I'm torn about this book. While I was in the act of reading it, it was a gripping story that kept me frantically turning pages, anxious to find out what would happen next.
Whenever I had to set it aside, though, and my head cleared a little, my suspension of disbelief rapidly plummeted. Look, I fully believe we will one day reach peak oil. Our children (or our children's children) will have less energy than we do today, and it will have to come from alternate sources.
But I cannot, even squinting sideways through a filter of beautiful prose, bring myself to believe that the primary source will be . . . genetically modified elephants. A few of them for flavor wouldn't bother me. Anderson's factory isn't supposed
to be particularly efficient. He wants to use elephants? Fine, he can use elephants.
But that no one--no one
--in the book uses, considers, or discusses water, wind, or solar power? (There's a brief mention of Chinese dam building, but it's unclear if they're doing that for hydroelectric purposes or simply to preserve their water supply.) It beggars belief. There's a bit where one of the characters is speculating on how the Japanese are powering their factories, since they don't contract with the giant elephant union. I spent the entire scene muttering, "solar, solar, solar!"--only, of course, to be proven incorrect.
(And for god's sake, why spring guns? There is nothing about gunpowder that requires petroleum, or even high technology.)
It's particularly unfortunate because the other half of The Windup Girl
's science fictional universe--the plagues and crop failures and agricultural companies that rule with iron fists--does read as plausible to me. And combined with the intricate political maneuverings and intriguing, if not sympathetic, characters, it would have been more than enough on its own to carry the book.
Alas, we're stuck with the elephants trampling through things. Good thing the rest of it is so damn impressive.