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Strong characters in a fascinating world
am 14. Juli 2010
The strength of this book is the depth of the world that Bacigalupi has created, the details included and the stories hinted at. Set in a future Thailand, it follows an internal power-struggle in a dystopian near-future age that is dominated by three themes: Peak Oil, disastrous genetic engineering, and global warming. Though some of the main characters are Thai, use a large number of Thai words and demonstrate a (future) Thai world-view, they are strong and well-crafted enough to make their stories fascinating to those of us with little knowledge of Thai culture. Because of the richness of the story, it does take a while to get into the book, as the background only unfolds little by little and the action is ramped up very slowly. Also, if you are unfamiliar with the theory of Peak Oil -- well-known in the U.S., where Bacigalupi lives, but not so much in Germany -- you will want to at least read up on the basic concepts in the Wikipedia or a dedicated Internet site such as The Oil Drum.
Unfortunately, there are one or two places in the book where Bacigalupi seems to be unable to stop himself from preaching Peak Oil politics, and the plot grinds to a halt while the characters rant about the mindless consumerism of their selfish ancestors. He also has the Buddhist characters dealing with the concept of the soul in a suspiciously Christian way, though this could be because the book is written for a Christian audience who might not appreciate the finer points of Theravada Buddhist philosophy.
But in practice, these are very minor points. The book gets harder and harder to put down as it moves along and you learn more and more about the world. Bacigalupi makes you believe in the universe he has created, gets you thinking about what things might be like, and leaves you wanting to know more. The characters are nicely rounded, complex, and believable to the point where some of their actions will make you uncomfortable while seeming perfectly fitting. The Nebula Award 2010 for "The Wind-Up Girl" is well deserved, and I can recommend this book whole-heartedly.