Sunday, June 12, 2011

Book catch-up: April

Secrets of the Fire Sea, Stephen Hunt
More rollicking steampunk adventure mash-up action from Stephen Hunt. I didn't think this one quite reached the giddy heights of the previous one, The Rise of the Iron Moon, but it's still a good 'un. Commodore Black is back, of course, accompanied by Jackals' finest consulting detective, who suffers from the unwanted visitations of a foul old badger-headed god and whose sidekick is a homicidal steam-man. Threatening the world this time are a territorial dispute between humans and ursines over a middle-of-nowhere fire-circled island where it appears the two species once lived in highly civilised harmony, and a mathematical formula that can turn any unscrupulous fiend who discovers it into a god. Entertainment ensues.

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
Winner of last year's Hugo, Nebula and at least three other significant awards for best SF novel, so I thought I'd better read it. My initial feeling was that it was taking a long time for the story to kick in; it later seemed to me that there were several potential stories that kept hijacking or overthrowing each other. I think we ended up with Plot #5 using the remains of Plot #3 to kill off Plot #4. But anyway.
This book is more about atmosphere and world-building than about straightforward plotting; it's set in Thailand in the near future, when big multinational "calorie companies" have created their own super-strains of various food crops and then released engineered diseases to attack the natural strains, the intention being to force people to buy their products and the result being that the natural environment is on its last legs. Only countries like Thailand, which vigorously polices its borders, are holding out against famine and ultimately buy-out; the companies send in agents under various covers to scout out any resistant or previously unknown foodstuffs that they can genetically adapt and sell.
The book starts with an American calorie agent discovering a completely new type of fruit at a market, which leads him to suspect that the Thais have a seedbank hidden somewhere and that they're employing a rogue ex-rival of his to go through it. It ends in open warfare between the Environment and Trade Ministries. It's quite a bleak book, and not all the viewpoint characters survive, but it is extremely well written. Awards well earned there, I think.

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