Mini-Reading: The Windup Girl/Neuromancer

[Note: Figuring out how I want to use all my various social media platforms is an ongoing process. This post originally appeared elsewhere, but now I think it fits better here. So enjoy this post from Liz's Wayback Machine, originally written January 9, 2012.]

The blurb on the cover of The Windup Girl compares it to Neuromancer.

And I don’t know if I have much of an opinion about whether or not “[Paolo] Bacigalupi’s vision is almost as rich and shocking as William Gibson’s vision was in 1984” (Lev Grossman), but here are several other ways the two books compare:

  • It took me a good fifty pages to feel at home in the authors’ language, and at the end of both books I still didn’t completely have my bearings in these worlds. In Neuromancer this disorientation produces the effect that, like Case, we readers are being generation gapped and can never catch up with the exponentially accelerating pace of technology. In The Windup Girl there is a little bit of that going on, in addition to paranoia about shifting political alliances and an ecological system perpetually on the verge of becoming completely inhospitable to humans, so it works. Instability and unease on multiple levels.
  • The only character I cared about for a long time (and still far and away my favorite at the end) was the female lead. Her Harawayan cyborg qualities and general ass-kickingness partially make up for her somewhat flat character development and somewhat problematic sexualization. This point applies pretty equally to both books.
  • One of the readings of Neuromancer I commonly encounter and completely disagree with sees Case as a kind of Han Solo figure and the whole book as a glorification of hacking. Similarly, while I think it might be tempting for readers of The Windup Girl to see Anderson as a scoundrel who is a good guy deep down, and therefore perhaps someone to emulate, I also think that urge should be resisted. Just as Gibson counterbalances the glamor of being a console cowboy with scenes of Case pitifully uncomfortable in his own body and ill-suited for the physical world, Bacigalupi makes us understand all sides of the book’s central debate, not just the one Anderson represents. The big difference here is probably that Case’s failings don’t bother me on moral or ethical grounds but Anderson’s do: Case is weak, an addict, prone to escapism, etc., but Anderson is greedy, self-serving, and short-sighted in ways that ultimately hurt people.

Note from 2013 Liz: In my comparison, I don’t think I properly conveyed how compelling and transformative these books both are. If you haven’t read them yet, get on it.