yiduiqie (tumblr) reviews Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl for a Swancon panel. (Remember The Windup Girl? Sure you do.)
This orientalist claptrap is just ridiculous. Helen Merrick, at the bookclub panel, suggested that perhaps Bacigalupi introduced these themes in order to interrogate them, but didn’t quite manage to do so. I am not so kind, I don’t think he had any intention of interrogating them, or he wouldn’t have spent so much time so lovingly describing them.
OH SNAP. Do read the whole thing.
re: Paolo Bacigalupi’s WUG
If you have read it and had any issues with it, or know anybody who has read it and found issues with it, please please please let me know.
I’ve been trying to find folks willing to have a conversation with Bacigalupi and editor on WUG’s problems. This is being facilitated by K. Tempest Bradford, so if you want to get in touch with her directly, that’s cool too.
I really want this conversation to happen, not just because of my personal loathing for this hot Orientalist mess of a scifi novel, but because it’s important for authors and editors to know that readers can and will hold them accountable for what they are producing and how it affects others negatively.
I, for one, am fucking pissed that WUG has won the Nebula and now the Hugo (seriously, voters, WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING), so I’d love to see this discussion come to fruition at some point.
Windup Girl Day, the shittiest theme day ever, continues apace with jhameia’s review from back in February. SPOILER: Not positive.
Her review is quite in-depth, so I’m loth to excerpt, but this is Tumblr so here goes:
The book was ambivalent for me by this time, but the introduction of the titular character, Emiko the Windup Girl, was horrendous, cringe-inducing, and it would have been really nice to have read a review beforehand which gave me a TRIGGER WARNING. Made in Japan (really? Japan? Ya don’t say), unsuited for this equatorial climate and sexually abused for her exotic Other-ness, Emiko’s arc is supposed to give us some indepth introspection into the state of a character who must overcome everything that is instinctual in herself, built into her genes, in order to gain mastery of herself.
If this concept wasn’t so real, so close to the reality of so many women all over the world, it would still be yawn-worthy, as the idea of a woman overcoming her upbringing, eventually snapping and reacting violently against her sexual abuse is extremely overdone and not just an android thing. As a woman, I am huffy that this cheap route was taken, and not just a little frustrated that once again, a female titular character is subjected to the sexual abuse narrative as the Worst Thing To Happen To Her. As an Asian, I am infuriated that Bacigalupi chose Thailand, already reputed for its sex tourism industry, to portray the abuse of a female character. Realism aside, do we assume that this happens nowhere else? Would the story have been different if it had happened in an European country? But no, it has to be Thailand, because shit like this is normal in Thailand, amrite?
Because this book was recommended to me by Mike Perchon on the account that it is set in Thailand, and I am South East Asian by birth and upbringing, I suppose I should comment on the authenticity of whether it fits descriptions of 19th century Thailand. Without a couple of very important clues, I would never have guessed this was set anywhere near that century, because Thailand is not all that familiar to me, and it is such a dystopian in this story, what little I do know is barely recognizable to me. The first is that there is still a monarchy in place in this novel. The second is that the neighbouring country, Malaysia, is still called Malaya. Other than that, I’m actually not sure what the hell is going on there, historically, because the entire geography of the world has also been reshaped – the US and many European countries are under water, as well as much of the rest of Asia. With such a catastrophe (the cause of which is never named, but we’ll blame it on global warming and use of too much natural fuel), it is impossible to get a grasp on the international politics of the time, aside from the corporations that ply their trade with genes. This means that even without armies, imperialism is still imminent.
The lack of justification for changing the geographical landscape notwithstanding, it would have been nice if Bacigalupi had paid some tribute to the actual history of what had really happened, and segued with that, as opposed to jumping straight in with his fabricated Thailand and Malaya. It implies that there is no reason to explore why Malaya has degenerated into what appears to be xenophobic fundamentalism, when for centuries, we’ve been known to be one of the most open ports for foreigners and ethnic groups have co-existed. Not only that, but Thailand’s vibrant culture is ignored in favour of a purely gritty depiction, in which corruption and poverty is tantamount.
I know this makes for an awesome story, but I hate it when authours do that to the culture they are writing whilst not belonging to it. It is one thing to do it for a dominant country like Britain or America, because there will be many, many positive depictions of them to compensate for other purely negative depictions. Thailand does not get much exposure by way of literature, and most of it either show how exotic it is, Other-ing the country. This is where the setting fails to engage me.
Via jhameia, linked in the s. e. smith essay I just reblogged, but worth excerpting on its own—a post about why robot sex worker stories are as problematic as they are prolific. A particularly pertinent bit (but I do recommend reading the whole thing from the beginning to get the thread of the argument):
So now that we have some (sentient, feeling, intelligent, moral) “non-people” who were created by “real people” for sexual exploitation, and there’s no guilt in any of this, we add in the race fail and gender fail and sexual orientation fail etc.. Sexbots can have “perfect” beauty no human female (or male) can achieve, thus actualizing the advertising industry’s presentation of women as objects who can only achieve “perfect” beauty through genetics, starvation, surgery and digital “enhancement”. On the race end of things, sexbots may be compared to or referred to as “geishas”, or maybe they’re default white and turn into PoC for some plot point. Or PoC bodies and skin colors may be referred to with reference to food. Or the sexbots may be said to have no race because they can turn into any race (racial identity thus being reduced to (“artificial”) skin color, facial features and hair features). This way, the sexbots can “be” any race that the person who owns or contracts them wants, fulfilling his/her racial fetishes (and without having to deal with any of the issues of objectifying, “othering” or exploiting “real” PoC)!
There’s a long history of novels by writers from the United States set in Asia and featuring expatriate characters. Characters who do pretty much all the same things the characters in this book do. They explore the ‘seamy’ side of Asia, going to sex shows and buying sex with ‘exotic’ women. They look down their noses at the ‘natives’ and all the strategising they have to do to outwit them, even as they imbue the people around them with a certain sense of mysticism. They view the Asian characters as walking stereotypes.
The windup girl of the title is a bioengineered person developed by the Japanese, another example of the Orientalism in this book; of courseJapanese inventors would develop a ‘geisha like’ person engineered to serve without question, right? And, naturally, she would literally be a delicate hothouse flower with a hidden violent and aggressive side.
I ended up finishing this book and just going ‘ugh,’ which I do a lot these days, it seems. There’s this huge trend in US science fiction right now to set books in an Asia of the future, throw in a couple of characters from the US, and call it good. All of these books embody the worst parts of Orientalism in fiction, living up every stereotype to the hilt and dripping with Chinoiserie. It’s all very boring, especially since if I want to read science fiction set in Asia, I can find books by actual Asian and Pacific Islander authors to read, and I would vastly prefer to read those, personally.
YES S. E. SMITH FINALLY WROTE OU POST ABOUT WINDUP GIRL READ THE WHOLE THING YAY!