Tuesday, November 16, 2010
"The Windup Girl" by Paolo Bacigalupi
Musings: The Windup Girl was brought to my attention as the winner of this year's Hugo Award. I had heard positive things about Bacigalupi's recent young adult novel, Ship Breaker, and was eager to try this dystopia. And although I enjoyed this novel very much, I was struck by how different it is than most of the dystopians I read. I realized that although young adult marketed literature only makes up a third of what I read overall, young adult categorizes the majority of the science-fiction/dystopian I read.
For me there are clear differences between young adult dystopians and adult dystopians. I am no doubt generalizing, but in reading The Windup Girl, these differences especially struck me. By and large, young adult dystopians are concerned with individual characters and their fights to survive and/or defeat tyrannical systems. The worlds they inhabit are interesting but often not too detailed, and while social critique may play a role, it usually is secondary to the character's journey.
In adult dystopians like The Windup Girl (this would also apply to classic sci-fi like Dune or recent books like Atwood's The Year of the Flood), the world is central. For this reason, there are often a number of primary characters, each of whom exists to demonstrate a particular aspect of the world. Extraordinary attention is paid to the political and social order, and in fact the political background often takes precedence over the individual characters' stories. Typically the novel offers some critique of our current society.
It's easier to prefer the young adult route, which is often less complicated and more action-oriented, so at first I was a bit unsure of The Windup Girl. In the end, I discovered that Bacigalupi's novel in no way lacked in action, intrigue or characterization. Its attention on political leaders and uprisings was not to my taste, but the focus was necessary in the story Bacigalupi created. I raced through the book as fast as any engrossing young adult I've read, and I believed completely in the Thailand of the novel.
The characters are complex, and none are either "good" or "bad." Abuse is rampant, but the novel never feels hopeless, though some of the strong violence was difficult to read. Emiko was undoubtedly my favorite character, perhaps because she is the most innocent, but I also enjoyed learning about the layers of Kanya.
The Windup Girl would definitely be a hit with anyone who enjoys classic science-fiction or wants an adult dystopian with strong world building.