Tag Archives: SciFiChallenge

Playing Catch-Up, Again

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I spent most of January reading lots of Science Fiction for the SciFi Experience, but have been loath to write review posts.  Instead of forcing myself I thoughts I’d give brief descriptions of some of my favorites.

willisTo Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.  A wonderful time-travel romp jumping between the mid-Twenty-First century, the 1940’s and 1888 or so.   It is sweet and funny and a deeply intelligent book, the questions of time-travel’s possible impact on history had me reeling.  I’ve been meaning to read Connie Willis for a while and, having finally done so, am on a mad search for used copies of Blackout and All-Clear.

clarkeChildhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke.  A Classic.  Aliens mysteriously appear, connect with representatives of the United Nations and help bring humans beyond war and into a Golden Age.  I read this one many years ago and it stands up pretty well.  I had forgotten the ending, found it surprisingly moving.

Still Forms on Foxfield by Joan Slonczewski.  I have a dear friend who has been part of Clarion West and Wiscon for a number of years.  When I though to ask him what science fistion book I should read he suggested this one.  I had never heard of Slonczewski before, and was thrilled to find a new-to-me women author of science fiction.

A colony of Friends, after escaping from warring earth, has landed on a planet they call Foxfield.  Already inhabited by a life-form the humans call Commensals, there is a period of adjustment as the two species learn to live together.  Their hard but peaceful co-existence is threatened by the arrival of a ship from earth piloted by representatives of UNI, the world government.  Should the colonists rejoin their earthly cousins?  Will their faith and way of life be threatened?

I enjoyed this book and found the author using her story to explore society and culture much the way Ursula LeGuin does in her science fiction novels.sloncz  Slonczewski wrote several other novels including The Children Star and Daughter of Elysium.  They are on my used book search list.

All of these books came from my TBR pile so I have managed to stick to the TBR Double Dog Dare as well as join in the 2013 Science Fiction Experience.

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Filed under 2013 Challenges, 2013 Science Fiction Experience, Books, SciFi, Thoughts

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Night Shade Books, San Francisco, 2009

Borrowed from the library.

I’m not sure how to describe this book.  Speculative fiction?  Science fiction literature? Genre lines are beginning to blur all over the place.  I stand up and cheer.  Maybe it is because I have read science fiction since I got my first library card and have always been angered by the very high walls separating “genre” fiction from “true” literature.

The Windup Girl takes place in a future very easy to imagine.  Paolo Bacigalupi has a deep understanding of present-day agricultural, biological and genetic science, mixed  with knowledge of corporate greed, peak oil and climate change.  He has created a world humans could  inhabit within the next few centuries.  It is a brutal, plague ridden world,  devastating and frightening in its possibility.  The writing is beautiful.

As they ease around the bare branches of the tree, the khlong taxi’s passengers all make deep wais of respect to the fallen trunk, pressing their palms together and touching them to their foreheads.

Jaidee makes his own wai, then reaches out to touch the wood, letting his fingers slide over the riddled surface as they pass.  Small bore holes speckle it.  If he were to peel away the bark, a fine net of grooves would describe the trees death.  A bo tree.  Sacred. The tree under which  the Buddha attained enlightenment.  And yet they could do nothing to save it.  Not a single varietal of fig survived, despite their best efforts.  The ivory beetles were too much for them.  When the scientists failed, they prayed to Phra Seub Nakhasathien, a last desperate effort, but even the martyr couldn’t save them in the end.  From pages 79/80.

In Bangkok, a city surrounded by huge walls built to keep out the raising sea,  governmental and economic power  is split between two agencies, with bribes and graft rampant and violent confrontations a daily occurrence.  The world has been through expansion and collapse and Thailand is fighting to protect itself from deadly plagues, agricultural devastation and corporate “calorie” men bent on controlling every food source on the planet.  It is hot, there is no oil and the Japanese have perfected genetic engineering.

The story is told from many points of view by characters that are deeply flawed.  Anderson Lake, a corporate calorie man searching for a hidden seed bank.  Jaidee, the Tiger of Bangkok, top inspector for the Ministry of the Environment.  Emiko, a New Person, dumped by her master when he heads back to Japan.

A women selling Environment Ministry-certified sticks of slice papaya watches her suspiciously.  Emiko forces herself not to panic. She continues down the street with her mincing steps, trying to convince herself that she appears eccentric, rather than genetically transgressive.  Her heart pounds against her ribs.

Too fast.  Slow down.  You have time.  Not so much as you would like, but still, enough to ask questions.  Slowly.  Patiently.  Do not betray yourself.  Do not overheat. From page 103.

And then there is the generipper, Gibbon.

“Everyone dies.”  The doctor waves a dismissal.  “But you die now because you cling to the past.  We should all be windups by now.  It’s easier to build a person impervious to blister rust than to protect an earlier version of the human creature.  A generation from now, we could be well-suited for our new environment.  Your children could be the beneficiaries.  Yet you people refuse to adapt.  You cling to some idea of a humanity that evolved in concert with your environment over millenia, and which you now, perversely, refuse to remain in lockstep with.

“Blister rust is our environment.  Cibiscosis.  Genehack weevil.  Cheshires.  They have adapted.  Quibble as you like about whether they evolved naturally or not.  Our environment has changed…”  From page 243.

Bacigalupi’s writing  is intricate and rich,  full of cultural and political detail.  He knows where we are as a species and can envision our possible future.  I am reminded of William Gibson and Ian McDonald.  I am reminded of  Pris in  Bladerunner.

I must warn you, there are terrible scenes of violence and sexual assault in this novel, but none of them are gratuitous. As I struggled through them I understood the reasons why Bacigalupi wrote them.  In the end he offers his readers new possibilities.  I think The Windup Girl is a fantastic book, and that it deserves a Hugo or a Nebula, maybe even both.

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Filed under SciFi, SciFi Challenge, SpeculativeFiction