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review 2017-03-01 13:01
Cyber World: Tales of Humanity's Tomorrow
Cyber World: Tales of Humanity's Tomorrow - Paolo Bacigalupi,Stephen Graham Jones,Alyssa Wong,Saladin Ahmed,Cat Rambo,Nisi Shawl,E. Lily Yu,Madeline Ashby,Joshua Viola,Jason Heller

[I received an e-copy of this book through NetGalley.]

A collection of short stories with virtual reality, AI and technology themes in general. Despite the 'cyberpunk' flair, I agree with the curators: it's not so much cyberpunk in its original meaning, as dealing with various ideas that fit our current societies more than the 'old cyberpunk' feeling.

* "Serenade:" 3/5

A hacker decrypting data on an old USB sticks realises that said data is not about future useful information, but memories.

* "The Mighty Phin:" 3/5

In a prison ship controlled by an AI, not everything is as it looks, and truth may be more difficult to stomach than the characters think at first. Bit of an abrupt ending, though, when I think about how it could've been more developed.

* "Reactions:" 3/5

What a drone pilot pumped up on battle drugs goes through when the operation he's on is suddenly cancelled... but not what's still lingering in his organism. I found it interesting, although, like the story before it, I'd have liked some more development (especially regarding the soldier's decision to break his family).

* "The Bees of Kiribati:" 5/5

Chilling because even though this doesn't exist (yet), the principles behind the murders in this story could very well be applied in other ways. It also raises the old but still accurate ethical question: would you kill a few people, even babies, if it meant being able to save many more?

* "The Rest Between Two Notes:" 2/3

Promising theme (a teenager killing her mother repeatedly in virtual reality), but I found the plot too muddled in places. The resolution brought at the end wasn't too clear--I wouldn't mind in a novel, but in short stories it's another matter.

* "The Singularity is In Your Hair:" 5/5

Touching and horrible. A girl suffering from a degenerative disease, who can only experience living through virtual reality, performs jobs and meets people thanks to an AI who may or may not be so benevolent. The promise of one day being fully uploaded to virtual space, and leaving the meat behind instead of facing the prospect of her impending death, keep her going. And she desperately hopes this will come true sooner than later.

* "Panic City:" 5/5

In an underground city that is both a refuge and a prison, people have been living for generations following models and using technology that are gradually failing. When something threatens to break an opening into this 'homeostatic' environment, the AI controlling the city has to make a decision: is their original programming really ideal in this case?

* "The Faithful Soldier, Prompted:" 4/5

A veteran from corporate wars receives prompts on his augmented reality system, even though the war is over. While such defective prompts are known to be useless, and should be discarded, these seem different... and so he follows them, desperate in his hopes that the rewards will save the woman he loves. I liked the writing here--even the prompts sounded poetic.

* "Your Bones Will Not Be Unknown:" 4/5

An assassin is sent to kill a rival boss, knowing full well there are little chances of success here. But what the boss has in mind for them is not necessarily death, and could even actually be a gift.

* "Staunch:" 2/5

A group of kids-hackers-rebels, led by a doctor who used to be part of a legendary team, travel through what's left of the UK to save the life of one of their own. Though the plot itself was a bit weak, I liked the technological problems used in it (replacement organs shutting down if the firmware's outdated or the copyright has changed hands, etc.)—definitely freaky.

* "Other People's Thoughts:" 2/5

About empathy, telepathic powers and gender fluidity. Good themes, and I would've loved actually liking the story, but it was more descriptive than actual plot, and I found it too weak to hold my interest.

* "WISYOMG:" 1/5

Almost skipped that one. The style and character weren't appealing, and I'm still not sure what was the idea. Warning people against body mods and fads? It was hard to follow, so I'm really not sure.

* "We Will Take Care of Our Own:" 2/5

Of corrupt politicians and corporations trying to make money by officially solving problems, and officiously sweeping them under the carpet. Again, good theme, especially since the politician has a skeleton of her own in the closet, but in terms of plot and development, it wasn't strong nor long enough.

* "A Song Transmuted:" 3/5

A young musician comes up with a new concept to be music, rather than simply playing it—spurred by her relationship with her grandfather, his way of encouraging her to meet other people and play music with her, and this in spite of a dishonest colleague stealing her idea. Good, though not groundbreaking.

* "It's Only Words:" 2/5

A sort of neo-Luddite theme, of a boy writing his school project on paper when everybody else is constantly connected to the web and not doing anything in an "analogue" way anymore. I'm not sure where this story was going, though: I felt that something was missing, that the point wasn't strongly made enough at the end, because nothing really changes, and the people targetted may not even have understood what was happening?

* "Small Offerings:" 5/5

Horrific but fascinating. A story about the means that may be necessary, in a future and over-polluted world, for people to carry healthy children to term, by sacrificing others.

* "Darkout:" 2/5

Good build-up to something bigger, in a society where everybody's living under the camera's eye... but the end just fell flat, and nothing really happened.

* "Visible Damage:" 3/5

A hacker goes on the trail of a nascent AI, in the hopes of finding it before everyone else obliterates it. Interesting, but a bit confusing.

* "The Ibex on the Day of Extinction:" 4/5

A man far from his family comes home to find everybody and everything gone—no GPS, no radio, no internet, and only empty clothes left behind.
I kind of suspected what had happened early on. Still, I liked this story. Sometimes all I need is for the conclusion to vindicate what I'm already thinking.

* "How Nothing Happens:" 1/5

Kind of what it says on the tin? I get the basic idea, but the way it was developed didn't grab my attention.

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text 2016-06-05 02:41
Zombie Baseball Beatdown
Zombie Baseball Beatdown - Paolo Bacigalupi

This book was about a boy named Rabi and a few of his friends, Miguel and Joe. Rabi's mother left for India to tend to a sick relative, Miguel's family got deported to Mexico, and Joe's father is mostly irresponsible, so during the time of the situation, the boys were basically on their own. They live in the town of Delbe, Iowa, and they all play baseball at the Delbe Middle School. There is a corrupt meat company in Delbe, called Milrow, that uses strange drugs on cows (their source of meat) in effort to make them grow, and they can sell more meat. The drugs are bad and have turned cows into zombies, and then people get infected by getting bitten, or eating the zombie meat, and it starts to spread. The boys start to find out about the zombies when their baseball coach, Mr. Corcoran starts acting weird and wants their brains, and so for a few days they watch the company, try to break in, and find proof that these zombies exist and show it to the police, who did not believe them. They broke lots of rules and were constantly getting into trouble. They drove illegally in the pickup truck of Miguel's deported uncle, have threatened adults, made the police think the entire deal is a prank, and even blew up a truck. They decided that at the next baseball game, they would show off a zombie cow head that they managed to steal from the factory, along with the executive of the company, Mr. Riggoni. Before they could execute their plan, things went wrong, because there was a truck selling the meat of the zombie cows in the form of hamburgers, and people were eating them and turning into zombies. The boys teamed up with all the other baseball players and worked together, beating zombies with bats, baseballs, and other projectiles to get to the truck they were driving illegally to escape from the zombies and hopefully get to safety. In the end, they did make it to safety, but they were in trouble for violating the terms of a contract Rabi and the boys had signed promising to no longer associate themselves with the zombie uprise, and leave it to the guy who made them sign the contract, Mr. Maximillian. He was a very tough guy to beat, wise of fighting for justice, and ensured to the three kids and their families that there was nothing they could do to get out of the legal trouble they were in without losing everything of value that they possess, but Rabi had an idea. Rabi thought that if he told everyone that the whole zombie uprising did not happen, and that it was merely a story, they could get away with everything they did.


In this book, I noticed several connections. In the book, Rabi is accused of playing jokes and lying when telling people about things that may seem impossible, such as the zombie apocalypse. I can relate this to another book I read in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, where the main character tries to tell his friends and others that something really happened, and nobody believes him. In the book, Rabi basically sucks at batting in baseball, and is always teased for it. I can relate because I too have been made fun of and teased for my inabilities. This, in some cases has to do with my inabilities in sports, like Rabi. Lastly, the three boys, right away, wanted to find out what was going on at the factory and meatpacking plant when the big bad smell surfaced. They wanted to find out the cause of the smell, which led to them finding out about the zombie cows. Kids in general can relate to this because many kids are curious about things and want to find out why things happen.


I would recommend this book to people who like stories based off of action, suspense, and thrills. I was definitely thrilled and "hooked" from this book. I found the story very exciting and sometimes funny. There were many moments of excitement, like when the whole crowd became zombies and the remaining humans on the baseball field had to beat a lot of them down in order to get to their truck, beat some more zombies and then escape in effort of finding safety. There were a few jokes in the story that made it funny. With that said, I conclude that if you are person seeking a story of humor, excitement, scares, action, suspense, and thrills, this book is for you.

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review 2016-03-20 15:49
"The Water Knife" by Paolo Bacigalupi - original, brutal and disturbingly plausible
The Water Knife: A novel - Paolo Bacigalupi


In 1986, Marc Reisner's "Cadillac Desert" predicted the disappearance of water  in the American West.


In March 2015 the UN World Water Development Report predicted a 40% shortfall of water globally by 2030, with he US badly affected.


In May 2015, Paolo Bacigalupi brought to life  the consequences of this forseen catastrophic change in his novel "The Water Knife".


Set in Phoenix Arizona in the near future, after most of the water in the American West has disappeared and the rest is being fought over by California and Las Vegas, "The Water Knife" explores the brutal reality of a shift in power that means most people will have the lives they knew ripped away and those who see clearly and act ruthlessly will reshape the world to their benefit.


Those who loved Bacicalupi's "The Windup Girl" will not be surprised by the violent, brutal, desperation that permeates "The Water Knife" but, for me, "The Water Knife" cut deeper. "The Wind Up Girl" was set in the far future, in Bangkok, a city I'm unfamiliar with, so it gave me the luxury of distance. "The Water Knife" is set a few decades away, close enough that I might live to see it, and it takes place in places that I've been to many times, so, to me, "The Water Knife" reads not as science fiction but as a chillingly plausible forecast of the near future. I finished reading this book as I arrived in Palo Alto, where even my taxi driver was talking about whether El Nino would bring enough rain to end California's record drought. I didn't have the heart to tell him that the estimates I've seen would require the existing record for rain to be exceeded by twenty percent for that to happen.


"The Water Knife" is a gripping thriller, not a dry political commentary. The book hooked me because Paolo Bacigalupi is a "show, don't tell" kind of writer. He doesn't use the authorial voice to lecture or even to explain. He lets us experience the new reality of a water-starved Phoenix through the eyes of a broad cast of characters caught up in different ways in the consequences  of the a struggle over water rights that is edging its way towards civil war. 


We see Lucy, an out-of-state, pulitzer-winning journalist, covering Phoenix as if it were a war zone; pushing her way relentlessly through the victims of torture, murder and exploitation made up mostly of Texan refugees and people who have spoken too loudly about the misdeeds of the powerful, as she slowly realises that she cannot stand outside of what she is seeing, that she has "gone native" and must now live with the consequences.


We see Maria, a young Texan refugee who, despite being brave, intelligent, and resourceful cannot escape Pheonix and is constantly being beaten down and chewed up by the people around her.


We see calm, clever, ruthless Catherine Case, head of the South West Nevada Water Authority, who understood the new reality early:

"Some people had to bleed so other people could drink." 

She set about ensuring that Las Vegas would not die of thirst: creating the arcologies that, in the hands of another writer, might rescue the world but which Bacigalupi sees as being havens of luxury for the rich, and she recruits "Water Knives", covert agents who use any means necessary to get more water rights for Nevada and protect its borders from the dust storm of thirst-driven refugees from Texas and Arizona.


Finally, we see Angel Velasquez, the Water Knife of the title, who Catherine Case sends to Pheonix to find out what is going wrong with her covert operations there and who ends up chasing game-changing water rights. Angel is a fascinating character, a fatalistic man, capable being ruthlessly violent to get the job done, but who is also capable of acts of kindness to strangers and loyalty to those he admires.


Bacigalupi brings these characters together in tense, hard-hitting thriller, that works independently of the broader political and ecological themes of the novel because he keeps the focus on how people under severe threat make their choices. 


Maria, the youngest character, has truly terrible things happen to her, yet she persists in trying to make it through, because she accepts that she has to see the world clearly and deal with it as it is. She is disdainful of the adults around her who are blinded by their desire for the world to return to the way it used to be.


Lucy, the journalist, is forced to confront first her own immersion in the events she set out to record and comment on and second her own vulnerability in the face of the right threats.


Angel, the Water Knife, has long-since accepted the likelihood of his own violent death yet moves through the world, doing what needs to be done with neither animosity nor hesitation, striving to live to enjoy whatever he can.


Paulo Bacigalupi writes with wonderful clarity and an emotional impact that comes from truthfulness. The truth about the world he is describing in "The Water Knife" is almost unbearably brutal and cruel. No one escapes undamaged and the damage is described with a degree of detail that is nauseating at times. We see torture, murder, enforced prostitution, mutilation, and ritualised punishment up so close that I it seemed the stink of it was on my skin and in my hair. There were points where I wondered if I could persist with this journey through gore, despair and betrayal.  I kept waiting for redemption and it kept not arriving. 


Then the penny dropped. What I was seeing wasn't gratuitous, it was simply honest. Everything that was described is being done regularly somewhere in the world today. My repugnance and revulsion where a necessary part of understanding the grim realities of this place. My desire for redemption, my hope that the author would somehow raise his characters up above their situation, was an analog of the adults in Maria's world not being able to see reality clearly enough to make valid decisions. 


"The Water Knife" is a grim, difficult, disturbing book because that is the nature of the world being described. There are no heroes, just people trying to do what they can with what they have in a world that doesn't care about them or what they want.


I listened to the audiobook version of "The Water Knife" and I was deeply impressed by Almarie Guerra's performance. She has an incredible range and hit each scene perfectly. She's now on my list of must-listen-to narrators.


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review 2016-02-07 22:49
Review: The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl was an interesting story and the setting was fairly unique in my experience. It’s set in Thailand, in a dystopian-type future, featuring genetic manipulation and political maneuvering. There are four main point-of-view characters, each of which are mostly focused on their own concerns and are trying to achieve a goal that’s important to them, either for the betterment of themselves or for the betterment of a certain group of people.


The world-building was well done and I found the setting easy to visualize. The characters were believable and interesting, although I liked some more than others. There were a couple I liked for different reasons, one I really disliked, and one I couldn’t make up my mind about. Later on in the story, a previously-introduced character is elevated to the status of a point-of-view character. I liked that character pretty well also.


My interest fluctuated throughout the book, although it stayed consistently high during the middle. The story took a while to build up and then the later parts triggered my “too much chaos, just kill them all” reaction. I get that reaction sometimes when events in a story seem to have turned into such a huge unrecoverable mess that I just don’t care what happens anymore. I did actually like the way things turned out at the end of the book, though. It wasn’t a super happy ending, but I knew better than to expect one after reading the author’s anthology Pump Six and Other Stories last November.


A couple of the short stories in that anthology are set in this same world, before the events in this book. They aren’t at all necessary to read in order to enjoy The Windup Girl, but I think they did affect how I saw things while reading this book and added a little more depth.

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review 2016-01-12 00:00
The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi Bacigalupi envisions a bleak world here. Not only have oil reserves dwindled to almost nothing, companies went too far a generation or two back and lost control of a plague that poisons food crops. In due course animal populations have plummeted. Its called the Contraction, and the world has indeed shrank in population and land as water levels continue to rise.

The book is set in Thailand. Bangkok survives by way of a dam and pump system that keeps the ocean at bay, but the government is corrupt, its departments warring with each other in the name of the future security of the country. Imports are strictly limited and the country survives because it has the ability to engineer safe crops for its people. This is coming to an end as the Trade Ministry gains ascendancy over Environment. Captain Jaidee will stop at nothing to ensure that Thailand remains free of foreign interference. Anderson Lake represents that interferance. He is an undercover 'calorie man' looking for fresh seedstock so AgriGen, a company that caused the food problem, can generate new disease-resistant crops to people and enormous profits for themselves. Hock Seng, a scheming and often desperate Chinese refugee working in Lake's sham of a factory, Jaidee's Lieutenant Kanya, and Emiko the wind-up girl herself make up the principle cast.

All of the characters, even those seemingly secure in their priviledge, are caught up in their circumstances and seem to have their backs against a wall. What they're seeking isn't mundane but life or death. Every chapters has the characters inwardly cursing their fate and scrabbling their nails bloody against their schackles. And yet, there's not much emotion here. Other reviewers have commented on that. There are some awful things written here. Horrific circumstances where I was grateful for the narrative distance (a first person perspective would have made me give up the book in despair, probably), but it would have been nice to be able to have some connection to them.

In spite of that I admire this vision of the future complete with its grim review of the consequences of genetic engineering. Bacigalupi fails to account for the lack of sources of energy besides the kink-springs, but as a reader I was willing to go with the information given. This book took awhile to grab me, I put it aside for weeks at a time I think, but when it did get me, I couldn't stop reading it. I understand why it has been showered with so much praise and why a sequel hasn't emerged yet.
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