Bacigalupi transports us to a vivid future Thailand**, struggling to feed its people after agricultural corporations and fast-mutating viruses have decimated the world’s crops. Calories are currency. The world grinds by on the power of genetically-engineered elephant labor, algae, and the starving poor.
The principal characters are Anderson, an American seeking Thailand’s untainted seeds, and Emiko, a living sexbot with feelings. Unfortunately, I found them to be the least original part of the story. Anderson embodies white colonizers’ guilt, and Emiko stands in for victimization and plenty of sexual stereotypes. But I think we’d understand this world’s brutality even without, say, the cheap writer’s trick of graphic anal-rape-with-glass-bottles-in-strip-clubs. The native Southeast Asian characters grapple with ritual abuse and the human desire for liberty in more interesting ways.
For example, there’s Hock Seng, a Malaysian refugee, who’s already survived genocide. His bitterness, his subterfuge, his dreams of the past, and his stubbornness make him a fascinating, complex character. Bacigalupi also gives us nuance in Captain Jaidee, charismatic young leader of the environmental protection military, and his lieutenant Kanya, reticent and conflicted.
Baciagalupi writes well; both his scene-setting and his prose are colorful. Plenty of political machinations keep the plot hopping, even if certain storylines get a bit repetitive. On net, I’m glad I read it.
The 214 in 2014 series chronicles every book I read in 2014. Each review contains exactly 214 words, because 2014 words is too long and 2014 characters is too dang short. And yes, this review is backlogged from 2014.
**Note: Although I didn’t feel offended by Bacigalupi’s treatment of Thailand and the various politics and cultures he portrays, I came across reviews from other readers who were. I am neither Thai nor Malaysian, nor do I know much about their history, and so I encourage you to consider other perspectives as well.
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