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The Windup Girl

Paolo Bacigalupi

Average Review Rating Average Rating 7/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Orbit

Published : 2010

Copyright : Paolo Bacigalupi 2009

ISBN-10 : PB 0-356-50053-5
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-356-50053-9

Publisher's Write-Up

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's calorie representative in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, he combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs long thought to be extinct. There he meets the windup girl - the beautiful and enigmatic Emiko - now abandoned to the slums. She is one of the New People, bred to suit the whims of the rich. Engineered as slaves, soldiers and toys, they are the new underclass in a chilling near future where oil has run out, calorie companies dominate nations and bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

And as Lake becomes increasingly obsessed with Emiko, conspiracies breed in the heat and political tensions threaten to spiral out of control. Businessmen and ministry officials, wealthy foreigners and landless refugees all have their own agendas. But no one anticipates the devastating influence of the Windup Girl.

About the Author:
Paolo Bacigalupi is a multiple award-winning SF author whose debut The Windup Girl has been one of the most acclaimed novels in this area to appear in recent years. He also writes critically acclaimed, award-winning short stories in addition to novel length fiction. Paolo currently lives in Western Colorado with his wife and son.

'An astounding novel.'


'The pace of the book is fast and relentless. It is a dark vision; the violence is minutely described, the sex scenes are brutal and there are few redeeming characters. As a portrait of a world far from our own but not unrecognisably so, it is finely done.'

Times Literary Supplement
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Reader Reviews

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Review by Matt Brown (300612) Rating (7/10)

Review by Matt Brown
Rating 7/10
In the far-flung future of The Windup Girl, every environmentalist in history has been proven right and humanity's own hubris has brought it to the edge of extinction. Oil and coal are extravagant rarities, rising tides brought on by global warming threaten many of the world's cities, and genetically engineered wildlife and plagues have brought ecosystems to the brink of collapse. This brings us to Bangkok, capital of the Kingdom of Thailand, beset on all sides by flood, famine and plague, and housing constant political turmoil between the warring Trade and Environment Ministries.

Dwelling in this fragile city is the titular Windup Girl herself. Emiko is an artificially created 'New Person', genetically engineered in Japan as a futuristic geisha/secretary/concubine before being abandoned in Thailand by her master. Burdened with pores too narrow for the tropical climate, jerky, stutter-stop movement and a genetic imperative to serve, Emiko is shunned by the superstitious locals and forced to eke out an existence as a combination freak-show and prostitute in one of the city's seedy sex dens.

The intriguing "bio-punk" premise at the heart of Paolo Bacigalupi's debut has often seen him compared to sci-fi great and cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson, and in his well thought out futurism, full of everything from genetically engineered elephants to kinetic spring-driven machines and weapons, he is certainly deserving of the praise.

The futuristic vision of Bangkok is elaborate and intensely detailed, and it is here that The Windup Girl really shines. The city is so well realised that you can practically hear the hubbub of the market sprawl and taste the scent of fish frying on illegally tapped blue methane stoves.

The combined forces of flood, disease, starvation and energy crisis threating Thailand and the rest of the world likewise feel well-realised, and not only plausible but worryingly likely. Better yet, the various man-made crises are successfully sold as well thought out speculation, rather than coming off as the belligerent eco-crusading which has been increasingly in fashion in recent years. Unfortunately, while The Windup Girl succeeds in creating a remarkably vivid sci-fi world, it falls somewhat short in creating characters or a narrative to match.

Emiko herself cuts a sympathetically melancholy figure, alongside her interesting genetic status, but unfortunately she is forced to share the spotlight with much less remarkable fare. Co-lead Anderson Lake is a 'calorie man' for AgriGen, one of the American agricultural giants that control the fate of nations with their bio-engineered food supplies. Posing as a wealthy factory owner in Bangkok, Lake is secretly scouring the city for new genetic material, tracking down a rogue genetic engineering genius, and colluding in a coup on behalf of his paymasters.

For all of his international-man-of-mystery potential, he sadly turns out to be quite dull. His motivations and drives are never revealed, ultimately leaving us with little reason to care about him, despite his portentous goals.

Elsewhere we are joined by the paranoid and wily Hong-Seng, an elderly Chinese refugee forced to flee ethnic cleaning in neighbouring Malaysia, as well as Jaidee, the impulsive and indomitable captain of the Environment Ministry's white shirt enforcers, and his dour second-in-command Kanya. This desperate collection is far more relatable and interesting than Lake, but is unfortunately vying for centre stage means no one ever really given the space to see their narratives through satisfyingly.

Eventually the same attention to detail that enriches the book's world also gums up the narrative works and give it a similar stutter-stop pace to Emiko herself. Following a slow opening, I also eventually felt ready to be finished with book about half way through - long before its slow-burning tale of political intrigue had even really gotten started. Bacigalupi has previously penned several short stories, and The Windup Girl feels more like a collection of these than a single coherent narrative.

Nevertheless, The Windup Girl is one of the most original and inventive sci-fi I to have appeared in some years and is well worth picking up for anyone in the mood for a fresh and well thought out look into the future.
Matt Brown (30th June 2012)

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