The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Night Shade Books, San Francisco, 2009

Borrowed from the library.

I’m not sure how to describe this book.  Speculative fiction?  Science fiction literature? Genre lines are beginning to blur all over the place.  I stand up and cheer.  Maybe it is because I have read science fiction since I got my first library card and have always been angered by the very high walls separating “genre” fiction from “true” literature.

The Windup Girl takes place in a future very easy to imagine.  Paolo Bacigalupi has a deep understanding of present-day agricultural, biological and genetic science, mixed  with knowledge of corporate greed, peak oil and climate change.  He has created a world humans could  inhabit within the next few centuries.  It is a brutal, plague ridden world,  devastating and frightening in its possibility.  The writing is beautiful.

As they ease around the bare branches of the tree, the khlong taxi’s passengers all make deep wais of respect to the fallen trunk, pressing their palms together and touching them to their foreheads.

Jaidee makes his own wai, then reaches out to touch the wood, letting his fingers slide over the riddled surface as they pass.  Small bore holes speckle it.  If he were to peel away the bark, a fine net of grooves would describe the trees death.  A bo tree.  Sacred. The tree under which  the Buddha attained enlightenment.  And yet they could do nothing to save it.  Not a single varietal of fig survived, despite their best efforts.  The ivory beetles were too much for them.  When the scientists failed, they prayed to Phra Seub Nakhasathien, a last desperate effort, but even the martyr couldn’t save them in the end.  From pages 79/80.

In Bangkok, a city surrounded by huge walls built to keep out the raising sea,  governmental and economic power  is split between two agencies, with bribes and graft rampant and violent confrontations a daily occurrence.  The world has been through expansion and collapse and Thailand is fighting to protect itself from deadly plagues, agricultural devastation and corporate “calorie” men bent on controlling every food source on the planet.  It is hot, there is no oil and the Japanese have perfected genetic engineering.

The story is told from many points of view by characters that are deeply flawed.  Anderson Lake, a corporate calorie man searching for a hidden seed bank.  Jaidee, the Tiger of Bangkok, top inspector for the Ministry of the Environment.  Emiko, a New Person, dumped by her master when he heads back to Japan.

A women selling Environment Ministry-certified sticks of slice papaya watches her suspiciously.  Emiko forces herself not to panic. She continues down the street with her mincing steps, trying to convince herself that she appears eccentric, rather than genetically transgressive.  Her heart pounds against her ribs.

Too fast.  Slow down.  You have time.  Not so much as you would like, but still, enough to ask questions.  Slowly.  Patiently.  Do not betray yourself.  Do not overheat. From page 103.

And then there is the generipper, Gibbon.

“Everyone dies.”  The doctor waves a dismissal.  “But you die now because you cling to the past.  We should all be windups by now.  It’s easier to build a person impervious to blister rust than to protect an earlier version of the human creature.  A generation from now, we could be well-suited for our new environment.  Your children could be the beneficiaries.  Yet you people refuse to adapt.  You cling to some idea of a humanity that evolved in concert with your environment over millenia, and which you now, perversely, refuse to remain in lockstep with.

“Blister rust is our environment.  Cibiscosis.  Genehack weevil.  Cheshires.  They have adapted.  Quibble as you like about whether they evolved naturally or not.  Our environment has changed…”  From page 243.

Bacigalupi’s writing  is intricate and rich,  full of cultural and political detail.  He knows where we are as a species and can envision our possible future.  I am reminded of William Gibson and Ian McDonald.  I am reminded of  Pris in  Bladerunner.

I must warn you, there are terrible scenes of violence and sexual assault in this novel, but none of them are gratuitous. As I struggled through them I understood the reasons why Bacigalupi wrote them.  In the end he offers his readers new possibilities.  I think The Windup Girl is a fantastic book, and that it deserves a Hugo or a Nebula, maybe even both.

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11 Comments

Filed under SciFi, SciFi Challenge, SpeculativeFiction

11 responses to “The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

  1. lena

    I love the excerpts you chose!

    I”ve seen this book all over the place and have been itching to read it. It always feel good to read a blogger you trust raving about a book you want to read :P

  2. Eva

    I read his story “Flute Girl” (I think) for the Out of This World short story challenge back in January this year. I loved it! I think I’d have to space out his stories though.

  3. I agree with you about genre, especially SF and “literature” (have you read Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood?). I haven’t heard of this one before, but I’m going to look for it now.

    • Jeanne – I actually just read The Year of the Flood and wrote about it here. I really do think that, at least for readers, the “boundaries” between genres are beginning to blur. Thanks for your comment!

  4. I’ll have to get this one. I read on of his short stories, People of the Sand and Slag I think was the title and loved it. I’d love to give one of his novels a try.

    I’ll have to re-read your review of The Year of the Flood. I have it on audio book and I just really honestly hate it. And I loved The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assasin.

    • I have found a couple of Bacigalupi’s stories online and want to find a copy of The People of Sand and Slag somewhere. I really like the way he fits things together.

    • Oh, and I can’t really imagine listening to The Year of the Flood. I think you’d have a better chance getting into it if you read it.

  5. Pingback: Thoughts: The Windup Girl « If you can read this

  6. I love when genre lines blur! Have to give his short stories a try.

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