The Windup Girl


With everything that has been said regarding Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, I was certainly expecting a quality read. Yet it's much more than that. Simply put, The Windup Girl could well be the finest science fiction novel of the year.

Here's the blurb:

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history's lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko...
Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism's genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? In The Windup Girl, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi returns to the world of "The Calorie Man" ( Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winner, Hugo Award nominee, 2006) and "Yellow Card Man" (Hugo Award nominee, 2007) in order to address these poignant questions.

The worldbuilding was impeccable. I was fascinated with the way Bacigalupi portrayed a dystopian Bangkok and the rest of Southeast Asia. How the entire world is in a desperate struggle for survival against rising sea levels and climate changes, as well as the devastation caused by deadly crop mutations forcing millions of people to starve and die of hunger or disease. The author paints a very grim picture concerning the inevitable bleak future that our corporate and mass-consumption world will lead us to. The post-oil worl was another engrossing aspect of The Windup Girl, with power being provided by human labor and genetically engineered animals. Thailand, the main environment in which the story occurs, has remained more or less independent by maintaining an unflagging isolationist policy, which has so far enabled the country to stay ahead of the global agricultural corporations that control the worldwide economy.

The characterization is top notch with three-dimensional characters throughout. The Windup Girl is comprised of several POV characters, thus allowing the reader to see events unfold through the eyes of a number of disparate characters with conflicting agendas. Though Emiko, the titular character, often takes center stage, various others such as Hock Seng, Anderson Lake, Jaidee, and Kanya play major roles throughout the book. Witnessing the conflict between the Environmental Ministry and the Trade Ministry through the eyes of protagonists on both sides of the problem was quite interesting.

Although the pace of the novel is never brisk, Paolo Bacigalupi's sucks you right into this disconcerting dystopian tale from the very beginning. Enthralling, The Windup Girl doesn't let up till you reach the end, which should make you beg for more.

If you are looking for an intelligent and thought-provoking read, enter this post-globalisation world in which calorie companies control the economy with their manufactured sterile crops. But Thailand possesses a priceless resource that Western interests will stop at nothing to find: a secret genebank composed of countless strains of crops that could be used to combat the numerous plagues and perhaps help put an end to world hunger. And at the heart of this story lie an American calorie man, a Japanese genetically engineered young woman, and an old Yellow Card Man who lost everything when Muslim fundamentalists overran his country.

Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl is an absorbing read. It does for Southeast Asia what Ian McDonald's River of God did to a not-so-distant in the future India.

One of the top SFF reads of 2009!

The final verdict: 8.25/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

9 commentaires:

atsiko said...

8.25 isn't bad, but I can't help but wonder why the book got that score when you haven't pointed to anything that lowered it from 10. What are the negatives?

SQT said...

I have been looking at this one... Now I guess I have to buy it.

Colin said...

Showed up in my mail 4 days ago. Thanks Amazon

Jeff said...

I wondered about the 8.25 when you said in your review the book might be the best one you read all year. You have scored other books higher this year.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

I think Pat does it for a laugh... :)

Dream Girlzzz said...

Well, if you must be pedantic, The Windup Girl is the highest rated science fiction novel on Pat's Fantasy Hotlist this year.

The only other scifi book with a higher score was Ian McDonald's Cyberabad Days, and that's a collection of short fiction, not a novel.

Check out Pat's top 10. All the novels that have scored higher than The Windup Girl, other than the McDonald, are from genres other than science fiction.

Just sayin'...

Jeff said...

You're right Mr. Girlzzz. I missed the "science fiction" part of the best statement. That could explain it. Thanks.

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Danmark said...

The Windup Girl is a good book - and definitely keep me engrossed from start to finish. It's an engrossing tale, but not without a few flaws.

As with his book "Ship Breaker" Paolo Bacigalupi has crafted an extremely deep distopian future that he's set his book in. Which I found both good and bad. The good is that it's a truly deep and immersive world that the story is set in. The bad side is that the story jumps right in with an assumption that you already are familiar with the state of the world you find yourself in when you start the story, and the problem is that there's very little explanation in the beginning of what was going on. That's fine if this was a second or even a third book in a series - but it's not. Again as both a positive and a negative there were several events referred to - but were never elaborated. There were several times when this happened that I wanted to scream "TELL ME MORE!"