on April 9, 2012
This is an amazing example of dystopian sci-fi! All the prices and accolades were well deserved!
The story takes place in a pretty post-apocalyptic future Thailand, after genetically engineered food led to new strains of lethal diseases that completely changed the world. The story lines of different characters are cleverly interwoven and give a veiled picture of a highly corrupt and hierarchical society that considers "clean" food items and health regulations as top priorities. The common point between the American rep of one of the big calorie companies, his accountant, a Thai police officer and other minor characters is the wind-up girl, a human-like creature that fascinates and/or repulses everyone. Her actions and the importance she takes in some of the characters lives drive the novel.
I do not want to give anything away, but this was a great read, from the first to the last page! The writing is beautiful and solid. The world created by the author is richly detailed, thought-provoking, and sometimes, creepy in an unnervingly familiar way. I love this book and highly recommend to sci-fi fans, or anyone who enjoys a good dystopian novel.
on January 22, 2011
Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Windup Girl" is a biopunk novel, featuring a dystopic future world where biotech corporations battle for power and money. In this novel, the scene is Thailand, with its government, culture and religion currently controlling the resources that the biotech corporations desire. Bacigalupi has created, in this novel, a detailed and plausible future, though certainly not a future we would like to have, but all too plausible none the less. In this future, mankind seems to be locked in an eternal fight to save itself from the damage it has caused the planet.
In Bacigalupi's dark vision of the future, the biotech companies, or calorie companies as they are called, control the food production and use their power and influence to try to force politicians and agencies to do their bidding. One of these companies is AgriGen, and its representative is Anderson Lake, one of the key characters of the novel. Lake is in charge of a factory, but that is a cover for his real mission, which is to gain access to the Thai seedbank. Another key character is the title character, i.e. The Windup Girl, who is known by the name Emiko. She is one of those beings referred to as "New People" that were developed by the Japanese, in her case for sex.
The Thai society is also a key element in this story, as the politics surrounding the current child monarch queen shape everything that occurs in the story. There are the Trade Ministry and the Environment Ministry battling for power, and groups like the White Shirts who are a constant threat to anyone and anything which is perceived to be a corrupting foreign influence is a potential target for them. There are also the Green Headbands who never make an appearance in the novel, but who are referred to. Paolo Bacigalupi also provides some understanding of the rest of the world of the 23rd Century and how his Thailand fits into it, is influenced by it, and fights against its influence.
I certainly cannot do justice to the intricate plot of the story, or attempt to cover all its many plots and subplots in a review, but Anderson Lake's infatuation with Emiko and the effects from his interactions with her is the catalyst for much of what happens in this novel. While there is a lot to take in from the start of the book, the reader will pick up on the terms used in the novel, such as blister rust, Yellow cards, etc. fairly quickly, and be engrossed in the story as well. Lastly, but far from least, are the characters. Far beyond the two I have mentioned, this novel is filled with distinct characters who are multi-dimensioned and believable because they suffer from the same flaws and motivations that people do today.
This novel tied in winning the 2010 Hugo, won the 2010 Nebula, and the Campbell Memorial award. It also placed 15th on the 2010 Locus awards for SF Novels, and won the 2010 Locus award for first novel, also winning the 2010 Compton Crook / Stephen Tall Memorial award and finished 2nd on the SF Site Readers' Poll. Even Time named it one of the best novels of the year. "The Windup Girl" is a tremendous work, and one can only hope that Bacigalupi continues to develop stories like this for the future he has created. If you don't like biopunk/cyberpunk, then perhaps this isn't a book you would enjoy, but on the other hand, this may be a good book to give the genre another chance.
on August 2, 2010
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!
After having read the first three chapters of this book I was well prepared to give it a far less than favorable review. At that point the characters were too complex, the setting was far too alien, the plot line seemed muddled and the the author's insistence on introducing a new language was highly disturbing. But, alas, I stuck it out and am very glad I did.
Ultimately, this is one dynamite science fiction thriller. The topics that are explored are nearly boundless. Robotics, environmental disasters, evolution, gene manipulation, bio-terrorism, inane power struggles, the superficiality of religious groups and man's innate instinct for greed are but a few of the topics. The author weaves these important themes into an array that is not only spell-binding but, in the end, offers a view of future morality that confirms out everyday striving to a higher set of principles.
If you buy this book, simply 'hang in there' for a number of seemingly disjointed pages. The struggle will be well worth it.
on August 2, 2010
Paolo Bacigalupi is a relatively new name in the genre, but obviously one to pay close attention to. His debut, The Windup Girl, won first the Nebula for best novel, and then - just a few days ago - the Locus for best debut novel. It is also a finalist for the Hugo, and in my personal opinion fully deserves to win.
The Windup Girl is a "biopunk" story, set in a world where Global Warming has raised the sea levels and Carbon fuel sources are almost depleted. Biotechnology is the dominant science, and its forerunners are the "Calorie Companies" - megacorporations that control most of the world through the iron grip of food production. No natural sources of food could survive the engineered plagues and pests that ravage the ecosystem, and only the Calorie Companies have the knowledge and resources to stay ahead of unstoppable mutations, various new strains and their rivals' newest bio-threats. To add insult to injury, most of those threats are deadly to humans as well, and so people live in constant fear of plague and starvation.
The story is set in the city of Bangkok in the Thai Kingdom - one of the last countries thriving without the help of the Calorie Companies whose representatives are forbidden to set foot on its soil. The Thai possess an unimaginable treasure - a seedbank holding specimens of the extinct natural flora - and the megacorporations want to get their hands on this genetic wealth. But the triumvirate running the Kingdom - the Somdet Chaopraya, regent of the Child Queen; General Pracha, head of the Environmental Ministry; and Akkarat, leader of the Trade Ministry - are holding the threats at bay.
Into this tapestry are woven the stories of five characters. Anderson Lake, an agent of one of the Calorie Companies, trying to find a way into the seedbank; Hock Seng, an illegal "yellow card" immigrant - survivor of the Malaysian purge of the ethnic Chinese - who works as Lake's secretary in the factory he uses for a cover; Jaidee Rojjanasukchai, the "Tiger of Bangkok", an idealist captain of the White Shirts (the enforcement wing of the Environmental Ministry), who becomes involved in the intrigues between General Pracha and Minister Akkarat; his lieutenant and protegee, Kanya, who is not what she seems to be. And the Windup Girl herself - Emiko - a Japanese "New People" construct, the product of a race that grows its soldiers, workers, secretaries and geishas in vats. Called "Windups" because of the tell-tale stutter-stop motions built in their genomes, the New People are the spine of Japanese economy. Bred to be the perfect secretary and companion, Emiko serves her master unquestioningly, her whole being designed to be submissive. But when it turns out that a ticket for her return trip to Japan would cost more than for her master to just buy a new secretary when he gets home, she is abandoned in Bangkok - a place where her very existence is an abomination, where she hasn't even got the right to live, and where her extremely smooth, almost pore-less skin leads to constant overheating. Her condition is exploited by a man named Rileigh, who uses her as entertainment in his brothel.
Their stories intertwine, while building tensions threaten to drown the city in a civil war between the warring factions of the government. Bacigalupi paints a picture of an irreparably damaged world that tries to get back on its feet while malicious forces strive to control the lives of billions with biotechnological monopoly. After the "Contraction", following the collapse of Western Civilization, the time has come for a new Expansion, and the Calorie Companies would direct it if given the chance. But evolution has taken a new course, and in this ever changing nightmarish reality the only ones who cling to the old order are the humans themselves.
The Windup Girl is a warning environmental tale of what could happen after the depletion of fossil fuels, and where development of bioengineering may lead us. Not all technologies are overly believable (the kink-springs for example take some disbelief suspending), and most characters give out mixed signals to say the least (when they aren't outright scheming opportunists), but somehow it all works in concert with the magnificent world-building, making Bacigalupi's debut novel a brilliant work of Science Fiction, and one that really deserves all the praise it's been getting.
on March 26, 2010
Windup Girl is the first novel by Paulo Bacigalupi. After reading this book, I have become an instant fan of his work, and look forward to his follow up. Windup Girl is imaginative, and extremely well written. The Thai terms, and some sci-fi jargon make the first few chapters a bit of a challenge, but once you get into the story, it moves along quickly.
on April 6, 2010
Plot, characters, setting--awesome on all counts. A challenging read at the beginning, but the rewards are many, up until the very strong ending. This novel has been nominated for the upcoming Nebula Award. Past the first 25 pages or so, I found it extremely hard to put down. Couldn't find anything weak in it. I won't forget those characters.
on October 11, 2011
This is a very detailed and believable future world. It might not appeal to hard sci-fi fans but it is self-consistent. The only thing that bothered me was the spring energy storage mechanisms which for some reason needed algae in the manufacturing process...but that doesn't detract from the excellent story about genetic engineering, invasive species and the limits of the biosphere to provide calories.
on December 29, 2010
I bought this book based on an Amazon recommendation so I had no idea of what to expect. The book is somewhat painful to read, as many or most of the characters spend most of the book suffering through traumatic experiences, but the quality of the writing, and the very appropriate ending make it worthwhile. A deeply thought out masterpiece.
on July 28, 2015
Fantastic. Very much like a Phillip K. Dick story. The author paints a vivid and personal picture of life in Bangkok in a bustling future.