May Books 13) The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
Emiko, the girl of the title, is an artificial human being of a near-future world ravaged by agricultural disaster, created as an escort for a Japanese businessman and abandoned by him in Thailand. She, like all her kind, is easily identifiable by her jerky body movements, and is subject to instant destruction at the whim of the law (not to mention the risks of metabolic overheating). Her personal dilemma, trading her body for self-preservation, intersects with a political and environmental crisis in Thailand, with fairly catastrophic consequences. It is a fast-paced book which beat out Miéville's The City & The City for the Nebula, and I'll find it difficult to choose; while Bacigalupi's vision is less audacious, he carries it off rather more consistently. Some nasty sex and violence so not for all readers.
It was a bit odd to read this as the tense situation in Thailand continued to develop during the week - almost life imitating art, though no senior government officials have yet met sticky ends in dubious circunstamces.
May Books 14) The Women of Nell Gwynne's, by Kage Baker
The women of Nell Gwynne's are high class prostitutes in a mildly steampunkish Victorian England, advanced technology limited to one or two mad scientists either in or out of government service. They are called to entertain a party of foreign agents bidding for a secret invention. High jinks ensue. Baker catches the Victorian idiom better than some who have tried (thinking indeed of Cherie Priest), and her Lady Beatrice is admirably spunky, but this isn't awfully deep stuff (and neither really is the other Hugo nominee I have already read in this category). Still, God bless the Hugo Voters Package for making it available; it was published separately by Subterranean Press. Unfortunately the author is unlikely to be on future Hugo or Nebula ballots.
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