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3.9 out of 5 stars120
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 16 October 2011
I really enjoyed this book. I was a bit worried in the past I've found highly rated books very disappointing. However I read this book late into the night and have lost sleep over it working my way through it.

There are two ways to look at this book. One level it's a violent and disturbing near future SciFi book. A second way to look at is the corruption and greed of western capitalism.

In the near future the oil has run out, global warming has run riot and multiple genetic experiments have gone horribly wrong or been used as deliberate weapons of war on a global scale. A corrupt worker from a "Calorie" company has been sent to Thailand to find out what is going on there - they are fiercely independent and not dependent of imported sterile seeds from the big western Calorie companies.

The story follows the lives of a number of interlinked individuals as events take over and change the lives of all the characters beyond their wildest imagination. The narrative flips from character to character's view point which takes a bit of time to get use to but seems to work well.

The book is very dark in places, violent and disturbing. However it really is just a mirror to our own greed and selfish nature. Like many fantastic books being set "elsewhere" allows the author to disuse very real and serious issues that affect us today.
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on 24 July 2010
I am one of the `Malayan Chinese' as depicted in this novel, and I am simply astonished at how real and accurate Bacigalala's grasp and hold of the socio-political undertones of Thailand and the Malaysian Chinese are in this novel. Many times I find myself flipping to the front to check the author's name to see if he really isn't Asian and then to the tiny write-up of himself to see if he lived in Asia for decades. Iowa born. Hmmm.....
Lot's of great dystopian lit out there, but this one really hit home for me simply because of its Asian setting. Could actually picture dystopian Bangkok all around me as I read this book.
Ok constructive rascist views aside, this book is one of the best pieces of dystopic science fiction I have ever read, my other favorite being Dune (by the original Frank Herbert). I'm usually not one to pounce on new unheard of authors, but I came onto this having just finished Bagicalalala's YA novel Ship Breaker which blew me away (and is not in an Asian setting but in the Gulf of Mexico). I started the book with the presumption that this was no way going to be better than Ship Breaker. But the book proved me wrong 15 minutes in. An exciting, thrilling, dystopic romp to the finish. I am hungry for more Bacgialala now.
Why the hell is it taking till December for paperbacks of Pump Six (his short story collection) to be released?!??!!!! I simply can't afford the hardcover versions going for $400 over at the moment!!!!
Congratulations for being my new number one author farang Paolo. Hurry up and show us what else is in your imagination.
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on 9 February 2012
Most science fiction falls into one of two camps. The first consists of poorly-written, plot-driven page turners that are like McDonalds Happy Meals - satisfying to eat but you feel cheated afterwards. The second is aiming rather higher, aspiring to be literary fiction, but normally falling short and failing to deliver much of a story either - a bit like "nouvelle cuisine", with its dainty portions that hardly add up to a decent mouthful.

Here we have a book that manages to fall into both camps with resounding success. First, it's incredibly well-written. The prose is evocative without being florid, the register is infallible, and structurally it's like a Breuget timepiece. Politically it's very interesting - the relationships between the various tribal and ethnic factions in the book are entirely credible and persuasive. Although it's set in Thailand, where all but three or four of the main characters have non-Anglicised names, I never once struggled to remember who was who. But it's the story that is the main thing - part love affair, part political thriller, part dystopian nightmare, part pure speculative fiction. I really couldn't put it down, and I'm sure that Bacigalupi will go on to write even better, more intense books than this. I, for one, can't wait. For me, his only rival is Iain M Banks, and that's very high praise from me.
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The world a few years into the future? Perhaps not seven, but maybe twenty-seven and post-oil, post-climate change, when agriculture is protected only by viral manipulation, gene-ripping and the careful harnessing of seed. Food companies spread viruses on each other's products to protect their monopolies and half the world is close to starving as a result. Not a happy future but the question is - is it convincing? I have to say that it is. Bacigalupi copes very well with the exposition necessary to give readers some grounding in a world very different from now. We are in Thailand, where Trade interests are very much opposed to Environmental interests. So much so that a revolution is about to take place. Lake Anderson is the Biotech representative for one of the big four food companies, but as with other farang (slang for foreign devils) his power comes at a cost. When Lake takes a fancy to the windup girl of the title (a Japanese import) and her role as victim of various kinds of sexual submission really does wind her up, everyone is in for a shock.

A clever, provokingly punk biotech novel, this hits all the right buttons, especially as the revolution hots up and the various sub-plots all begin to coalesce. Characterisation is very good, and though the plot takes a while to get started, it does have a satisfyingly complex set of sub-plots to get underway. There is a short hiatus in the middle then it quickly picks up pace again for the barn-storming ending. This won a Nebula and a Hugo award and earned them triumphantly in my opinion.
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on 11 April 2011
Where to start?

I haven't read a lot of scifi in the last few years - used to go for it avidly as a teenager bt these days my tastes have been more factual. However I have begun to drift back to the genre and this book is, I suppose, on the leading edge of that movement. As so often happens, the cover artwork and blurb were what sold it and I hadn't picked up any of the deeper publicity or read many reviews, so I came to this a little cold.

The story is set in the near future, when many of the world's natural resources have been used up or destroyed by genetically engineered plagues. Civilization is controlled by companies touting GE alternatives to the foods that have been lost and civil wars and religious jihads have decimated the underclasses. The book is set in Thailand and follows the (mis)fortunes of a varied and motley cast of characters. I'll say now that I haven't finished the book, so I don't know where it's going, but I've read enough to know how it's getting there.

The book is written very much in the style of William Gibson and there are, as noted by other reviewers, strong undercurrents of The Difference Engine and Neuromancer. Indeed, I think that this particular sub-genre is known as "bio-punk". One of the problems with this sort of story is that the technology and politics carry a lot of baggage and require a lot of exposition. Many authors rightly avoid this exposition and choose (as has Bacigalupi) to reveal the details in small doses over the course of the novel. This leaves the reader at a disadvantage that diminishes slowly as the story progresses. Personally I dislike this sort of solution as it leaves me wondering whether I've missed something or perhaps I'm too stupid to understand what's going on. He does the same here with the characters' motives and personal histories which is, I think, less excusable. Consequently, I found the first third (or so) of the book quite hard to enjoy and I nearly put it down, but by half way, things have become much clearer, the story has hit its stride and things are becoming more enjoyable.

That niggle aside, it is very well written. I've picked up a few scifi novels over the years that were blessed with effusive blurbs and exciting cover art, only to find that the author, on his/her first novel, is less well accomplished a writer than one would have hoped. This book does not fall into that category. The characters are interesting and believable, the geopolitical stage is richly populated, self-consistent and well thought out and there are some cracking action sequences. Be warned, there are also a couple of pretty explicitly described rape sequences and they make uncomfortable reading - this is definitely not a book for the younger reader. All in all, I think this well deserves the plaudits it has received and having struggled through the earlier chapters, I am enjoying the tale as it unfolds.

Definitely recommended.
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This was the first book I read in 2011 and I can say that the year started on the right foot.

The book setting is Post-Apocalyptic Bangkok, living on time borrowed from both the raising sea levels and the latest versions of food oligopolies biowarfare vectors. The world is slowly shrinking again, the initial catastrophic expansion caused by the exhaustion of the oil reserves. Nevertheless, the main sources of power still are, once more, beasts of burden and the weather.

Collapse of the economies of entire continents, chronic malnourishment, religious cleansings and an endless string of resistant terminal infections have pushed humanity to the very edge of existence. And yet, human greed and blind ambition still offer the impetus for the endless power-games that care not how many lives get trampled under its threads.

An American investor/spy after Thailand's only remaining bio-treasure; a shrewd and ruthless refugee trying to rebuilt his empire lost to murderous fundamentalism; government factions locked in a power-struggle to the death; and a seductively-designed Japanese Windup Girl that will unwillingly serve as the catalyst for the brewing explosion.

The book losses its 5th star because of its ending - and I will say no more to avoid any spoilers.
Other than that, a potent mix of William Gibson and Pierre Ouellette.

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on 11 April 2016
A brilliant dystopian novel, set in a near-future Bangkok after the impact of climate change, peak carbon (oil and coal), and the unleashing of genetically modified crop diseases by seed companies to strengthen their monopolies over food. A fabulous detailed and nuanced portrayal of an utterly plausible future world, complete with springs as an energy store, genetically modified elephants as a source of motive power, 'new people' created as a servant class, and lots more. Great the way it allows the future dystopia to have rough edges...corruption, ethnic conflict, bribery, tensions between different government often dystopias seem to imagine a state entity that's perfectly efficient. This is the opposite. By the time I'd finished this I felt like I'd made a major discovery, though I seem to have come late to this particular party. It felt a bit like discovering William Gibson - well, I came late to that party too.
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on 15 January 2013
It starts off perfectly. A really intriguing look at the future through an educated, caring lens. And if the plot was as fine as the setting then this would rate a 5.

The problem for me is that the book slightly loses focus about half way through. I think, and in his acknowledgements Paulo Bacigalupi says as much, that he wasn't sure where the story was going from the outset. This is not a massive problem because the writing is good enough for this to be a character driven piece rather than plot based, but I think it could have been slightly better if the story had been stronger. This is my very subjective opinion however and I am not in the least surprised that it won the Hugo and Nebula awards.

It's also interesting that this was Paolo's 5th novel and yet the first to be accepted. It just shows that hard work and persistence do pay off...
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on 24 October 2012
Starts off strong, with evocative descriptions of a dilapidated and rundown Bangkok of the future, embedded in the author's well-though out and slightly scary of "posy Expansion" future, and I settled in for a good read. Tragically, this promising start soon gives way to extremely repetitive writing and poorly sketched characters who you neither identify with or really get to know. It just seems flabby and poorly edited, which is a shame when the premise and some of the action scenes are above average for the genre. There's a good book fighting to get out of this one, but this one can't really be recommended when there's so much better out there.
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on 4 February 2011
I purchased this book on a recommendation, not really knowing what to expect.
It is about 200 years in the future and everyone still living is coping with the aftermath of global warming and the wars fought over the remaining fossil fuels, and to control crops. Only states and billionaire equivalents can afford to run coal powered vehicles, everyone else manages on foot or on cycles.
Most equipment is run by human power, either directly through treadles, or by winding storage mechanism, think windup radio but scalled up to drive scooters at high speeds. Consequently all energy comes from calories consumed by humans and animals, yet gene modified foods are mutating every few years occassionally killing millions of people before effective controls are bought in to control them. Companies are struggling to stay ahead of the next crop blights with dwindling numbers os species to work with, failure means starvation.
The wind up girl is a test tube created perfect japanese geisha assistant, abandoned in Taiwan by its ambassador owner instead of mulching it as the law requires, as it it too expensive to ship it back to Japan, compared to growing another one. What seems quite cruel abandonment is actually an act of kindness by the ambassador who liked the wind up girl too much to kill it.
All these come together in this book which was logical in the consequences of todays actions continuing, to produce an unusual story where lead characters can die without warning.
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