Reviews: Windup Girl, Habibi, Hunger Games

The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, published in 2009, won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, as well as numerous other accolades, including having been listed as the ninth best book of 2009 by TIME magazine.

The Windup Girl has been, rightfully I think, compared to William Gibson’s Neuromancer, particularly for their shared vision of a near-future of powerful multinational corporations and reckless privatization. But whereas Gibson focused largely on information technology, Bacigalupi focuses on the future role of genetic engineering and biotechnology, imagining a world in which genetic materials become commodities worth killing for. Moreover, The Windup Girl, set in Thailand, also provides an interesting example of a future in which the West’s cultural and economic hegemony has been eclipsed by the uncomfortable bedfellows of multinational corporations and emerging markets.

HabibiThe first half of the book is largely world building and character development, focusing on several tangentially related characters. It’s slow getting started, but eventually the disconnected lives of those characters collide in a way that propels the narrative forward into an edge-of-the-seat second half that’s well worth the wait.

I adored Craig Thompson’s Blankets, so I admittedly had high expectations for his newest book, Habibi, and it mostly lived up to those expectations. The book itself is stunningly gorgeous, and the story of refugee child slaves Dodola and Zam was compelling. The asides on Arabian folklore and Islamic folklore lent the story a beautiful epic quality that was hampered, however, by unfortunate episodes of bathos. I mean, really, the book could have done without the fart jokes. But on the whole, I found it fairly satisfying, even if just for the exceptional artwork.

Hunger GamesAnd I finally got around to Suzanne Collin’s wildly popular Hunger Games, which has been adapted into a movie to be released later this month. It was a fun read, with plenty of action, while avoiding for the most part the overlong internal monologues and teenage histrionics that I sometimes find annoying in contemporary young adult fiction.

The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future in which impoverished young citizens can receive much-needed food from the state in exchange for increasing their chances of being selected by lottery to fight other adolescents to the death, all of which provides televised entertainment to the rest of the populace. It’s not a terribly original trope, with a pair of star-crossed lovers thrown in for added cheese, but fairly well done. Worth the read, or at least the price of admission when the movie is released.

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