of fate, evolution, nature, karma, or political intrigue.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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