The Windup Girl is a soft apocalypse novel set in a future in which climate change has destroyed nations and changed the world. Combustion technology is mostly history...everything is powered by hi-tech springs. The evil oil companies have been supplanted by vile genetics corporations that released engineered crop-destroying diseases in order to take control of the world's food supply.
In Thailand, a pseudo-American undercover corporate agent plots to steal that country's resources and force open its markets. A Trade Ministry official plots a revolution. A captain in the Environment Ministry--charged with preventing both human and crop epidemics from breaking out--is less corrupt than the rest of the nation's power brokers, which makes him a hero of the people. And a "wind-up" girl--a genetically engineered Japanese mostly-human servant--is systematically abused for profit until she snaps and changes the course of Thailand's future.
I was actually pretty bored through the first half of the book. It plods. The author uses a lot of Thai, Japanese, and Chinese words as if their meanings are obvious in context. I guess sometimes they are. NONE of the characters are easy to identify with, they're all unsympathetic and self-involved. They were well-drawn though, with believable, complex motivations; self-involved in different ways and for different reasons. I think that's why I stuck with this book even though I was bored. It showed promise. (Plus I liked the kink-spring technology that everything runs on in Bacigalupi's post-oil future.)
It got more interesting. Political maneuvering, inter-ministry espionage, corporate espionage, megadont attacks, betrayal, schemes and plots and surprise revelations eventually combined to turn a dull book in a fascinating setting into a fascinating story. Weirdly, I liked the inconclusiveness of a lot of the plot elements as well. A second wind-up girl is just forgotten. The truth about a dead character who talks to a living one is never addressed. A kidnapped woman's fate is never revealed. And after the Trade Ministry defeats the Environment Ministry in the climactic revolution, the author throws two more twists into the mix that make everything up to those points almost irrelevant. I found it oddly satisfying. If there's ever a sequel, I'll read it.
[SPOILERS ahead] In the first panel, she skillfully and remorselessly kills a man. And beats the shit out of a bike thief for good measure. Scarlet then speaks directly to the reader while recounting her story, why she is what she is and does what she does. And it turns out that she has no training. She's just a kid whose boyfriend was murdered by a corrupt cop looking for a convenient patsy. She's pissed and starts attacking corrupt authority figures with an absurd level of success.
It's kind of a strange message. It shoots for "Give up your apathy!" but lands on "What's could go wrong with serial vigilante murders? Give it a try!"
Bendis uses some nifty framing: 12-panel spreads that sum up someone's life, Scarlet describing events out of order and as they happen to her... It has an interesting look, lots of muted grays and browns except for her bright orange hair, which pops. I think Scarlet uses that photo-conversion process from Ex Machina, or something similar.
Then this sentence clinched it for me: "Then the oblique (drops) turned round (drops), swallowed up by the earth underpinning the grass, and the grass and the earth seemed to talk, no, not talk, argue, their incomprehensible words like crystallized spiderwebs or the briefest crystallized vomitings, a barely audible rustling, as if instead of drinking tea that afternoon, Norton had drunk a steaming cup of peyote." I have no idea what I just read. The only reason I didn't stop right there was because I didn't have another book with me on the bus.
Crooked Little Vein gets off to a seriously weird, off-putting start, as the Presidential Chief of Staff goes off on a disturbingly long poetic reverie about the wonders of shitting all over hotel rooms while heroined up. It gets less off-putting (or maybe my brain just got numb) but it does not get any less weird. The whole book exists just so Ellis can string together the freakiest things he'd discovered while doing "research" on the internet. Macroherpetophilia. Testicular saline infusion. Tantric ostrich daterape cults. Roulette parties. [shudder]
It was hard to put down, in a most-demented-part-of-a-Garth-Ennis-title kind of way. I'm a little surprised that I finished it, but I'm glad I did.
The Sword isn't very good. The art looks amateurish and the characters are stupid. No one seems to question whether a blurry video clip of Dara jumping over a building is actually a girl jumping over a building. Thugs have no issue with slaughtering funeral-goers in public just to capture what they think is a regular girl in exchange for a few keys of meth. Dara adjusts instantly to her transformation from paraplegic to Supergirl. The artists keep digitally blurring the backgrounds of panels to indicate distance; it looks cheap.
And yet something about it appealed to me...I went directly from "Huh, that kind of sucked" to "I wonder how quickly the library can have volume 2 for me." Maybe I'm just that big a sucker for a revenge story.