Thursday, March 3, 2011

Boredom with Broken Springs and a Hint of Steam, Part 1


Two books. Both failing for me in vastly different ways and all I can wonder is if they will get better.

Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi suffers (in my mind) from trying to be too intelligent. As far as I know this is a book written for a Western audience and yet the terms are incredibly Eastern in origin. I might look upon this as a good thing, with a book and author taking the language of their fiction in a different direction than what I'm used to. It might even be a refreshing change of course, however it ultimately just confuses me.

Perhaps another, with a greater penchant for language, would take more naturally to The Windup Girl and enjoy the very different flavor of language, but to me it comes across as too much work. A story needs to flow naturally and avoid interrupting the reader from their flight across the author's fancy as much as possible. Interruptions cast out a reader—possibly to never return.

No author wants this.

I experienced something similar with Shogun, many years ago. That book actually attempts to teach the Japanese language to you in prose—an admirable attempt—however any such deviation from reading time can cause a loss of what was learned and make any reattempt to tackle the behemoth a chore.

It is a hard thing for me to look at The Windup Girl and not think that I should like it. I've heard far too many good things about it and heard Paolo himself speak most eloquently on the book and other topics.

And yet...

There is so much going right in this book, the characters are different, each with their own objectives. The world is different with a realistic take on what could happen in a "somewhat" near future with global warming and the loss of petroleum reserves. I want to like it, I want to take that ride, but the terms keep kicking me out.

If there is a lesson to learn here, it is either that I should downgrade my reading to elementary school books, or that authors should be aware of their audience and while innovating: try not to go too far off of the beaten path. I'll reference The Writing Excuses in saying that you want a combination of the Familiar and the Strange. Too much of either, without a balance, and off you go—into the drink. *SPLASH*

What about you? Did the spring release, or collapse under such intense pressure? I speak in metaphor here, sometimes. My apologies if it doesn't amuse. It amuses me. So...

(...Oh and apparently I lied. Yes, this post is a day after the last, but it got too long; so, next Tuesday, Part 2 will have my thoughts on Vampire Empire.)


  1. I enjoyed Windup Girl but even I will admit it took me a while to "get into" the book. First it threw me off that it was in present tense, then I struggled to grasp the plot strings and how they related to the setting. That's one of those books I'm glad I pressed on to finish because it really was worth it (for me).

    I liked the foreign aspect of the settings, but, again, it took a while to really just read without analyzing everything. And then, of course, I just sympathized so utterly with the title character and I couldn't put it down until I knew whether she'd be safe or not.

    So, yeah, I liked it. I just didn't like it right away.

  2. That's good to hear. I was hoping that it would build and come together for me, so maybe I'll push on and finish it out.

  3. I had the same reaction to "The Hunger Games". I had trouble with the use of present tense in that book and stopped reading—even though the story seemed well crafted and interesting. Shame.

  4. I think I'd manage with the tense if it weren't for the disengaging I get from all the foreign terms. We'll see how the book shapes up.

  5. One more comment on 'Hunger Games'; I may not have enjoyed having to read FPPT, but I handed the book to my daughter--yesterday--and she is now three-quarters of the way through it.

  6. Everyone's got different tastes, certainly one reason why submitting your work for publish is not exactly easy.

  7. I can't help but agree :)

    How are the edits coming, btw?

  8. A cartoon cat is managing to interfere. But I'm working on a buffer to deal with that.

  9. The only problem I had with this book is that it was not science-fictiony enough, if that can be a critique. I have been to Thailand many times, and I actually found the discussion of the characters, the relationship between the Chinese to the Thai, the attitudes of the Thai to the farang and the intrigue that takes place all the time there to be very believable. I don't speak any Thai, but I was completely immersed in this world because it is so accessible. It's almost like he threw in the Windup Girl, the spring-guns and spring technology, the Megodonts and the Globally dominant seed companies as an afterthought, becausse for me this was just a good yarn that didnt really go anywhere until the last few pages.

    And because I love rambutan, I knew right off the bat that was the fruit he was describing. They are very tasty, but hard to get here.

  10. Thanks for the comment and sorry for the late reply. Rambutan? Interesting.

    Well, I think Bacigalupi was going for a very realistic world, and I think he pulled that off admirably. I prefer epic fantasy mostly myself, though, so I can appreciate your sentiment.

    I knew very little of the relationships within the different societies, so your comment makes me feel like I got a little cultural education. Excellent.


Thanks for reading, now tell me what you think.