Sometimes They Get it Right

Awards. No matter what contemporaries may think of them when they are given, no matter how arbitrary they may be, over time they come to represent 'the best' of an era, a must-see, must-read, must-have. Few of us have time to read everything that we would like, so often we look to these awards as guideposts.

I confess, I don't think I would have read The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi if it had not won the Hugo Award (tying with China Miéville's The City and the City). And that would have been my misfortune. It's an extraordinary novel that takes place in Thailand after fossil fuels are kaput and genetic modification has led to waves of plagues. Energy, in joules or calories, is the population's obsession. The story is slow going at the beginning, but once the titular character is introduced the pages fly. Emiko is a genetically augmented human, trained to be a courtesan but discarded and surviving as a sex worker of a far less genteel type. To the people she encounters she is an aberration, but within herself she is at least as human as any of them. She shares the book with several less sympathetic characters, chiefly an American Calorie Man looking to manipulate the Thais into letting him access their seed bank and a Chinese refugee who has been taught by cruel experience to be relentlessly self-interested.

The Windup Girl does what much of the best science fiction does, concocting a future from germs of the present while placing the characters squarely in the center.

And we know it's among the best that 2009 had to offer because it won an award, right?