Book Snob Reviews – The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi – Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Undercover 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; she is an engineered being, crèche-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? Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.
The Windup Girl was not an easy book to read. I’ve read a number of negative reviews of this book and while I don’t agree I understand how this happened. I couldn’t read more than 3 or 4 chapters at a time without my ears starting to leak gray matter. But please, don’t let that stop you. The Windup Girl is both terrifying and hopeful, devastating and beautiful. The dichotomy of humanity has never been captured as well as Bacigalupi did in here.
I’ve talked a lot in the past about world building and how a quality book, especially sci-fi, doesn’t stop at location. A quality book builds a world using history, anthropology, science, sociology, genetics, religion and politics. All of these factors exist in The Windup Girl and more. Bacigalupi tackles biology, evolution, family and the essential question of what it means to be human.
Strangely, the most human character in the entire book is the one who is considered to not have a soul. Emiko is a Windup, one of the New People, built and bred for specific purposes. The society of The Windup Girl is obsessed with Niche. Everyone has a place and in a time when resources are scarce and hope is extinct, clinging to ones role is what keeps order and sanity in an insane world. Emiko’s Niche is as a servant. Bred to obey, designed to give and experience pleasure, her innocence and crisis of self is the most engaging of the plots. However, without the others her story would lack the context which makes it so powerful and heartbreaking.
While The Windup Girl is a fictional novel speculating on the future of the world if we continue to mess with the genes of our food it’s one that feels very familiar. It isn’t hard to imagine a world where rickshaw’s replace cars because there is no fuel left, or where carbon emission allotments are sold on the black market to the highest bidder. The threat of a virus or strain of an illness which we cannot defeat is in the back of our minds already. Antibiotic resistant strep and recalled Cantaloupe already infect our modern world. Take that reality to the extreme and you have Bacigalupi’s novel.
For my part I was exceptionally happy with The Windup Girl. It was a full story, that surprised and challenged with uncomfortable questions on the nature of humanity. Bacigalupi used every resource the writer has available, from research to religion to pure fantasy, to create something completely original. I highly recommend this novel to everyone.
Oh and because I’m an Indie Author and I’m so sick of hearing about typos I’d like to point out that this Hugo Award winning, Nebula Prize novel had a number of typos, specifically on pages 276 and 307. My favorite was: “The scooter slews to a stop and she hops down.” Guess what word he meant. So the next time you find an error or two in a self published novel consider this before you blast it all over the internet.