Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Winding up with Paolo Bacigalupi

In an attempt to read not one, but two whole Hugo nominees, I got Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl from the library.  Everyone online seems to going crazy for this novel, especially now that it's got an Hugo nom. Bacigalupi's first novel length work, I've been told it builds on his short stories that take place in a future of genetically engineered everything, seed plagues, starvation, and globalization. Bacigalupi has published a handful of articles in Environmental magazines, sounds like my kind of guy!  Did I mention I haven't read any of his earlier fiction before cracking open The Windup Girl?  Maybe that's why I'm feeling a little lost.  I don't know what or who Calorie Men are, I don't who or what Yellow Card people are, I don't know jack. my own damn fault, I suppose.

70 some pages into Wind Up Girl and I'm having a tough time getting into it. this poor novel is suffering from put-down-ability for me.  between Bacigalupi's I just want to make totally f'ing sure you know you're not in Kansas anymore shock value style prose and the fact that I don't know who any of these people are, or why they care about what they are doing. .. the book is not grabbing me.
You can read Bacigalupi's short story The Fluted Girl on his website, and that was a great short story - excellent at grabbing your attention and not letting go, if a little on the shock value side for me.  So go read it, or the rest of this blog entry won't make any sense.

Suddenly I'm asking myself all sorts of philosophical questions about shock value. I've ooohed and aahhed over plenty of novels that are chock full of sex and violence, so  what makes something shock value?  Near the end of Bacigalupi's The Fluted Girl, the sisters perform a highly erotic dance for their patron and her party guests.  It is their job to dance, and the sisters aren't freaked out about it, it's just something they do.  Written well, but it felt like shock value to me.  Perhaps I missed the foreplay, so as to not be so surprised?  On the other hand, George R R Martin peppered A Game of Thrones with incest. Yucky to be sure, but it didn't read like shock value, just something these two characters do. So what's the difference between Martin's incestous characters and Bacigalupi's two sisters doing some really hot dancing and touching?

Maybe this is it.  Martin's brother/sister pair are petrified of anyone seeing them touching or kissing each other. it is their secret, and if you catch them in the act, the brother will probably try to kill you. And they truly do love each other (or at least she loves him). Bacigalupi's girls are straight up objectified.  Their patron pretty much whores them out. and that's what made me feel so weird about the whole thing.  Some authors make "courtesan-ing" sound romantic. Can you say Baz Lurhmann?  And on the other end of the spectrum some authors are saying "are you crazy? how could you possibly think that kind of life could be fun or romantic?"

So Bacigalupi and his minions are either thinking "holy crap is this woman a prude", or "sweet, she got the point", or both.

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