Set in the 23d Century in a futuristic Thailand, walled in by dikes to keep the oceans from overwhelming the Kingdom, Bacigalupi’s novel is a nightmare vision of biotechnology attempting to control the future – and always one step behind. The world’s supply of food is controlled by a few multinational corporations, all scientifically manipulated (“gene-hacked” they call it) and prone to one disease after another. It’s a world that lives on bribery and corruption, amidst civil war and political maneuvering.
Thailand has stored what is left of the world’s seed stock in a hidden monastery. It’s Andersen Lake’s mission to uncover this seed stock so that his company can at last monopolize the world’s food supply. Thailand is run by (and they are bitter rivals), the Ministries of Trade and Eenvironment. There’s political intrigue, double agents, murder and torture.
The novel started out slow for me because I attempted to keep track of the science and the players and their shifting alliances, what the various factions stood for, and the “science” of food production, and energy consumption. Eventually I let go of the details and focused on the human drama. As an award winning sci-fi novel, I’m sure this is not the way most fans read it. It certainly is wildly inventive, and offers up a detailed look at what the world might look like in the 23d Century. This is a world where most of the environmental disasters have come to pass. Global warming? Well, hell yeah! A world where the fossil fuels have long since been depleted and huge mutant mastodons toil around giant sprockets to produce energy to run factories. Not only has food been genetically engineered, but new mutant manufactured species have been engineered: the aforementioned mastodons, Cheshire cats, and the “New People”.
One of the great and inspired characters in the novel is one of these “new people”: Emiko, a wind-up , gene-spliced girl who has had her will bred out, and her loyalty bred in. She just can’t say no. One of the more believable ‘robots’ I’ve run across in literature. Great speculative fiction. Especially if you are a fan of science fiction, this is a must read.