The Windup Girl
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Publisher: Night Shade Books (originally published 2009)
Awards: Hugo and Nebula Award for Best Novel
You can hear the roar of the megodonts; smell the rotting algae; feel the heat of the wind-up girl’s skin; and see the fear and anxiousness in the faces of the Thai people as they live a life under the brutal thumbs of two warring factions: the Environment Ministry and the Trade Ministry. The setting of Thailand is hot, steamy, hungry, threatened by rising seas, overcrowded, angry and ripe for revolution and chaos. This book is not pretty: it’s cruel, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s harsh. The characters are devious, but ultimately pawns for those in power. Social hierarchy is defined, not by wealth, popularity, gender or race – it’s by power and power alone.
When all is said and done, there is one big theme that goes through this book: that of survival. Each element of the book deals with this very issue, from the ultimate survival of the human race in a hostile world, to the immediate survival of several characters who are neck deep in political and economic conspiracy to the various branches of government who want to see their vision of the future for their country to survive the coming turmoil.
What truly stands out for this book is the rich detail and fantastic prose. What Bacugalupi puts together is a superior story, one of the best science fiction novels that I have read in a long time, one that takes the best from well thought out characters, possible economics and science and a complicated story.
And complicated it is. From the very start the reader is thrust into a foreign time and place. Several times I needed to search Google or Wikipedia to see if what I was reading was true or came from the creative mind of Bacigalupi. Being unaccustomed to the culture of Thailand, it was like I was plunged into the middle of Bangkok without a translator, without a tour book and without any money.
Add into the mix being flung into a future (23rd Century) where the Corporate Agriculture giants of the world gene splice seeds and have unwittingly unleased viruses that attack vegetation, often causing their extinction: dying trees, no fresh vegetables, no nightshades, no fruits. Countries like Thailand seal their borders, employ their own gene splicers and create genetically modified seeds in the hopes of combating the viruses. Elsewhere in the world, countries fall and corporate agriculture companies rule, providing the latest in modified (and sterile) seeds to those with deep pockets or seed vaults.
Man’s desire to play god with nature doesn’t stop at food. Stories-high Megodonts, genetically modified elephants, help provide energy in a world where carbon emissions are heavily taxed and banned. Bikes, fans and machines work on kink springs, using energy based on the premise that once something is wound, it releases energy when it unwinds. Animal species, like Cheshire Cats, Attack Dogs, Megodonts.. and human-like people “created” through gene hacking are derogatorily called Wind-ups.
About two thirds of the way through this book I had to reluctantly return the digital version back to the library and wait about two weeks for it to be available once more. At first I was a little upset, but was then grateful for the respite. You need to take a breather from this book. It allows for a little retrospection and lets you regroup for the ending. You will need it.
When all is said and done, this book will haunt you.
The Windup Girl is what science fiction is all about. I enthusiastically recommend this novel. 5 stars out of 5.