Wednesday, 1 August 2012

'The Windup Girl' by Paolo Bacigalupi

I've been a little MIA of late due to getting to grips with a new job and watching the Olympics here in the UK non stop. I've just finished The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, and that is what I'm reviewing today. Next up for review will be the Song of Ice and Fire books. I want advice- should I review as a whole series, book by book in one post? Or do a separate post on each book? Let me know in the comments please. Thanks!

The Windup Girl has won numerous awards so I had high hopes for it, despite being a genre that I haven't tried before. The genre is described as bio steam punk. Bacigalupi is well known for Ship Breaker which I have on my lengthy books to buy list. 

What's it about?
 I'm going to include more background than usual, describing the world and the plot.  I think Wikipedia does a good job at setting the scene:
'The Windup Girl is set in 23rd century Thailand. Global warming has raised the levels of world's oceans, carbon fuel sources have become depleted, and manually wound springs are used as energy storage devices. Biotechnology is dominant and mega corporations like AgriGen, PurCal and RedStar (called calorie companies) control food production through 'genehacked' seeds, and use bioterrorism, private armies and economic hitmen to create markets for their products. Frequent catastrophes, such as deadly and widespread plagues and illness, caused by genetically modified crops and mutant pests, ravage entire populations. The natural genetic seed stock of the world's plants has been almost completely supplanted by those that are genetically engineered to be sterile. The current monarch of Thailand is a child queen. The capital city is below sea level and is protected from flooding by levees and pumps.'

That's the background, now what about the plot? This is from Amazon:

'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. 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?'

What did I think of it? 
I found that it took me a long time to get into this book. It throws you in at the deep end, in the middle of a world you know nothing about. Frequent use of foreign, non translated languages in the inital chapters made it tough to understand what was happening. So many new concepts are thrown your way in the first few chapters, it all becomes rather bewildering and not overly enjoyable.  The Windup Girl is set in the same world as Bacigalupi's short story The Calorie Man and The Yellowcard Man, which I didn't realise when I began this book. I'm not sure if reading those short stories would have helped me to get into the story faster or not. I did find that by around chapter 10, I was starting to get into the plot, but it is a slow plot builder. For a long while you just have lots of questions and not many answers in terms of where the plot may be going. This was a disappointment for me, as I struggled at the beginning not to give up on this book. I'm glad I didn't, but it wasn't immediate enjoyment, which I think is important for books. 

The book is told by five narrators- Anderson Lake (the calorie man), Emiko (the Windup girl), Jaidee (a captain of the whiteshirts), Kanya (whiteshirt) and Hock Seng (a yellowcard). I enjoyed all the narrators once I managed to get my head into the world that Bacigalupi created. I personally found Anderson and Emiko the most compelling, and I cared the most for their stories and well being. Emiko was fascinating to me; it was highly enjoyable learning about the attitudes to windups, the mindset of the windups themselves. Hock Seng wasn't overly likeable at the beginning, but I found I did start to root for him in as the plot continued and I came to understand him a little better.

Once the plot got going I found myself quite absorbed by the story, intrigued as to what was going to happen, as it was very slowly unveiled. I also thought the world that Bacigalupi described was incredibly interesting. It raised lots of questions about the ethics of the world and the dangers of the future. It paints a very depressing picture of the future!  The whole gene hack and genetic engineering was interesting, especially the windups who have a large  design faults and are sterile to stop them taking over from humans. The whole future that Bacigalupi envisioned was very clever, and I plan to read Ship Breaker and quite possibly Bacigalupi's short stories too.


Goodreads Reading Challenge
This book is number 8 out of 50


  1. sounds interesting. **New Follower**

    1. It is a very interesting world to immerse yourself in. Thanks for the follow :)