The Windup Girl and The Infernals
I just finished a couple of science-fiction/supernatural books that I highly recommend to fans of either genre.
Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (Nightshade Books 2009) is set about 250 years in the future in Bangkok. The world has long ago experienced both climate change (lotsa sweat) and the end of oil (or the Great Contraction, as it’s called).
Even worse, tinkering genetic bioengineering corporations have created food-borne plagues that have swept across continents, and bio-gen corps called “calorie companies” located in the U.S. are ever in search of the remaining germinating seed banks so they can destroy them and control food.
One of those banks is in Thailand, and that’s about all you need to know. There are genetically modified elephants called megadonts that help generate a kind of spring energy. There are genetically altered people (the windup girl is one) who serve mankind in ways both wonderful and twisted, all working in a cityscape so deliciously rendered and alluring that I went back and reread descriptive passages.
At the time I was reading this, Boulder County is seemingly split over whether to allow genetically modified crops on its land. (Hint: If you read this book, you will probably come down on the side of not allowing bio-gen crops anywhere.) And while reading, much of the supercity of Bangkok and its twelve million inhabitants, which in the novel has built even more elaborate walls to keep out the sea, were under water. Creepy when sci-fi slips into reality.
Somehow I get the feeling that Pacigalupi will create more stories and novels for this futureworld. In its scope and ambition, this world reminded me of how I felt when I first read Dune. Good as it is, I’d hate to see it go to waste on just this one tale.
John Connally’s The Infernals (Atria Books 2011) continues the story of Samuel Johnson, the twelve-year-old English boy who again winds up, thanks to a devil’s assistant and some laxity on the part of the scientists running the Hadron Collider, sucked into another dimension. We were introduced to Sam and his dog (of course he’s named Boswell) in The Book of Lost Things.
This time Mrs. Abernathy, a demon who has morphed into a middle-aged woman (albeit a particularly execrable and nasty one), having been thwarted in her bid to enter the real world in the earlier novel by Samuel, is trying to nab him to take back to her boss, the Great Malevolence, to gain back what self-respect she feels she has lost after Samuel and Boswell dashed her hopes for world dominance.
Connally writes with a professor’s delightful glee, using many assorted snotty asides and footnotes, as he leads Samuel and Boswell through the ever-changing, kaleidoscopic landscape of Hell, including a look into the Great Void itself, and a bewildering scourge of smelly, loathsome demons, dwarfs, elves, trees with claws, wraiths and rams, some of help to Samuel and some not so much, and a herbaceous beverage known to produce temporary blindness, an occasional inability to remember your name and explosive burping.
My favorites were the four dwarfs, and I laughed out loud while reading passages on the bus ride commute more than once. All I could think of while reading it was that, in the right hands, this would make an incredible animated film.