in the aftermath of the genetics revolution, the oceans rise and entire phylum of species are wiped out, with rampant cross-breeding and escaped artificial animals roaming the decaying world. Calorie Combines offer disease-resistant proteins, for some presumably exorbitant price, while most countries sink into anarchy, unable to meet the escalating prices. Thailand, still unified under a revered royal family and thanks to prescient investment in genetics technology, serves as setting for THE WINDUP GIRL, 2011 Hugo/nebula co-winner and visionary post-gene-war apocalyptic fiction in which contemporary politics, bureaucratic in-fighting, and "new Human" Emiko struggles to survive.
this is a difficult work to review or even rate. compared to the achievements of a literary fiction novel, one in which a single personality might become monumentalized or the banal and everyday elevated to a certain poetry, sci-fi to some degree deserves its oppobrium in that it elevated the fantastic or technological above ordinary human behavior. we don't read Dune because Paul and his mother's relationship haunts us for life; we read it because shields-lasbeam-artillery serves a rock-paper-scissors strategic situation that defines personal and tribal conflict. Star Wars is fascinating for its visual spectacle of dueling space fleets, rather than its insight into the human heart. to that degree, one naturally veers away from calling this five star haunts-you-for-life novel crafting.
yet, at the same, WINDUP GIRL loses a notch or two compared to the "Golden Age"; if Asimov could conceive of the rise and fall of entire galatic civilizations and Clarke knows how to elicit the mood of a mysterious and apparently omnipotent alien power, the by comparison the near-future, edging on cyberpunk sensibilities WINDUP GIRL doesn't break tremendous new ground in technological imagination. in fact, most of the elements--and the tropes--have been done before.
but, if you hit enough Bs or you get enough "pretty good" ratings in different categories of the novel-- one strong and sympathetic character; sexual decadence beyond established conventions; mood/affect blending and crafting of the mix of all the tropes, you'll end up with a quite strong novel nonetheless. I can't quite call this "change your life" fiction, but certain I do strongly recommend it, and it does offer unique strengths and set pieces amidst humid, steamy Bangkok and all its geopolitical complexities.
let's call this a strong 4. definitely for the science fiction set, and good enough to talk about with pure literary readers. (and is there is a lurking social commentary as well about Asia today...). My last regret about this review is that it's off iPad so I can't hyperlinks to some of the great reviews present--mos def check them out though