Back from Montreal. No energy to try and write a con report right now… but it was a hell of a Worldcon. Paul Krugman’s two talks were definitely high points, as were several panels, and a great deal of meeting some very interesting people.
But something better than a con report is a book report! Paolo Bacigalupi has a novel out (released just this Friday, Amazon doesn’t seem to realize it yet) called The Windup Girl. This is the best new SF (not fantasy, not spec fic) novel I’ve come across in the past few years. It takes place in an intricately thought-out near-future Bangkok, where the consequences of genetic engineering of crops, climate change, and political shift have all taken their toll. It follows four different protagonists: an American expat working for an agribusiness conglomerate, trying to get access to Thai seed stocks; a Chinese refugee of a Malaysian genocide, working for this American while trying to build a life for himself; a captain of the Thai environmental ministry, which is locked in a complicated war with other factions of the government; and the title character, a genetically engineered “new woman” created to be a personal secretary, now abandoned in Bangkok and living in a brothel.
This book works out the consequences of the SFnal ideas in it as thoroughly as Charles Stross works his out; but what will grab you about this book are the rich characters, their deep and conflicting motivations, the depth of realization of the world. It has one very interesting structural feature: although there are four protagonists, and the chapters cycle points of view, this book doesn’t do the usual (and IMHO, slightly annoying) multi-PoV thing of having four separate stories that one is bounced between. Instead, each chapter leads seamlessly into the next; the camera simply moves to follow one character, and then the next, as they all move through the same (very gripping) plot.
If you’re at all in to serious SF, this is a book worth picking up. It manages to combine the conceptual rigor of the best hard SF with the characterization and writing of… well, of a really damned good book. Go read it.
P.S.: The publisher, Nightshade Books, is putting out a lot of other interesting stuff lately. For example, if you are interested in vampires, or post-apocalypses either with or without zombies, they can set you up.