I almost finished the book I was struggling with, last month: "The Windup Girl". I got to what I assumed was the climax, found that I still didn't care, and threw the book on the floor. I skipped the last 20 pages.
If you plan to read it, you should probably stop here.
The setting is Bangkok, in the distant future, when global warming has turned the world into a steamy nightmare, and genetically engineered viruses ravage crops and humans alike. Because burning fossil fuels is tightly restricted, most energy comes from stored mechanical power (ex. springs, wound by animals and people). Burning anything is nearly sinful; people are aghast at the waste and the pollution, when they see diesel trucks in the street, for example. And so even guns are powered by springs; and they shoot little metal discs. I imagine those cheap plastic disc guns which were so flimsy and inaccurate that I couldn't help but snicker every time a character in the story is faced with the metal version (those little plastic discs would randomly arc all over the place). But people still use natural gas for cooking, so... well, I don't know what that's about. Didn't care, either.
Everyone counts calories: calories generated by animals, calories used in running a computer, calories generated by fuel, calories wasted using fuel in extravagant ways, etc. - calories in the unit of energy sense, not in the watching your weight sense, obviously. And, inexplicably, there is no solar power, in Thailand. They can make springs to store calories which are so strong that they need to be wound by teams of animals, but they can't make a solar panel. Giant elephant-like creatures turn spindles to wind springs, and computers are powered by hand-cranks. But, no solar power. And there are dirigibles, of course. Because nothing says "cutting edge sci-fi" like dirigibles, these days. (I wish I was making that up).
Plot? A bunch of seemingly-unrelated stories eventually converge because of the Windup Girl. There's political scheming, industrial espionage, class struggles, war, disease, lots of Thai words to puzzle out, everybody is an asshole. Buncha stuff happens, I never cared.
I hated all the characters except for the Windup Girl herself, and she's a walking tragedy: a genetically-engineered super-Geisha who ends up as an indentured sex toy for a sleazy club owner, and whose daily routine consists of being raped on-stage while drunks cheer, and dreaming of running North to where the climate suits her sweat-free skin. See, as a super-Geisha (a "windup", because of her stylized mahcine-like movements), she's been engineered and trained to want to please her master, all the time, in any way she can, selflessly. So, her employer / slave master has her starring in a sex show where she gets raped on stage, every day, by giant jade penises, and drunken Thai businessmen, and all sorts of other degrading shit. But she just has to love it 'cause she has to please her master! He gives her ice chips, which keeps her from dying of hyperthermia. Quite the saint. Well, finally she snaps and kills a bunch of people, then spends the rest of the book (at least until I gave up) on the run in a city that wants her dead because she's considered a sub-human, and because she killed someone important (not nice, just important) - because the guy was raping her. So, I hated the whole fucking city and was happy to see it get flattened in a coup.
Everybody else in the book is trying to pull something over one someone else; they're all horrid in their own way. But the character I hated the most was a kickboxing, over-earnest militia leader named "Jaidee". Every time he spoke, I got an image of an anime superhero: spiky hair and huge eyes, speaking in badly-translated cliches - one fist in the air, mouth flapping. He's cocky and over-reaching, and, is driven by revenge for his kidnapped (and presumably dead) wife. He's so grief-stricken that he spends his days strutting around, running a lucrative protection racket with his army of white-shirted followers, from whom he apparently withholds their fair share of the collections. Another true saint. Thankfully, about halfway through the book, he was brutally tortured and killed. And I sighed deeply. But, the author never stopped talking about him, and, encouraged by the attention, he returned as a ghost and haunted me, and his former second in command, for the rest of the story, with a stream of unsolicited advice and wisecracking aphorisms. His very first scene is what prompted me to write that first post on this book; I couldn't believe how much I hated him and his horrible dialogue - so much cliche.
Then there was a scheming Chinese guy who schemed to steal spring tech from his employer, and a couple of scheming western neo-colonial agribusinessmen ("caloriemen", I shit you not) who schemed to overthrow the government so they could sell seeds or whatever, and Jaidee's scheming lieutenant double-agent who schemed and spent half the book being tormented by Jaidee's mosquito-in-the-ear ghost. Everything worked out for them, I think. I don't care. Whatever.
I can't believe this thing got so much praise. Maybe I need to avoid SF for a while until this grimy, retro-future tech fad wears off. Next book that talks about blimps is gonna get thrown out immediately.