44) Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl, 2009
This is offered less as a review and more as a set of notes and commentary, which I may also add to later. I planned to read both this and Robert Charles Wilson's Julian Comstock before last weekend's Aussiecon but, family life being what it is, I got too far behind and I only finished The Windup Girl a couple of days after the Hugo Awards. Needless to say I was pleased that it shared the 'Best Novel' with my favourite novel of last year (Miéville's The City & The City), not only because it is a very strong novel and worthy winner but also because it's rare to see my adopted country featured so prominently in western SF, and award-winning SF at that – The Windup Girl has grabbed the Nebula, the Compton Crook Award and now the Hugo (and was also one of Time magazine's Notable Books of the Year), while China's novel has bagged the BSFA, the Clarke and now also the Hugo.
Jaidee always insisted that the Kingdom was a happy country, that old story about the Land of Smiles. But Kanya cannot think of a time when she has seen smiles as wide as those in museum photos from before the Contraction. She sometimes wonders if those people in the photos were acting, if perhaps the National Gallery is intending to depress her, or if it is really true that at one point people smiled so totally, so fearlessly.This is a small paragraph but it's actually a rather necessary one, the like of which I felt the book could not really have done without. It also holds up a mirror of sorts to the lives of just about all the characters in The Windup Girl: they all have those wrenching moments in which the future that they planned for is supplanted by something considerably less promising, even something that they feared. Thais are an optimistic people and usually retain that optimism even in the face of dire poverty, so, given that the Thailand of The Windup Girl is a successful country on its own terms where others have failed badly, I'd say that given the shape the world is in Bacigalupi has extrapolated a possible future for the Thai national character rather well – they have had to pay a high price in everyday happiness, but the rest of the world has generally fared much worse.