Friday, 28 December 2012

The Windup Girl - #24

When I started this challenge, I asked on Facebook for recommendations from other countries that people had read. I had Danish and Swedish friends recommending lots of Scandinavian lit, Czech friends providing opinions on a large range of European lit, Sri Lankian friends suggesting relevant selections, language students from all over suggesting other texts, linguist friends recommending everything! But the one that sparked my interest the most was a quiet suggestion to read this book, set in Thailand.

Reading the review there were a few things that sparked my interest. Hugo award winning always a plus. Steampunk huge win. Dystopia also a good sign. But the Thailand thing confused me. Why on earth Thailand? Why would that work? I need to read this!!

So I did, and am so very, very glad my friend Dennis told me too. 

The book is set about 100 years in the future. Everything that is a possibility now has gone wrong. Climate change, rising sea levels, near exhaustion of fossil fuels, genetic engineering and the subsequent control of food sources through corporations. Incredibly close to reality and then taken that step further. A good dystopia for me is one that is completely within the realms of possibility that terrifies you slightly. And makes you reconsider your choices. This book did that for me.

So the Thailand connection is that the Kingdom of Thailand is one of the best placed countries after the Expansion (what we are in now) and then the subsequent Contraction. They also closed and then strictly monitored their borders and limited imports as so to keep plagues and diseases out of the country. So far it worked. There was a lot of tech explanation at the beginning of this book to explain the world, what had happened and how it worked. There is very, very limited fossil fuels for example so explaining how the factories work with genetically engineered elephants (megadonts) winding large spindles, and hand-crank radios back in vogue and such. Be prepared to stick with it, but the book I feel is worth it.

The story otherwise was fascinating. The idea of a Windup Girl and her issues, problems and trials where great. I really liked Emiko herself as well. I emphasised a lot with her. While some of the scenes with her were possibly unnecessary they really made me understand her story's climax. And cheer her on!! Maybe this makes me a horrible, callous person, but as a true Aussie, I love an underdog.

The character of Hock Seng, while he really annoyed me at times as a person, I felt for him and his story as a refugee. He is Malaysian-Chinese, and in this world all ethnic Chinese ended up being driven from Malaysia, as the vast majority of them were ethnically cleansed. "Driven" I mean escaped. The refugees are called Yellow Cards in Thailand and are second class citizens. The story of Malaya and the Green Headbands is not again unimaginable with the rise of extremists of all different types of religions, especially in SE Asia. The interaction between the Malayan Chinese and the Thais I found heartbreaking. The contempt and thinly veiled malice was a little too true to home. The control through labels and cards. I worry as the last two governments in Australia have had such terrible policies on refugees that this is not such a dystopian future for us, it may be tomorrow... That is one of the truly terrifying parts of this book.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed going into Kanya's story and her own back story and where she had ended up. She and Jaidee were a welcome surprise as they aren't mentioned any where I found as main characters, yet they really are. At 500pp though, we needed a few more main characters. These guys provided the story beautifully.

For me, the book ticked all the boxes. Good story. Disconcerting, realistic dystopia. The essence of Thailand with the heat, humidity and mangosteens (yum yum yum). Read it

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