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The Windup Girl

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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? Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.

361 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 2009

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About the author

Paolo Bacigalupi

127 books4,524 followers
Paolo Bacigalupi is an award-winning author of novels for adults and young people.

His debut novel THE WINDUP GIRL was named by TIME Magazine as one of the ten best novels of 2009, and also won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Compton Crook, and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. Internationally, it has won the Seiun Award (Japan), The Ignotus Award (Spain), The Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis (Germany), and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire (France).

His debut young adult novel, SHIP BREAKER, was a Micheal L. Printz Award Winner, and a National Book Award Finalist, and its sequel, THE DROWNED CITIES, was a 2012 Kirkus Reviews Best of YA Book, A 2012 VOYA Perfect Ten Book, and 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist. The final book in the series, TOOL OF WAR, will release in October of 2017.

His latest novel for adults is The New York Times Bestseller THE WATER KNIFE, a near-future thriller about climate change and drought in the southwestern United States.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,964 reviews
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,219 reviews9,927 followers
February 7, 2016

The Story of Goldilocks and the Three Authors

Once upon a time, a little girl named Goldilocks decided to go for a walk in the forest. Very soon, she came upon a house made of books.

She knocked at the door but no one answered, so being a rather bold and sassy little girl, she walked right in.

At the table in the kitchen, there were three science fiction novels. The first one was called The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Goldilocks began to read. “Ugh!” she exclaimed, “This plot is too cold, not to say clinical, lumbering, tiresome, and altogether too exegetical!” And she flung the book across the room.

So, she began to read the second novel which was called The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich by Philip K Dick. “Ouch! This plot is too hot! It’s as mad as a bag of frogs! I can’t make head nor tail!” And she flung the book across the room.

So, Goldilocks read the last book, which was called Tiger! Tiger! by Alfred Bester. “Ahhh, this is just right!” said Goldilocks. “Fast and furious but cramful of tasty ideas too!” And she read until the very last page.

Goldilocks was very tired by this time, so she went upstairs to the bedroom. She lay down in the first bed, but it was too hard. Then she lay in the second bed, but it was too soft. Then she lay down in the third bed and it was just right. Goldilocks fell asleep.

As she was sleeping, the authors came home.

"Someone's been reading my book and they only gave it two stars!” growled Paolo. “Didn’t they realise it won the Nebula AND the Hugo??”

"Someone's been reading my book too, and they threw it across the room!” said Philip K Dick.
"Someone's been reading my book and they gave it a five star rating on Goodreads!” said little Alfred Bester.

They decided to look around to see if the mysterious person was still in their house and when they got upstairs to the bedroom, they found Goldilocks asleep, and went through the whole tedious routine again. Finally,

"Someone's been sleeping in my bed and she's still there!" exclaimed baby Alfred.

Just then, Goldilocks woke up and saw the three authors. She eyed them coolly.

“I understand you are smarting from my judgements. Your chosen genre is, I am the first to admit, not the easiest for the author or the reader. Each novel has to build another new world which inevitably will recapitulate the work of your forbears, thus risking genre cliché, or perhaps we should more kindlier say that you needs must explore variations on the well-known tropes (dystopias, aliens, time travel) and the tropes within tropes (sexy cloned girls for instance). So you are stuck with writing novels which are extremely heavy on exposition, and so compacted that each sentence becomes an exercise in exegesis. Characters become lecturers and the futurology becomes ever denser.”

“What must we do?” asked Paoli.

“Well, nil desperandum,” said Goldilocks. “I have read your short stories and they are excellent, but your novel – I could quite see how wonderfully imagined, sturdy and intricate was your future Thailand – you never failed to impress me, the size of your brain is something to see – but it was all so slow and turgid. You clearly missed the creative writing course where they tell you to put a sex scene in at page 30 (oh wait, we got that and very unpleasant it was too) and a violent scene in every 40 pages after that, you missed those.”

“Why you cheeky young girl! Who appointed you as the supreme arbiter of science fiction novels?” roared Philip K Dick.

“Well, no one, of course, I appointed myself, as does every reader – those are the rules of the playground.”

And she jumped up and ran out of the room and down the stairs, out of the door of the house of books and ran away into the forest.
Profile Image for RandomAnthony.
394 reviews110 followers
July 9, 2010
Long, scorching days are science fiction/fantasy weather. Back when I was in middle school, after quitting baseball but not quite when I could take the L across town to Wax Trax, I would walk the four or five miles to the Harlem-Irving Plaza a couple times a week. The mall had a Waldenbooks, and off to the right about three quarters toward the back (if you were standing at the entrance) stood the science fiction/fantasy section. I would take my hard-earned cash from umpiring t-ball games (actually, that was a great job) and purchase books from writers like Roger Zelazny and Phillip Jose Farmer. Then I would walk home, slip into the air conditioned house, and read for hours. Each summer since I pick up one or two science fiction/fantasy books come July, drifting toward William Gibson, Neil Gaiman, Stephenson, etc. A few weeks back I heard someone compare Bacigalupi to Gibson and noticed the novel face-forward displayed at Barnes and Noble. I checked the library reserve list and snagged one of the first copies in the system. Score.

Nah, only about half a score. The novel functions as an interlocking set of characters’ stories in Thailand after the “contraction”, in which the world’s people struggle to redefine existence without fossil fuels or an expansive food source after a series of plagues and famines. The United States is fractured into different republics and the Midwestern seed companies have risen to multinational power. Dirigibles carry genetically modified rice across the globe and scientists race to stay one step ahead of the next genetic disaster. Thailand is hot (as, um, the author reminds the reader about every third paragraph) and the rising water serves as a constant threat to a one of the last remaining cities in Southeast Asia. Bacigalupi creates a fascinating and realistic future complete with spring-technology (no oil, remember) and “Wind-Up New People” created by the Japanese. His vision retains elements of the past as if the elements were rusted, unidentifiable metal pieces in a vacant lot and scavengers were trying to assign them value.

Here’s the problem. Bacigalupi writes as if he’s a reporter. The Wind-Up Girl carries a bloodless, clinical quality that I couldn’t quite transcend. I didn’t care much about the characters and the money-shot plot developments weren’t that alluring. My heart didn’t race and, while I was interested in the storyline, I was interested in the “when the hell is this novel going to really start?” way. The middle third is probably the best, really, as I felt like the book picked up around page 100 but lost steam around page 325. I admired the framework and intellect inherent in The Wind-Up Girl, but I admire the same about, I don’t know, those doorstop best sellers from David McCullough about American history that I will never read. So The Wind-Up Girl is good, but not much fun, and I feel a little cheated. This might be my fault, to be fair, as I was looking for something like Snow Crash or Pattern Recognition and Bacigalupi is, well, Bacigalupi. He’s smart and talented, but were this book and me at a party, I would politely excuse myself before the novel started telling me a long story about what he heard on NPR that day or something.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books249k followers
May 17, 2019
“We rest in the hands of a fickle god. He plays on our behalf only for entertainment, and he will close his eyes and sleep if we fail to engage his intellect.”


In Paolo Bacigalupi's imagined future, Bangkok has become a simmering stew pot of paranoia, brutality, despair, and betrayal. Genetic manipulation has brought the world to the brink of extinction. With great advancements also came tragic mistakes. Blister rust, Cibiscosis, the Genehack weevil brought death and famine. The very companies that created these problems are now the companies that the world has to rely on to stay one step ahead of the mutations of their mistakes. Battling for calories is now an all consuming endeavor for a population that has rarely had a full belly. An innocuous cough can start a stampede of fleeing people. Fear is the natural state of mind.

Thailand has become a significant player on the world stage because their leaders had been forward thinking enough to secure a seed bank. This provides the building blocks of future plant stock that can be manipulated to survive the onslaught of mega-diseases. They also secured their own genius generipper who has continued to find ways to grow eatable, disease resistant food. One of the characters sums up how fortunate they are.

"We are alive. We are alive when whole kingdoms and countries are gone. When Malaya is a morass of killing. When Kowloon is underwater. When China is split and the Vietnamese are broken and Burma is nothing but starvation. The Empire of America is no more. The Union of the Europeans splintered and factionalized. And yet we endure, even expand. The Kingdom survives."

Anderson is a character that could have stepped out of Graham Greene novel. He works for AgriGen a major player in the gene manipulation market out of Des Moines. He is in Thailand under the cover of running a factory. Energy is generated by Megodonts, genetical modified elephants whose brute strength creates joules that keep the factory wheels turning.


Algae is also a main source of energy for the factory and also dangerous to the workers for a change in chemistry can turn algae from a friendly product into a human killer. I have personal high hopes that algae will provide some answers for our own future energy needs.


Anderson manipulates events, trying to grab an advantage that will allow AgriGen a foothold in the seed vaults. He is duplicitous, determined, and willing to be a King maker to get what his company needs. He is not interest in personal gains. He is a crusader who believes his efforts could end up keeping the world safe. Unintentionally he falls in lust/love with Emiko, a Windup Girl, an illegal commodity in Thailand, designed by the Japanese as a pleasure, serving model. She is a hybrid of genetic manipulations that has given her beauty, super human speed and strength, and a subservient matrix that allows her owner to have complete control over her actions. Emiko has also been designed to respond to sexual advances making even the most inept lovers feel like they are providing her with sexual pleasure. There is much more to her if he can be patient.

“She is an animal. Servile as a dog. And yet if he is careful to make no demands, to leave the air between them open, another version of the windup girl emerges. As precious and rare as a living bo tree. Her soul, emerging from within the strangling strands of her engineered DNA.”

The power of Thailand is split between the white shirts who represent the Environmental department and the Ministry of Trade. They have a split in philosophy, Environmental wanting to get away from generipping and the outside influences of farangs like Anderson. The department of trade wanting to embrace the outside world, letting in more goods and giving their people more avenues of generating revenue. The push and pull of the two departments leads to skirmishes and after an unforeseeable act by Emiko they flare into a civil war.

Bacigalupi does a wonderful job of world building. I fell into this brutal world(there are a couple of surprisingly graphic sex scenes), totally swept away by the tide of the plot. He presents a world crippled by environmental disaster without becoming preachy. He did inspire me to learn more about terminator genetics and also to continue shrinking my own environmental footprint. The characters are well drawn. They are motivated by the same desire to survive, but their plans for survival are uniquely their own.

I will end the review with a scene of Anderson in the marketplace.

"Ngaw. A mystery. She hands him the fruit. Anderson sniffs tentatively. Inhales floral syrup. Ngaw. It shouldn't exist. Yesterday, it didn't. Yesterday, not a single stall in Bangkok sold these fruits, and yet now they sit in pyramids, piled all around this grimy woman where she squats on the ground under the partial shading of her tarp. From around her neck, a gold glinting amulet of the martyr Phra Seub winks at him, a talisman of protection against the agricultural plagues of the calorie companies. He slips the ngaw's slick translucent ball into his mouth. A fist of flavor, ripe with sugar and fecundity. The sticky flower bomb coats his tongue. It's as though he's back in the HiGro fields of Iowa, offered his first tiny block of hard candy by a Midwest Compact agronomist when he is nothing, but a farmer's boy, barefoot amid the corn stalks. The shell-shocked moment of flavor--real flavor--after a lifetime devoid of it."

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Nataliya.
785 reviews12.5k followers
April 26, 2023
My grandmother reads food labels to see if they contain any genetically modified products. I used to laugh at it. Now, after reading The Windup Girl, I'm tempted to take a closer look at the food labels myself.

Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl is a bleak and depressing story set in the future run by calorie monopolies, where genetically modified products and manufactured foodborne plagues have wiped out the foodchains, wars are waged for precious seeds, and quarantines for food-borne diseases are a must. Calories are precious - a hilariously sad concept in the modern obesity-epidemic world where calories are our worst enemy, if you believe TV ads. Genetic engineering is not limited just to food - there are genetically modified humanoids as well, viewed as property in some countries and abominations that need to be destroyed in others.
"We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it."
The Windup Girl raises a question common to sci-fi novels - how far can science go before it becomes threatening? To which lengths can people take playing God? On one hand, the scientific advances in medicine and agriculture are necessary to make our lives better, to feed the ever-expanding population, to cure the ever-aging population. On another hand, the eventual impact of these scientific advances is unknown, and will it be too late when we figure it out? Will it be too late when the genetic weapons and other scientific advances find their way into the hands of companies greedy for immediate profit? It is already happening, let's not kid ourselves, but will it eventually destroy the world as we know it? Or is the future change as portrayed by Bacigalupi a part of evolution, a part of the strongest-survive doctrine?
"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 millennia, 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. If we wish to remain at the top of our food chain, we will evolve. Or we will refuse, and go the way of the dinosaurs and
Felis domesticus. Evolve or die. It has always been nature’s guiding principle, and yet you white shirts seek to stand in the way of inevitable change."

'What is natural?' is another question of this novel. Again, it resonates with the present-day obsession-fad with everything 'green', organic, sustainable, unmodified, 'natural'. What can we reject as unnatural? IS there even such a notion? In Bacigalupi's novel, the genetically modified 'windups' are viewed as something less than human, an abomination, a soulless property - because they are test-tube created, engineered, unnatural. But is it ever fair to make such a distinction? The knee-jerk response is 'no'. But we already live in the world that denounces certain lifestyles, certain preferences, certain viewpoints as 'unnatural' - and uses that as an excuse for discrimination and unequal treatment. Is is protecting the 'natural' or blatant discrimination? Depends on your viewpoint, I guess. In the world of genetic destruction that Bacigalupi created, such horrifying treatment of the windups is perfectly understandable to the surviving society but terrible to us. Would many of our conventions based on our ideas of natural and unnatural seem just as horrific? (I'm afraid they would, by the way.)
"“My body is not mine,” she told him, her voice flat when he asked about the performances. “The men who designed me, they make me do things I cannot control. As if their hands are inside me. Like a puppet, yes?” Her fists clenched, opening and closing unconsciously, but her voice remained subdued. “They made me obedient, in all ways.” And then she had smiled prettily and flowed into his arms, as if she had made no complaint at all."
The style of this novel is oppressively bleak. There is nothing uplifting, nothing cheerful; even the events that may lead to hope and satisfaction are only hinted at, and we don't know whether they will ever happen. The badness is palpable, the goodness is hinted at. This is not a novel for a leisurely read. This is not a feel-good story. It is a story that keeps bringing you down and throw you into a depressed mood. And yet I loved it, every page if it. I loved that the bleakness made it so realistic, and, more importantly, made you think - because it's thinking that makes you human. I love that there were no easy ways out of the situations, and yet little glimpses of simple humanity were so heart-warming, even if not always resulting in anything tangible. I loved the absence of info-dumps, and Bacigalupi's obvious respect for the intelligence of his readers, and his refusal to spoon-feed us the information. I loved that there was never a black-and-white approach to anything, including the main characters who are as deeply flawed as you can ever imagine. I loved how, despite my attempted refusal to go any deeper into this hopeless world, something kept bringing me back to this story day after day after day.

I loved this book despite the bleakness and the complete lack of the fell-good factor. I highly recommend it, especially to sci-fi fans. 4.5 stars. This book is a true gem!
"We are alive. We are alive when whole kingdoms and countries are gone. When Malaya is a morass of killing. When Kowloon is underwater. When China is split and the Vietnamese are broken and Burma is nothing but starvation. The Empire of America is no more. The Union of the Europeans splintered and factionalized. And yet we endure, even expand. The Kingdom survives."

Recommended by: Catie
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,883 reviews16.6k followers
May 10, 2019
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is a biopunk novel that won the Hugo Award in 2010 along with China Mieville’s The City & the City.

I picked up the book because I also enjoyed City and the City and because I was intrigued by the genre “Biopunk”. The novel is full of referenced to “gene ripping” and DNA experimentation and also a great deal of examples of how such experimentation can go terribly wrong as some new invasive species have taken over as readily as kudzu on a roadside hill in Alabama.

Set in “post-contraction” Thailand (meaning that the world’s expansion economy has collapsed and regions are more isolated and poverty stricken) the novel sets up a long foundation that examines and explores life after two centuries of global warming where sterile gene ripped agriculture has created a wasteland, calories have become currency and the world is always only one step ahead of the next mutation of plague and crop blighting infestation.

The world Bacigalupi has created is ugly, brutal, feral and teaming with corruption and survival strategy. At the heart of the novel is Emiko, a Windup, meaning that she has been genetically engineered to be a “new person”. Subjected to years of abuse, neglect and forced prostitution, her significance is as a vehicle for the author to explore the origins of soul and what it means to be alive in an ever changing, frequently hostile environment. If this is a dystopian novel, and I could see someone placing it in this sub-genre, it is at least a very pragmatic and unique vision.

The novel is full of well-developed characterizations and has a group dynamic that is both entertaining and compelling. His ideas are fresh and thought provoking. My only criticism is that he takes a long way to get where he is going, albeit that he uses the reader’s time wisely by setting up the denouement in such a way that if the reader can get to the last quarter of the book he is well rewarded as the ending is satisfying and brought together well.

Profile Image for Suz.
763 reviews46 followers
July 10, 2011
Wow, this book was immensely unsatisfying.

And for the life of me, I don't know why it's won so many awards, accolades and general love from so many people.

The story takes place in Bangkok, after the "Contraction" (both peak oil events and the general destruction of the ecosystem, complete with plagues cause a collapse in society as we know it and quality of life), where a host of not-quite-interesting characters interact. Everything from eco-terrorist types trying to keep their country clean and uncorrupted, to "Calorie men" from Monsanto like agri-mega-corporations that are both making the next awesome "insert food staple"-strain that will last a couple of generations ahead of whatever blight it is that's killing the food and people, to a battered and betrayed "new person" who's been genetically engineered by scientists.

I absolutely adore Bacigalupi's short stories, so I was really looking forward to this book. But I found it tedious. The narration was slow, and I had absolutely no emotional investment in any of the characters (or anything, really, except for a rambutan fruit, which should tell you something).

Add in an over-abundance of rapey-ness (I freely admit an abhorrence of using rape and sexual degradation as cheap plot devices), and I just checked out for most of the novel.

It's a shame - the ideas presented in the novel had a lot of potential, but I just couldn't get into it. I vastly enjoyed Atwood's Oryx and Crake as far as the dystopian future gene-splice/biopunk bleakness goes.
Profile Image for Kevin Ansbro.
Author 5 books1,477 followers
July 30, 2019
"She can barely remember the last time she slept without pain or fear, and she is groggy with it. The rooms are dim, lit only by the glow of the street's gaslights flickering alive like fireflies."

As I begin my review, I would like to 'fess up and state that dystopian novels really aren't my thing. Prior to reading this, I felt dystopian to be a by-word for introspective, poorly-written tosh.
I even swore an oath that I would rather tip Tabasco onto my eyeballs than ever read anything resembling The Handmaid's Tale, or Never Let Me Go again.

So it was with a degree of trepidation that I picked up this dystopian/sci-fi hybrid, which was recommended to me by @Apatt, who knows a great deal more about sci-fi than any man I know.

Phew! Big sigh of relief. It became clear, very quickly, that this had the makings of an intelligent and evocative read.

In an ecologically-damaged futureworld, Bangkok is in steep decline and gradually sinking into the sea (sadly, this is something that is actually happening in real life, partly due to climate change and partly as a result of humans planting a forest of skyscrapers on land that's as spongy as a Black Forest gateau).
In this cheerless metropolis, concrete towers, without electricity to power their aircon, have become hulking, airless ovens under the blistering heat of the Thai sun.
The people are starving and subjugated by Stasi-style white shirts, who work for the authoritative environment agency.
In the absence of fuel, genetically-modified elephants, known as megodonts, provide the muscle to power turbines.

As a Thai-friendly frequent visitor to the area, I'm happy to report that Bacipalupi has made a decent job of capturing the sights and sounds of an imagined Bangkok in a sad state of decay. I do feel however that some of his representation of the Thai dialect owes more to Google than to first-hand experience. It's good to see that he's made it possible for Buddhism, garland sellers and food vendors to still be able to flourish in his nightmarish vision.

Emiko, our eponymous windup girl, is the beautiful product of Japanese biological engineering.
Originally designed as polite company for rich Japanese men, she is abandoned then smuggled to Bangkok, where she is forced to endure terrible sexual degradation for the sadistic pleasure of voyeuristic fuckwits at a seedy drinking establishment.
She's a realistic Westworld-style fembot, but with human DNA. She desires freedom but, alas, her marionette gait and lack of bodily climate control make it almost impossible for her to go anywhere without attracting attention.
Her only hope (and a wafer-slim one at that) appears in the form of Anderson Lake, a blue-eyed, body-scarred American whose clandestine mission is to find blight-resistant crops in a world where you can't buy a banana or a rambutan for neither love nor money.

Call me a soft, romantic fool, but the cliché of an artificial female yearning to be human, tugs at my heartstrings every time, and I was fully behind Emiko, wanting only the very best for her.
The most exciting scenes in the book

Faults in the book? Yeah, there are some.

1) The characters are one-dimensional (seems to be a 'thing' in dystopian novels, God knows why).
2) Malaysia is referred to as Malaya, even though it hasn't gone by that name since the early 1960s!
3) Flower garlands appear to be in plentiful supply when food is not. How is that even possible?
4) There seems to be an all-embracing lack of emotion and human passion in every dystopian novel that I've read recently.
Perhaps the fault lies with me?
But, c'mon. Enough already, you dystopian authors! Yeah, I get it, the future's bleak, all hope is lost, blah-bloody-blah! Give me a break. Would it really hurt to just add a little joie de vivre from time to time?
5) There is an ethical imbalance in this cautionary tale:

Despite these niggles, there are rare moments of poignancy; it is very well written, and The Windup Girl held my attention throughout.
Sci-fi buffs should love it!
Profile Image for carol..
1,576 reviews8,238 followers
May 19, 2019
Interesting and provoking. Misleading title; I kept waiting for the story to focus more on the wind-up girl. Perhaps it should have been called The Company Man.

It's one of those dystopian allegories where she represents something or other to a guy that is involved in exploiting the world. I think. I should have wrote a better review. Interesting message, uncomfortable delivery.

His vision of the future is very dark, and I think he spends a lot of time, in all his works, exploring the fractures in humanity. There's a lot of casual violence, oppression and filth--much like the real world. I think he does it on purpose as part of the message and world-building, but it easily becomes overwhelming.

Update to self: I did finish, but wasn't up to the task of reviewing. Complicated and uncomfortable.

I think I'll get rid of it when I'm back home. I prefer to keep The Water Knife as an example of his works.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews806 followers
October 11, 2016
I just realized something, neologisms - like bow ties - are cool. Explaining made-up words in a glossary or through infodumps is uncool. Nowadays sf authors seem to delight in making up new words and leave the readers to figure out their meaning through context. Depending on the skill of the author this can be an exercise in frustration or a lot of fun for the readers who like a bit of challenge.

Plenty of newly minted words in The Windup Girl, plus lots of Thai words which are equally unexplained except via context. This then is not an easy read but for the patient readers who persevere it is very rewarding. Besides, it won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for 2010, so you may want to take that into consideration. As a Thai national I at least have an advantage in comprehending the Thai words and cultural references. I have nothing but admiration for non-Thai readers who can figure everything out without any help from Google.

At this point I'd like to do a Shelfari style "Ridiculously Simplified Synopsis" but it this is a complex story with various plot strands that does not facilitate such a thing. This is my single paragraph effort:

In the 23rd century the entire world is in decline. Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is under constant threat of sinking under sea, thanks to global warming and rising sea level. Petroleum sources are finally exhausted and neighboring countries have fallen from plagues and illness unleashed by bioengineering. The titular windup girl (an artificial human) seeks her freedom from constant abuse, an old Chinese immigrant tries to restore his fortune, a Environment Ministry enforcer tries to protect his beloved city against all odds, and a western factory owner is on a secret mission to find Thailand's most precious property, seeds that can withstand the diseases unleashed by scientists.

Besides being a cautionary tale of possibly impending ecological catastrophe the book is not short on human drama. The theme of man's inhumanity to man (and artificial humans) is prevalent. Though by no means the center of the story (in spite of the title) the abuse and degradation of Emiko the windup girl will have a lot of readers flinching. The insurmountable odds against Jaidee the Environment Ministry enforcer and his protégé is all too believable and has a visceral impact. The tenacity of Hock Seng the old Chinese immigrant is equally involving, the plight of the other protagonist Anderson the factory owner is less engaging for me as he is a bit of a rat.

Cool Japanese cover, depicting a remarkable scene from the book.

The world building is very well done and was totally immersed in the settings and the story. This one feels particularly close to home as I am living here in Bangkok. Paolo Bacigalupi must have spent considerable time here to have such an in-depth knowledge of my country, people, and culture (lots of research also helped no doubt). The previous book I read set in Bangkok is Bangkok 8 by John Burdett, I did not get very far with it because I felt the author does not understand Thai language and culture as he seems to think he does, some inaccurate usage of slangs and Thai pop culture really took me out of the story*. Mr. Bacigalupi does a much better job here, I am very impressed with his attention to details (though the name Jaidee does not sound authentic to me**, artistic licence I guess).

The spring technology which power most machines and devices is a very interesting concept, the genetically engineered Cheshire cats based on Alice in Wonderland is wonderfully eerie. The environmental disasters caused by GMOs is worrying if the world is going that way. I am flattered that the author chose to set his story in Thailand and depicts it as one of the few countries still standing against global blight, probably more from artistic reasons than projection from the current state of affairs. In any case, his 23rd century Thailand is no utopia.

The weird technology of The Windup Girl

This is a wonderful novel full of caution, passion and pathos.

I wonder if windup girls dream of electric sheep?


*No disrespect to John Burdett who seems to be highly rated by his readers, I would love to hear from other Thai readers of his books.

** Jaidee is a common word which means "kind" or "generous" but I have never met anybody with that name.


I was going to write something about this but it completely slipped my mind. A lot of readers are likely to dismiss the ghosts in The Windup Girl as imaginary, especially of . The thing is a huge proportion of Thais believe in ghosts and other spirits, may be 50% or more. This may make us seem like silly bastards but it's a deeply ingrained cultural thing I guess.

Personally, I don't believe in no ghosts but I am used to being around people who do. Anyway, I am not sure whether Bacigalupi intends that is an actual ghost or a manifestation of Kanya's conscience. It's not as obvious as it seems.

There is a Thai idiom about superstition that translates as "if you don't believe it, don't disrespect it". What it actually means is "Think you are so modern and sophisticated eh? If some weird supernatural shit happens to you don't come crying to me!"
If you find the Thailand related comments in this review interesting, please check out my Kinnara review. Thank you!
Profile Image for Michael.
274 reviews785 followers
July 31, 2010
Try to picture a world where big corporations own the rights to the food we eat, and engineer it specifically so that the seeds can't be reused. Picture a world where the natural resources are steadily depleting, but everyone is still trying to act as if nothing is wrong. Picture a world where technology is barely managing to address the problems of the moment, and perhaps won't be able to keep up in the face of unexpected catastrophes.

That wasn't too hard now, was it?

The best science fiction is a mirror reflecting our own image, but distorted and exaggerated. This can be done in a way that is overly preachy, but Bacigalupi avoids this, combining everything I look for in entertaining science fiction with everything I hope for in thoughtful literature. (Well, I knew I was going to end up gushing.) So here's the problem. I don't know how to review a book that I love.

Talk about me instead of the book?

I was reading this book during my time back in Indiana, totally overwhelmed by being around my family and my wife's family all the time, trapped in the backseats of cars, forced to listen to country music, which is even worse than I remembered it. "God is great, beer is good, people are crazy." "Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses."

I spent evenings at the kitchen table, trying to read while my wife's parents watched FOX News nearby, and I noticed how the top story on every program was the President's worse and worse poll numbers. I couldn't help thinking that had nothing to do with news, and all of the real stories were ignored in favor of political posturing. Being back in the Bible belt, I dipped into this book like it was a breath of fresh air whenever I could sneak away, relieved to feel like I wasn't alone in a world full of the willfully misinformed.

Or should I actually discuss the book?

The Windup Girl is a novel about Thailand in the 22nd century, when global warming and resource depletion has led to the only practical energy source being manually wound springs. To wind these gigantic springs, they have these huge elephant things (picture those elephants from "The Return of the King") called megadonts.

Anderson Lake works for a megacorporation called AgriGen. Hock Seng is an immigrant who works as a secretary for Anderson, and who is good at manipulating events to his own benefit. Emiko is a wind-up girl: a Japanese-designed human with a predisposition for serving "real" humans, and with a strange way of walking that immediately betrays her non-humanness. There are more characters, but I'm done listing them.

The characters' lives interweave as they try to succeed in a brutal Bangkok, where political uprisings aren't uncommon, food is scarce, and disease is rampant. Like all my favorite SF and fantasy writers, Bacigalupi's characters are neither good nor bad: they linger somewhere in between, and are all surprisingly fleshed out for such a brief book. Disasters abound, tragedy strikes suddenly, the world changes, people die. . . IT'S AWESOME!

Should I go meta?


Maybe I should drop names and lit terms to overwhelm the reader with my intellect, and detract from the shallow argument I'm making?

The Windup Girl is perhaps the most well-known example of biopunk, a genre spawned from a combination of cyberpunk's world view and ecological concerns. This book won the Nebula Award for Best Novel this year, beating down Cherie Priest's zombie steampunk tale, Boneshaker, and some other worthy contenders. Some say Bacigalupi's style is reminiscent of William Gibson and Ian McDonald, and I wouldn't argue against this. But, like Saturn's Children--Even Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" or Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye--the issue of identity, and the results of being viewed as "other," are a central theme within the novel.

No. That's a lame way to do the review.

I don't know how to review The Windup Girl. So, if you like science fiction at all, I'll just say: read this and love it. Or maybe you won't. But if you don't, your tastes are WRONG, because IT is AWESOME.

I already have his new book, Shipbreaker, at home on my shelf, and I'm excited to see if his first young adult novel is as good as this one. If so, I may have to add Bacigalupi to favorite authors. I can't wait to find out. . .
Profile Image for David Putnam.
Author 18 books1,600 followers
November 26, 2020
This is my top favorite book in the fantasy genre, it blew me away. The world he created felt so genuine and real. If you are a fantasy reader give this one a whirl, you won't be disappointed.
No but it is near future after GMO has ruined the world. I don't know if your into fantasy but this is a fantastic book. It swept the scifi awards, The Hugo Award for best Novel, Nebula Award for Best Novel John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, Seiun Award for Best Translated Novel Compton Crook Award Locus Award for Best First Novel. You do see a sweep like this very often.
In this world money is calories. Very creative book and epic.
This is one of those books where scenes from the book will randomly pop up in my thoughts long after I read it.
I also liked his other books including, Water Knife and the young adult trilogy.
Highly recommend.
David Putnam Author of the Bruno Johnson series.
Profile Image for Simona B.
898 reviews3,011 followers
August 24, 2016
The Windup Girl belongs to a very specific category of novels that make my heart ache as if it were being ripped open from the inside; said category being, great-concept-poor-excecution.

At page 100 (around 25% into the book) I still had to figure out what all the fuss was about. While I should have been eagerly wondering what was going to happen next, the one question that haunted me was "Why am I even reading this?", or, "What's the point of the whole thing?". I think the book failed to get my attention because it failed to provide a good overview of what the story was about and of the general features of the world it was set in. I felt that the author gave a lot of very particular details, but since I had but a blurred and insufficient wider picture, the specifics were just useless. Thus, I was annoyed.

As far as I'm concerned, not recommended.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,978 followers
January 14, 2010
The wife got me a cool gadget for Christmas. It’s a LED flashlight that is powered by turning a little crank on it so I won’t be cursing a lack of fresh batteries when I need it. In The Windup Girl, I could make some money by cranking that flashlight for someone.

It’s set in Thailand after corporate warfare between agricultural firms went biological. In the process of trying to taint the other guy’s crops, most of the world’s food supply is now perpetually at risk of being overwhelmed by the next genetic modification. Global warming is causing massive restrictions on carbon output and oil based fuels are gone. With limited coal and methane allowed to be burned, most energy comes from muscle power. Kinetic energy is harnessed in kink-springs and released as needed. The springs are wound by genetically modified elephants called megodonts or old fashioned human muscle power. With food limited and muscle power at a premium, calories are the new currency.

A ‘calorie man’ named Anderson Lake is under cover from one of the corporations trying to find untainted foodstuffs to use as the basis for further modifications, and he thinks he’s got a line on a rogue geneticist and Thailand’s seed bank. His life is complicated when he gets infatuated with a New Person named Emiko. She’s a windup girl, genetically engineered to serve by the Japanese and abandoned in Thailand by her former master, and she’s now essentially a slave at a sex club. Anderson’s ambition to get his hands on Thailand’s seed bank conflicts with several other characters such as a Thai environment official desperately trying to keep corruption from allowing his country to be overwhelmed like the rest of the world and an exiled Chinese factory foreman who wants to rebuild his shipping business by stealing plans for a new type of spring from the factory that Anderson runs as a cover.

Bacigalupi did some serious world building in this book. A Thai society that barely managed to save their food supplies when most of the rest of the world wasn’t so lucky, but is about to be undone by the corruption within it’s own government was fascinating in itself. Add in the idea of an energy starved world clinging to the remnants of high technology, and some unique and fully formed characters and you’ve got one helluva good sci-fi story.

My only real complaint is that the author never offers any explanation as to why solar or wind or water power aren’t utilized. He put so much thought into creating the rest of this rich and detailed setting that it’s a little odd that nothing is ever mentioned about it, but that’s a minor complaint about a great story.
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
805 reviews3,863 followers
October 25, 2019
Biopunk is, unfortunately, such an underrepresented genre compared to steampunk and other Sci-Fi subgenres with a potential that has to be unleashed.

I could imagine such a setting in a real dystopian, Mad Max Style world where everything is based on biological technologies and nothing technical can be used anymore. Probably with different ideologies regarding the use and development of biology as the main power blocks.
In the case of this novel, many problems such as peak oil, super pests and rampant climate change accumulated to a mixture of the game Bioshock and the wildest biotechnological dreams. Everything is organic and energy can just be produced by sheer muscle power.

Imagine the possibilities that come with creating a living environment in a dystopian setting. Not those cozy, happy utopias with freedom, peace and prosperity, but dirty and gritty. With different kinds of genetically engineered and wildly and uncontrolled evolved plants, cattle, insects and living infrastructure.

Parts of these ideas have been realized as bioships or gaiaships, but not in a way like a complete series with the potential of really convincing reasons for war, like the need to do extreme terraforming to make new worlds liveable. Because a conflict between mushroom vs plant, amphibians vs reptiles, etc is ineluctable as long as the tech is not advanced enough to do proper terraforming.

Space wales, huge living, immortal conscious superstructures, that float through space forever, probably to seed new life, are another biopunk option.

In general Sci-Fi, authors often have backgrounds in computer science, maths, physics, astrophysics and other tech disciplines. There will come a biologist with the ambition to create the large biopunk saga with the same accuracy and all the nerdy details that make hard science fiction so great. Or create even a new subgenre like Biopunk Spaceopera or Hard Biopunk Social Sci-Fi or whatever. Gosh, the sheer potential that alone the known biosphere has for plot devices and unique ideas that are instructive at the same time....drool.

Tropes show how literature is made and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
Profile Image for Foz Meadows.
Author 21 books704 followers
December 31, 2012
There were some truly fascinating ideas in this book, but despite that, it just wasn't for me. Possibly this is less a fault of the book than it is a question of my own taste - The Windup Girl has, after all, received rave reviews and won two major awards - but while I can certainly tip my hat to Bacigalupi's imagination, I still feel as though there were blanks in the worldbuilding. These aren't my only objections, but they come across in my head as being the least biased ones, so they're where I'll start.

The setting is a future, not-quite-dystopian Earth where most of the world's population is fed by sterile wheat, soy and rice varieties created by calorie companies: agricultural outfits whose monopoly stems from the fact that, at some time in the past, human meddling with plants and animals - what the book called generipping - lead to the evolution of new and deadly plagues that wiped out an incredibly high number of original plant (and, as a direct result, animal) species. Those that remain are generipped copies created by scientists from the small amounts of surviving seedstock, though thanks to the fact that the plagues and blights are constantly reshaping themselves, this is an ongoing process. Most of the world we know has been altered irrevocably as a result of all this. Thus, the story takes place in Thailand, one of the few countries to pull together and survive as a result of its generipping prowess. Also, there is no more oil, which changes the technological landscape quite drastically, although - unless I missed it - there is never a clear explanation provided as to why a history of agricultural plagues would suddenly cause the world's oil reserves to dry up. Possibly we're meant to infer that the story is set in a far enough future that this has just happened anyway, but with so much ambiguity about the dates and with the recent history of this new era only ever hinted at, never described in detail, it is hard to tell.

But, I digress: many old species are dead, both plant and animal, plague and starvation are ever-present threats, and the entire language of society is altered to fit the idea of working for calories, rather than money, as food is what ultimately powers everyone. There is a lot of repetition throughout the book - or rather, several specific ideas are reiterated, particularly early on - and one of these is the constant fear of blister rust and cibiscosis, both fruit diseases that threaten the new crops. There is also fear of ivory beetles, which seem to have taken the place of locusts. Everyone is careful about threats to the food supply, who eats what, where it goes and at what calorie cost. And yet, Bacigalupi has populated this environment with two new generipped species - the giant megadonts, being 10-foot-tall elephant-creatures used to power machinery, and the tiny cheshires, who first interbred with and then replaced actual cats - without ever touching on how they can feed themselves. Because so far as we see, there are no mice or rodents in this world for the cheshires to eat - certainly, if there are, it feels as if we should hear about them as a threat to the grain, the cheshires praised for keeping their numbers down instead of being culled and cursed - and yet their numbers are so great as to require culling in the first place. And then there are the megadonts, which apart from being improbable creations in a world without any other big animals that we can see, must surely require vast amounts of calories to live - enough that their usefulness as engines might be diminished.

In a similar vein, there is Emiko, the eponymous windup girl. Another of the book's repetitions is the fact that, as a generipped human - a New Person - her stop-start movements constantly set her apart. At the same time, we are told she has preternatural speed, eyesight, healing, immunity and agelessness. Fine, fine, these are standard SFF dreams - but why, when New People only exist because of Japan's dwindling population, and when most of them, like Emiko, work as aides and translators and bedroom companions, do they need any of these things? How can the generippers create an awesome megadont, a cheshire that constantly fades in and out of reality, and a practically superhuman breed of New Persons, and yet fail at something so basic as fine motor control? And then there was the concept of phii, used as a term for (I assumed) ghosts or the soul, which came to be very crucial later on in the book, and which early on was associated with generipping, but which - like many things - was never explained, and couldn't properly be inferred from the context. This matters because we can't tell if the phii are real or not: one character mentions seeing them and another accepts this, and then, after someone dies, one of the POV characters starts to talk to the dead man's phii, which seems to follow her everywhere. Is it a voice in her head, or a real ghost? I couldn't tell, and that really bothered me. Finally, there were the whisper sheets, which seemed to be the equivalent of local newspapers. It was never explicitly stated that they were printed on paper, yet that was what we were left to infer - but in a world where trees are rotting everywhere, and where a government permit is required to fell one for use in a factory, where would cheap paper come from? How could it be made? All these aspects of the generipped world could doubtless be explained one way or another, and yet the fact that they weren't within the confines of the novel made me feel that, worldbuilding-wise, Bacigalupi had put more effort into deconstructing modern-day Earth than building the rules of its future.

In terms of the characters, I didn't end up really liking any of them, though some were definitely interesting. Again, this could well have been an issue of personal preference, but it also felt as though every time a character was brought to a crucial or tense moment, their chapter would end, forcing us to read about someone else, so that by the time we came back to whoever it was, the big climactic moment had already happened off screen. I found this an isolating experience; it also served to make the characters feel inconsistent. Tan Hock Seng, for instance, starts out feeling comparatively misanthropic, if not openly misogynistic, what with thinking of his dead daughters as being less worthy than his dead sons, calling them "daughter mouths" and never naming either them or his wives in his thoughts; he also despises the Thais and seems strongly racist in early scenes. Yet, by the end, he has become sympathetic to a Thai girl named Mai, who he looks after and protects even to the point of endangering himself - and yet we never witness the point at the narrative in which he switches from one mindset to the other. Rather, he seems to change between chapters for no discernible reason.

The narrative has similar problems. I don't require all novels to be cathartic, but when they're as long as The Windup Girl and get off to such a long-winded start, I really want those early scenes to matter at the end. These ones didn't; all the talk about the ngaw fruit only serves to bring Anderson Lake to a particular place in the middle of the story, then stops; none of Hock Seng's deals go anywhere; and Jaidee, for all his importance to Kanya, is very short-lived for the amount of early screen time he receives. And then there's the fact that, for a lot of the book, it feels as though Bacigalupi has been deliberately hiding Anderson's thoughts from us, even when we're reading in his point of view, just so the end events feel slightly more mysterious than they otherwise might have done. What this means is that a lot of the book is heavy with a species of internal monologuing - which, again, I don't necessarily mind, but for the number of questions I had left at the end about the world, the politics and the history of both, it felt as though those sections could have been put to much better use than repetitive introspection.

But finally, we come to the real reason I didn't enjoy the book: Emiko herself. The first time we see her, she's being raped, and that never really changes throughout the book. We are told that part of what makes her a New Person is, in addition to those qualities already mentioned, both a deeply ingrained servility and an unconscious sexuality, so that she is literally forced to orgasm even when she hates what's being done to her. Possibly I could have dealt with that, but then comes her sexual relationship with Anderson, the motives and emotions of which are largely hidden from both their thoughts. We do not see the crucial decision Emiko makes to sleep with Anderson; that scene is from his point of view, and very much written with a male gaze in mind. By the time we come back to her, she is already thinking of him as Anderson-sama - an honorific I am very certain he doesn't deserve - and the only explanation we are ever left with for her sleeping with him are the selfsame sex-slave qualities she so hates about herself. Even this much could be salvageable, if we saw Anderson struggle to view her as a person, if any kind of romance features in their relationship, but he doesn't, and it doesn't, and it all just feels hollow and abusive and, frankly, needless.

Possibly this is the point, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. Given that she's the titular character, I'd expected more from Emiko in every respect: more screen time, more clout, more personality. Instead, the vast majority of her appearances render her as nothing more than the classic hentai victim, the helpless-sexy objectified girl who pleads and pleads against her own rape, and yet is shown physically to be enjoying what is done to her, even against her own wishes, and which her rapists therefore use to justify themselves. That her violent reaction against these crimes eventually sparks off the climax of the novel is small satisfaction: she is not the protagonist the title makes her out to be. To draw a brief comparison with Alan Moore's V for Vendetta, Emiko is equivalent to wife of the disgraced party member who finally shoots Chancellor Adam Susan out of revenge for the life his actions have forced her to live; she is not Evie Hammond, and she certainly isn't V. And unlike the fallen wife, Emiko doesn't even have the distinction of knowing who her victim really is, or what the consequences of killing him will be, so that there is no political catharsis in the act, either - and even worse, it is yet another scene which happens after a fade to black, the results shown only in hindsight. Which leaves a rather large hole in the middle of The Windup Girl, because if Emiko isn't the main character, then who is? Arguably, she is just one member of an ensemble cast, but given that all their individual stories never quite come together at the end, I finished the book uncertain of what journey I'd really been on, and what the point had been.

So, there you have it. Doubtless a lot of people will disagree. I still enjoyed Bacigalupi's imagination, and am still keen to read Shipbreaker, his YA novel. But through whatever quirk, The Windup Girl just wasn't my bag.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for briz.
Author 7 books67 followers
August 18, 2011
Overall: Disappointing that this should have won the Hugo/Nebula. For a number of reasons.


Bacigalupi's worldbuilding is great: he imagines a far future Kingdom of Thailand, where risen sea levels + GMO mayhem have managed to destroy the planet. This biopunk dystopia feels desperate, immediate and urgent, and, on a meta level, it's a scathing commentary on (fair) trade, ag subsidies in the US/Europe, the American food industry and people (such as myself) burning up the atmo in environmentally-unsound jet planes. In Bacigalupi's future history, we arrogant, over-happy, over-traveled 21st century citizens are living during the brief "Expansion" era - soon to be followed by a violent and unpleasant "Contraction" where no one will travel any further than where their feet can carry them. Bacigalupi's future Thailand is just after the Contraction, now poised on the edge of a possible second "Expansion", using resurrected woolly mammoth (OK, megodonts - but wtf is a megodont) strength and methane composting to fuel industry.


Bacigalupi may be an inventive worldbuilder, but he is not an inventive writer - nor even a particularly good one. He violates the sacrosanct Law of Good (or at least Decent) Writing, which is "show us, don't tell us" - often bluntly introducing characters as "terrifying" or "charming". Um, why not save some word count and just say, "The villain entered." Another tiresome authorial tic was repetition: if I saw Emiko the Cyborg Lady described one more time as exhibiting "telltale stutter-stop herky-jerky" movements or a character described by their (often "pale" or "icy" or "watery" blue) eyes... oh my God. Oh. My. God.


This was the dealbreaker. I forced myself to finish this book, as I have a spiritual obligation to all Hugo/Nebula joint winners, but wtf is up with this thinly-veiled retrograde Orientalist male chauvinist fantasy? To whit: Chapter 1 introduces Anderson Lake, the blond/blue-eyed American male hero who will guide us through this exotic (EXOTIC) foreign land of small, shy, deferential, and pitiably incompetent Asians. Chapter 2 introduces Anderson's Chinese sidekick, Hock Seng, a survivor of an Islamic fundamentalist genocide against ethnic Chinese in Malaysia. Hock Seng is embittered, often described as scheming or cowering or untrustworthy, and he spends the entire book lamenting his victim state and attempting (but always failing) to make a better life for himself. Just in case it's not clear: Hock Seng has no agency. Chapter 3 introduces the titular "windup girl", Emiko, a Japanese sex slave robot woman who is repeatedly raped (described in - DARE I SAY IT - loving (!?) detail), works in a stereotypical Miss Saigon-style brothel, and dreams of a better future where New People (i.e. windups) live free and unmolested. She has also been programmed to serve (one geneticist character speculating she has Labrador DNA in her!) and is repeatedly described as a "dog".

Unsurprisingly, when Anderson isn't planning to overthrow this "little country" in order to make room for American profiteering GMO interests (from the Midwest! the Heartland!), he falls hard in love with the poor, bruised, whimpering, helpless Emiko. Various scenes of rescue and damsel-in-distress ensue.

OK, I'm assuming Bacigalupi has never been exposed to post-colonialism/Orientalism/feminism, because this entire premise just reeks of unreconstructed American/white/male hegemonic views. Not only is it alarming and disappointing that this type of story still has any sort of currency at all (but then, alas, my beloved scifi genre is one of the most unreconstructed in this regard...), but it's also incredibly tedious, unnecessary and unrealistic. I'm a scifi writer and fan, and a lady, and all I can hope for is to read about other future-ladies being... victims, objectified and sexualized? (Even Mai, Hock Seng's sidekick, is a little girl who does little more than cry out in alarm as plot twists promise ruin.) The only woman who enjoys any sort of agency in this story is Kanya, a Ministry of Environment official who is described as an unsmiling hardass (also, wait for it, a victim! her village was destroyed by evil men!) and, surprise, a lesbian.

Bacigalupi excuses himself from any potential attacks re: his portrayal of the Other by noting that this is THE FUTURE and thus not really Thailand at all. He then recommends a number of ethnically Thai authors. Um, I have no problem with writers of one ethnicity writing about other ethnicities, as long as they're respectful and informed and not idiotically exoticizing about it. I even don't have too much of a problem of white/male authors writing about non-white/non-male issues - fraught as that may seem, given the world we live in - because I'm sure it can be done well. What I CANNOT STAND is lazy narratives of romanticized victimization and macho Orientalist fantasies. And for that, I hated this book and am disappointed that it was so lauded by the arbiters of good sf.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
May 17, 2010
6.0 stars. The most recent addition to my list of "All Time Favorite" novels. This is Science fiction "noir" AT ITS BEST. By "noir" I mean science ficiton (and fantasy) books that are characterized by: (1) a dark, dystopic world; (2) main characters that are "grey" as oppossed to black or white when it comes to morals; (3) plots that involve complicated questions of morality and characters doing the right thing for the wrong reason and vice versa.

Prime examples for me (all of which are also on my "all time favorite" list) would be The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (along with both sequels); Perdido Street Station by China Mieville; Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson; Altered Carbon and the rest of Takeshi Kovacs novels by Richard K. Morgan; Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner and Blade of Tyshalle by Matthew Stover.

This novel belongs firmly within the esteemed company above and if you like those novels, you will love this. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!

Winner: Nebula Award for Best Novel (2010)
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,361 reviews795 followers
December 2, 2014
When it comes to sci-fi, I have plenty of caveats: plethoras of men, mounds of white people, all of the worth submersed in several provocative "ideas" built up by science and a great deal of solipsism. It took Le Guin's phenomenal The Dispossessed to give the genre a place in my further reading, and while this book doesn't measure up in terms of prose and thought experiments, it hits that international flavor that TD doesn't, something realistic future fiction should always aim for. Unless the narrative touches on a past filled with race wars before the main action hits, there's no excuse for piss poor representation.

The drawback, of course, is tropes, and as I haven't read any Thai lit and know the bare minimum about Thailand and its history/culture/contemporary business (I don't even know if Thai iced tea is really Thai or just some misnomer like French fries, I just really like the stuff), Bacigalupi could've molded my unfounded perceptions like putty. Lucky for me, he included a little thing about not interpreting his book as a true representation of Bangkok as it is now, something that left me free to enjoy the world he conjured up out of Buddhism and Megadont Unions and the very real threat of biowarfare waged between humanity and the world's genetic diversity. In terms of the ubiquitous "world building", this is some of the best out there, both in newness and familiarity.

While the characters themselves depend heavily on the culture around them for engagement, it is Bacigalupi's choices of personas that shine through the rather stock third-person POV. Out of the five narrators, one is white, two are women, and the "Western" culture is made the clear outsider in far more definite and understandable terms than simple whinging and obstinacy. Lesbianism is touched on as a normal aspect of living in a diverse world (I had to reread the first instance of its appearance to make sure of what I was seeing), and while none of the characters are supremely well crafted, their common humanity and will to do terrible things to survive is brought to the forefront. It is these terrible things that drive the plot through its contortions, all leading up to an ending that is one of the best open ended conclusions I've seen in a long time; that's a hard thing to pull off in a linear/non-experimental piece of work.

Finally, the dystopia. The word is all the rage nowadays, but rarely do I see it done in such a way that makes a true impact, where the excesses reaped today flourish inexorably as our ultimate doom tomorrow, humanity scrabbling for life on the sinking ship of the world with evolution as the only lifeboat. In short, I'm glad this won the awards it did, and seeing as how this is Bacigalupi's first book, I have a lot to look forward to.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,215 reviews3,222 followers
April 12, 2023
4.0 Stars
This is a rather unique biopunk dystopian novel exploring issues surrounding genetic engineering and calorie (food) deficits. The story is incredibly dark, with huge content warnings for sexual assault. The concept of the windup girls was absolutely terrifying. The worldbuilding as a whole was fascinating.

While I loved the ideas explored in this novel, I found the actual story too long. I think this would have worked better in a shorter package. I really enjoy the start but I find the latter half to be too long.

I have reread this book via the audiobook and I highly recommend Jonathan Davis' narration.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,233 reviews1,048 followers
February 24, 2015
What? I haven't said anything about this book yet?
I've now read this book for two different book clubs. And I'm working on reading everything that Bacigalupi's ever published. The Windup Girl won the Hugo and the Nebula, and well-deserved both.

What makes this book so excellent?
Well, first, it posits a frightening, fully believable, and wholly realized future. Set an indeterminate amount of time from now, not all the details are filled in. The Expansion (a time period that we're obviously in right now) has occurred, followed by the Contraction (a period of economic and ecological collapse), and now it's been long enough that some people have schemes and dreams of rebuilding... but things potentially are just getting worse. What I like about the setting is that although not every detail is IN the book, you get the impression that they EXIST. Wars have occurred, names of countries have changed, crises have happened elsewhere, offstage... All the action takes place in the context of a world, not a little narrative bubble.

Bacigalupi also excels at portraying the intersection of individual and culture. All his people have depth of character as individuals, but their actions and behaviors are also informed not only by their circumstances but by their cultural background and/or group identity. Nearly all of the characters in the book are reprehensible people, who do unforgivable things. As a reader, however, you can't help feeling empathy, or at least, understanding, for nearly all of them, because their motivations make sense. Everyone in this book has a believable reason for behaving in the way that they do. Circumstance drives people to do as they do, and if you want to survive in this world, you have to have an eye for the main chance.

I don't think that a description of all the main characters is called for. The book reveals them. But it's unavoidable to mention the titular character, Emiko. A character genetically engineered and trained to be a slave and a sex toy. The mere premise causes a knee-jerk reaction in some people, and admittedly, doing this right could be hard to pull off. However, Bacigalupi does a fantastic job with her character. (I have to note here that any 'reviewer' who refers to Emiko as a "robot" did not actually read the book.) In creating her, and depicting what happens to her, he harshly criticizes some very real aspects of certain cultures which fully warrant that criticism, and does so fairly and accurately. (Not one culture or group in this book gets a pass, or is portrayed as 'good' - just about everyone has somehow been complicit in bringing the world to where it is.) But Emiko also exists not just as a political statement but as a fully realized, sympathetic character. Like all of us, she is torn between one instinct and another, conflicted, having to endure, able to find hidden reserves of strength to survive. She also shows us that whatever people try to do to humanity, people will always strive for freedom. And she also, finally, tells us that although technology may be the instrument and cause of our downfall, it also may be the only slim straw of our hope.

The book is not without aspects that I quibble with. One of the main premises of the book is that food is in short supply, and energy is measured in calories. People are described as on the brink of starvation. However, the book itself is FULL of food. People are constantly walking through markets full of fruits and vegetables, stopping at noodle stands, eating, eating eating. It undercuts the stated scarcity of food when you're seeing food everywhere. Also as far as the calories - I love the megadonts. It makes cultural sense that the Thai would want to genetically engineer giant elephants. BUT - how are they feeding them? Do you really get enough work out of feeding them to justify the expense? (That's actually already an issue with today's, smaller elephant in Southeast Asia.)

I loved that the book takes place in Thailand. In reality, Thailand is the only Asian kingdom that has continually maintained its independence and never fallen to an invader or colonial forces. It makes sense that in the future, they could be a last holdout, maintaining strength in isolation, protecting their heritage even while torn by internal conflict.

I didn't actually have a problem with the imaginary kink-spring tech. It's something people are working on. (http://www.asme.org/kb/news---article...)

Bacigalupi obviously thinks genetically modified foods are a threat. I'd say he's far more against them than I am. But, hey, it is entirely possible that Monsanto (oh, I mean AgriGen) could and would create genetically engineered crop plagues that would force industries worldwide to rely on their products. It's not the technology, it's about the use to which the technology is put. And, I suppose, if you believe that technology will never be put to its worst possible use, you have rosier view of human nature than either I or Bacigalupi has. There's an inevitability there... OK, I'm rambling. But, yay, seedbanks! Yay crop diversity! And yay, rambutans!

Go read this book. And then go read Pump Six.

Addendum: I think everyone should also read Apatt's review, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,406 reviews11.6k followers
April 7, 2011
3.5 stars

Unfortunately, I ended up enjoying The Windup Girl significantly less I than I thought I would.

I blame it on two things:

1) the narrator read this novel way too slowly for my taste;

2) the world of the novel was a little too familiar after reading Ship Breaker and Pump Six and Other Stories. Bacigalupi's version of the future where natural resources are exhausted and the world is enslaved by genehacking "calorie men," who have total control of food and energy supply and who are the source of multiple plagues, is still horrifying, but no longer surprising. The novelty is gone and with it, I assume, a good portion of the thrill some other readers new to Paolo Bacigalupi might experience.

What I did like, though, was story of Emiko, a windup girl, a being genetically engineered to serve and please. Emiko is an unwitting participant in a series of sinister plans to destroy Thailand's long-held independence by calorie men. I should have been interested in politics and intrigues, but I admit, I was much more taken by her personal story.

Emiko's struggle to understand what she is, if she is a human at all, even though everyone around her thinks her trash that can be abused or mulched at any point, and which part of her genetically manipulated self is her own and which was put into her at some scientist's whim - that is what drove the novel for me.

The nature of humanity and the consequences of genetic manipulations have already been explored by some fine writers in the past - by Kazuo Ishiguro in Never Let Me Go and by Margaret Atwood in Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, but Bacigalupi still managed to bring something new to the table.

For that alone The Windup Girl should be read. And, of course, there is also that very grim picture of our future, dark but possible.
Profile Image for Penny.
172 reviews348 followers
February 18, 2014
I absolutely had to read this after reading Paolo Bacigalupi's collection of short stories Pump Six and Other Stories. Two of the stories in the collection are set in the same world as The Windup Girl and both resonated deeply with me. I found the collection hard to read and impossible to put down. I couldn't leave Paolo's imagination just yet and so I had to read this novel next. I'm so glad I did.

This story is set in a not impossible, or frankly unlikely, version of our current world. It is set in Thailand which has survived the reordering of the world in its own way but maintains what seems to be a very real flavour of its current culture. I don't make this claim lightly, I make it based on comments from Thai members of our book club who have commented during the Q&A with Paolo that he captured the country and the culture so well. I mention this in particular because of the windup girl, also called the New People, who are said to have no soul. There's an interesting question around this point. What makes up a soul? Is it in our genes? Who gets a soul? The Buddhist believe they can come back in their next incarnation as a dog which means that animals can have souls, why not genetically engineered humanoids too? In this new world with fewer people, is this where old souls go to be reborn?

Questions of souls have always interested me so I found this platform for thought on the topic highly engaging.

Genetic engineering is another topic that I find fascinating. I think it could save the world by feeding everyone, but I think it's far more likely to ruin it due to the inherent greed embedded in human nature. No one has ever presented this argument quite as well as it is here in this book or in the short stories set in this world in Pump Six.

Besides having lots of very interesting food for thought, this is also a great story written with good pacing and characters you can relate to even when you hate them. It isn't a light fluffy tale, but it is real and it'll make you think. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews664 followers
May 19, 2014
I don't know if I've ever read a book quite like The Windup Girl. Normally, I try to situate a book I've just read in relation to other books, no matter how tenuous and personal the connections may be (I can't explain why I always think of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a more interesting version of On the Road, for instance.)

But this, I'm at a loss. Nothing springs to mind. It so rarely happens, but The Windup Girl stands alone in my mind

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,018 reviews1,184 followers
November 16, 2018
Updated review, after a re-read in November 2018.


Imagine a future where we have actually run out of oil and fossil fuel, where genetically modified food has gotten completely out of control, where people have figured out a way to make genetic weapons that ruined other countries’ harvests, and foodborne plagues have screwed up every level of the food chain and killed millions. Calories are now the most sought-after currency: clean calories, that is. Anderson Lake, the sort-of main character of “The Windup Girl”, works for a calorie company named AgriGen. He is located in Thailand, one of the few places where there is still profit to be made from the import of resources, and a shaky alliance between varying branches of government controls trade and environmental preservation and maintains a precarious peace. In this Bangkok on the brink of civil unrest, he will meet Emiko, the titular windup girl. She is an artificially created creature, almost human, engineered to be the toy of a wealthy Japanese man. And like most toys, she ended up thrown away, and now she is a very popular entertainment for decadent men who frequent the club she works at. Anderson’s rampant ambition and attraction to Emiko are some of the many factors that will set in motion a series of events of destructive consequences. Their story is interwoven with that of Jaidee, a city official trying to do the right thing, and that of Hock Seng, a Chinese refugee working for Lake who is struggling to make his life safe again.

The multiple points of view that show this strange new world under very different lights, the tension built by the civil unrest that boils over as a reaction to the corrupt government agency calling the shots, the paranoia of being a target leading characters to do things they would never have done under normal circumstances: all those things make the book very affecting, even if character development is not very sophisticated. No one trusts anyone in this dog-eat-dog world, and bribes are what seems to keep everything running, so everyone is constantly walking on eggshells, creating a tense and urgent atmosphere up until the very last page.

But there is no denying that this is a bleak book. The world it is set in is dirty, cruel and dangerous – and yet so meticulously imagined that it feels 100% real. The classic sci-fi questions addressed by Bacigalupi (how far can science go before it turns against us, nature vs. nurture, what is evolution, etc.) are nothing new, but the context in which he forces us to think about them is key: it is a terrifyingly close and believable future. The slow and unavoidable breakdown of the world as we know it due to lack of natural resources always taken for granted. This idea of a slow and creeping apocalypse is in many much more unnerving than that of a quick and brutal one: I don’t think anyone worries about the atomic bomb blowing us all to smithereens anymore, but we watch sea-levels rise around our feet and freak out. In many ways, it reminded me of the masterful “The Sheep Look Up” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), which also tackled the idea of ecological apocalypse and its consequences – albeit in a very different setting.

The character of Emiko is fascinating because she is a strange form of AI - or post-human creature, really - who feels, wants and thinks, but her engineering also limits her. She was not naturally born, her suffering is not taken seriously by most and some people even consider her to be demonic, because she is technically stronger than humans, and is only kept relatively inoffensive by some genetic programming that makes her subservient. What if those barriers were removed? What if she was given the chance to evolve freely? Post-human evolution or transhumanism is a fascinating and unsettling topic. Gibbons, the geneticist encountered in the second half of the book talks about windups as an upgrade on human beings since they are impervious to the diseases that have killed so many, are often stronger and better suited to live in this new world that has been so devastated by plagues and crop failures. While some people consider them an abomination, he sees only that one needs to adapt in order to survive, and that the windups are simply better adapted than good old-fashioned humans.

Did this biopunk fiction make too many people uncomfortable? Is that why it is so scandalously unknown (I know it won a bunch of awards, but for some reason, none of my friends had heard of it, and it took me ages to find a bookstore that had it in stock)? I found it to be so darkly fascinating, beautifully written and yet completely fucking depressing. The slow apocalypse, not triggered by one world-changing event, but by a series of seemingly small disasters one after the other… if you read any report written in the last decade by a climatologist, you can’t deny that this is what we are experiencing right now, in our lifetime. Not all genetically modified food is bad: sometimes it helps grow stronger crops in hard-to-cultivate areas. But when it’s used unwisely or greedily, it can have a lot of terrible repercussions. I am definitely a science person, but I do think that we need a solid moral compass with which to evaluate how far we go in pushing back the boundaries of human knowledge. Things backfire, good science in malicious hands becomes a weapon and then we all pay the price.

This is a really unique and amazing book that I recommend to all sci-fi fans, and fans of great writing in general. I will be re-reading many times.
Profile Image for Clouds.
228 reviews635 followers
June 30, 2013

Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my HUGO WINNERS list.

This is the reading list that follows the old adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". I loved reading the Locus Sci-Fi Award winners so I'm going to crack on with the Hugo winners next (but only the post-1980 winners, I'll follow up with pre-1980 another time).

I had mixed feelings before I read this book. It had been on my shelf for a few months and - on the one hand - most reviews were in agreement that this is a great book with brilliant writing, but - on the other hand - most reviewers were also in agreement that this is an incredibly bleak and disheartening vision of the future.

I sometimes find it hard to get excited about stories that I know are going to bring me down. I had a copy of Schindler's List for years before I watched it. I knew it would be amazing but it wasn't until a day I was already down in the dumps that I found the motivation to put it on - and then, oddly, it made me feel better, because, "hey, my day wasn't that bad in comparison!"

Generally I'm a happy soul at the moment, in my contented little bubble with my wife and baby son, so why go looking for the book that will bum you out? Because it really is brilliant, that's why!

Yes - The Windup Girl is bleak as f#ck. It does not pull punches. The world we meet is a sad and down-at-heel place. These characters are not nice people. Great things do not happen to them. They do not feel good about that. Most of them do not survive. We do not leave this world in a better state than we met it. That sucks.

But this is a writer who has really, really honed their craft. It's damn near flawless writing. Tense, vivid, original, expectant, gripping, sensual, imaginative, bold, mature, relentless, exciting, fascinating, provocative, exotic, timely, memorable... and yes, I really have run out of superlatives!

Every character here is expertly balanced. Each is powerful and driven, but also fundamentally flawed. Every character grows and changes in convincing and unexpected ways. Even though they're all working at cross-purposes, they all still endeared themselves to me. The Tiger, The Yellow-Card Spider, The Windup Girl, The Calorie Man and The New Tiger will all live long in my memory.

It was really refreshing to read a sci-fi set in Asia, with Thai words sprinkled throughout. A dystopian future in a Buddhist culture! You're plunged into this world, with all these superb little details and it's tightly woven and cohesive and... just a great setting!

The blend of technology got a big tick from me too. Kink springs, meagadonts, spring guns, clippers, methane lamps - each invention a plausible reaction to a post-oil, post-gun powder world. Technology is a cornerstone of sci-fi, and Bacigalupi has done a sterling job of high-tech/low-tech innovation.

I've seen The Windup Girl described as steampunk, which got me thinking. Steampunk is a derivative of cyberpunk, and this book definitely riffs off cyberpunk - the back cover blurb even name-checks Gibson. And a lot of the visuals and aesthetics do fit the steampunk ethos, but steampunk is conceptually a kind of pre-oil sci-fi, whereas this is post-oil, and although they may be in similar places on opposite sides of that curve, they're definitely not in the same head-space. I've seen this described as biopunk, which had a certain ring to. It would be interesting to see a little cloud of sf-punk subgeres evolve. Cyberpunk, steampunk, biopunk... What next? Spacepunk? Psypunk? Ecopunk? Funkpunk? :-)

The ending of the book has this little sequel-hook which didn't work for me. That's about my only complaint, really. I wouldn't complain about a sequel - I'd love to read a sequel! But the book was strong enough to stand alone in all respects, and I felt the little scene with the girl and the generipper saying "hmm, I wonder what happens next?" felt tacked on at the publishers request rather than fitting naturally within the narrative arc. Just my two cents.

My penultimate point is how hard this is to compare. Whenever I describe a book to someone who reads a lot, I try to say "it's a bit like..." But this one is tricky! It's a bit like Stephenson (if he stayed more disciplined). It's a bit like Simmons (if he narrowed his scope). It's a bit like Hamilton (if he had a grimmer outlook). It's a bit like Baxter (if he had more flair). It's a bit like Egan (if he could write deeper characters). It's a bit like Morgan (if he went multi-perspective). It's a bit like Robinson (if he got a lot more intense). But Bacigalupi is, at the end of the day, a strongly original author who has carved out a superb new niche - who I can't wait to read more from!

Final point (I promise, I know this has been a long review) - this got on to my reading list as a Hugo winner. It was the joint 2010 winner with China Miéville's The City & The City . My first big award-winners reading list was the Locus Sci-Fi winners - and they gave it to Boneshaker that year (huge mistake!). I'm a big Mieville fan, but of the three I'd give my award to The Windup Girl . It pushed all my buttons, and I kept being surprised by how much I was enjoying it. Definitely, highly, repeatedly recommended!

After this I read: Borders of Infinity
September 1, 2017
Full review @Scaredy Engines End of Line Library

Five QUINTILLION stars! Seriously though it has been such a long time since I stumbled across a book I love this much and to top it all off it’s set in a place I visited a lot on holiday while growing up: Bangkok!

But this wasn’t the Bangkok we all know, it was one that is a result of the aftermath of global warming and what humans are doing to the planet. I read this book while on holiday in Thailand so I got a deeper experience of the many culture points in the plot as well as (believe it or not) some nostalgia for my childhood days when we used to stay a month in Thailand every year at Christmas. But don’t get the wrong idea, this was not a happy book, not even close it is dystopian after all. There were many interesting topics raised in this book as mentioned in the description and wow the author did a really good job of delivering.

Profile Image for Becky.
1,384 reviews1,650 followers
April 20, 2015
Well... That was interesting. I really had no idea what this book was actually going to be about when I started it, and even if I had read the description or reviews, I don't think it would have helped much. I just finished this book, after being immersed for a full week in this world, a plausible future Earth, and I'm thinking that I'll be pondering the lessons and themes in this one for a while yet. There's just so freaking MUCH to this book... It's hard to say that it's about any one thing. It's about many, many things. Not least of which is a question of what it means to be human.

This book was fascinating to me once it got going and I started to piece together the snippets of the description to form a picture of this future Bangkok. We're just plunked down in this world, and from the very beginning we have to rush to catch up. We're always two or three steps behind, trying to learn the ins and outs of this alien world that seems like our own, but is so different. There are the food plagues, the shortages, calories as currency, but also regular currency (baht), racial tensions, bio-engineered species tensions, a political tightwire act... and so, so much more that it's almost boggling to my mind how Bacigalupi kept it all straight. I'm... almost terrified to imagine what happened in Burma in his head. I don't know if he wrote about it - there are related short stories - but from the hints and the little bits of info we get throughout this story, it's awful. (Of course I have to read more to find out though. The concepts he's come up with here are too good - and potentially horrifying - to pass by.)

It took a bit for this to get going, to build up some steam, but man. Once it did, the shit hit the crank-fans. There was just so much going on that it felt like it never let up from the 50% mark to the end, and it just dragged me along for the ride.

I really enjoyed all of the characters in this book. Every single one of them seemed real and well written and true to life. All of these people are flawed and human (or not), and they all seemed... familiar. It really helped to live in this world, to see such familiar trends among people. The reasons and details may be different... but that hatred and fear that we love to use as a blunt instrument is forever.

I listened to the audio, read by Jonathan Davis (not the Korn one!), and he did an excellent job. I usually go on and on about readers 'doing the voices' and how much I hate it... but when it's done well, it can make such a huge difference. And Davis does it well. It really helped me to fully feel like I was immersed in this book, in the cultures portrayed, and felt like I was part of it. I did read along (as I'm not familiar with the Thai language, so it helped to see the text) and I found myself reading ahead and then making myself stop because I wanted to hear him read it to me instead. It was great. There was never a time when I mixed up a character, or was confused as to who was speaking, because he did such a great job at giving them their own personalities that it honestly felt like a full cast reading at times.

Though, I have to say that one of the voices was a little distracting to me. That was the voice of Gi Bu Sen, a white bio-engineer genius, who Davis made sound a teeeeensy bit too much like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. It was kind of fascinating. I wonder if it's intentional. I could see Sheldon growing into that type of person (though maybe for different reasons). The way their minds work with regards to scientific discovery, the pure passion and desire to keep learning and discovering, is there in both of them, I think. Or I could be wrong about Sheldon - I've only seen random episodes of BBT, so I might not have a full understanding of him. But from what I've seen... I think it's a fair assessment.

Anyway. I really did enjoy this book, though it is disturbing and brutal at times. It's a frighteningly plausible future... One I'm glad that I wouldn't be around to see, if I'm honest.
Profile Image for Mogsy.
2,075 reviews2,636 followers
August 28, 2015
3.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum http://bibliosanctum.com/2015/08/28/b...

This was a great book. And the only reason I’m not rating it higher is because I’ve read better from Paolo Bacigalupi. If I had read this a few years ago, I think I would have enjoyed it unconditionally, but of course that’s not what happened. Instead, I read The Water Knife earlier this year and loved it, and as I usually do when I read an amazing new book by an author I’ve never read before, I went and picked up a bunch of Bacigalupi’s older titles. I decided to read The Windup Girl first, his multiple-award winning debut that shot him to stardom, and figured too that it was the perfect choice to review for Backlist Burndown.

The book takes place in 23rd century Thailand in a world ravaged by increasing temperatures and rising sea levels. Frequent disasters, both natural and manmade, cause widespread devastation to crops and human populations. Humanity is now dependent on biotechnology for food production, and megacorporations control the market using their own genetically modified seeds, which have all but replaced the natural order. The capital city of Bangkok only survives due to technology, and would be underwater if not for the levees that hold back the flood.

The story features multiple POVs. Major characters include Anderson Lake, a Calorie Man for the megacorp AgriGen, a sort of economic hitman sent to work undercover at a factory in Thailand. It is a front for his real mission, to search Bangkok’s street markets for produce thought to be extinct in order to discover the location of the Thai seedbank. Anderson leaves the running of the factory to his manager, Hock Seng, a Chinese refugee who was a businessman in his former life in Malaysia before being exiled from the country. Seng plots against Anderson, embezzling from the company while planning to steal secret designs and documents from his boss.

Then there’s Emiko, a “Windup Girl”. She is a genetically engineered being, and not human in the strictest sense, due to all the different modifications to her DNA. Windups are made to be docile slaves, programmed to obey. Abandoned by her Japanese master, Emiko lives a dangerous life in Thailand, because she would be destroyed if caught. She is forced to put up with sexual abuse and humiliation at the club where she works, in exchange for a measure of protection against the Thai government. She dreams of a day when she can finally buy her freedom and leave this place forever for a refuge in the north.

What I found interesting are the many similarities The Water Knife had to The Windup Girl. Bacigalupi seems to fancy writing dystopian science fiction about humans screwing up the future of the world. Both stories feature a shortage of vital resources, their supplies controlled by megacorporations or corrupt authorities. Both books even have a corporate hitman/mercenary-type character in a main role. So, perhaps comparisons between my experiences with his latest novel versus my experience with his first novel were going to be inevitable.

First, there’s the realistic premise, an important factor that makes all the difference. For me, dystopian novels tend to be more impactful when they take the form of cautionary tales or commentary on current issues, given how much easier it is to imagine them really happening. I also spent a part of my childhood in Bangkok, so reading this story also had a strong effect on me in more ways than one.

There are some unpleasant and difficult themes to deal with as well. Bacigalupi’s novels are certainly not happy stories. Characters in The Windup Girl live in a grim and very brutal world, and many are subject to discrimination, violence and other kinds of abuse. Emiko, the book’s titular character is especially subjected to the worst kind of treatment – rejected, beaten, raped, tortured, hated – all because of what she is and what she represents. Created to be nothing more than a toy for the wealthy, Emiko is helpless to control her situation or even her own actions because of her genetic modifications.

As well-written as this was, the author has certainly come a long way since his debut novel. The Windup Girl is a fascinating and engaging tale. Compared to The Water Knife though, it’s not nearly as well-plotted or polished. I sensed that Bacigalupi’s storytelling was still outpaced by his imagination at this point, in part due to the uneven pacing as well as the unexpected turn of events in the last quarter of the book. I can’t say I’m too fond of the last 100 or so pages; what should have been a ramp up to a killer conclusion instead had me fighting to keep my interest, but for all that, I still thought this was a great read.
Profile Image for Oscar.
1,975 reviews491 followers
September 1, 2016
’La chica mecánica’ (The Windup Girl, 2009), de Paolo Bacigalupi, es uno de los libros de ciencia ficción más premiados de los últimos años. Durante 2010, se hizo con cuatro de los más importantes: Hugo, Nebula, Locus y John W. Campbell Memorial. Esto, junto a las temáticas que trata, cyberpunk, steampunk, biopunk, distopía, hacia su lectura inevitable. Aunque esto de los premios es un arma de doble filo, ya que si bien los hace bien visibles, las expectativas se incrementan en exceso.

Al empezar la novela, parecía que no me iba a gustar demasiado, y ya estaba empezando a afilar los cuchillos para la crítica. A mí me ha costado entrar en la atmósfera que nos propone Bacigalupi, no por falta de acción, ideas o dificultad, sino por no lograr empatizar con lo que me estaban contando. Pero en un momento dado, Bacigalupi ha logrado convencerme. Su historia es de las que van calando poco a poco, y se va colando por los resquicios de tu mente, hasta quedar absorbida por ella. Había momentos durante el día en que me veía asaltado por la atmósfera e imágenes de la novela. En fin, que una vez metido en faena, es difícil separarse del libro y todo va cuesta abajo.

Pero, ¿qué nos encontramos en ’La chica metálica’? El escenario es original e impactante: Tailandia, y su capital Krung Thep, en un futuro cercano. Tailandia nos sirve de reflejo de lo que está sucediendo en el resto del mundo. Calentamiento global, subida del nivel de los mares, manipulación y piratería genética y transgénica descontroladas, proliferación de plagas y virus provocados por dicha manipulación, que afectan a las cosechas, etc. A esto hay que añadir una regresión tecnológica provocada por la crisis de los combustibles fósiles, con lo que la población ha de hacer uso de otros tipos de energía, basada en resortes, metano o fuerza animal, esta última proveniente de megodontes (mezcla de mamut y elefante). Resulta curioso oír hablar de ordenadores a pedales o transportes en dirigibles.

Bajo este escenario, tenemos a Anderson Lake, un agente encubierto de la corporación AgriGen, una de esas empresas que se dedican a especular con semillas estériles para de esta manera impedir que los países obtengan sus propias simientes. Anderson, un occidental, deberá lidiar con cuantos problemas se presenten hasta obtener lo que busca. Hock Seng, ayudante de Anderson, es un refugiado de Malasia, que tuvo que huir de los fundamentalistas, y que ahora busca un nuevo comienzo, a toda costa. Emiko es un neoser, una chica metálica, abandonada en Tailandia por sus amos japoneses, que trabaja en un local sometida a continuas humillaciones, y que es el personaje que más me ha gustado.

Bacigalupi se desenvuelve con soltura en una historia ajustada, pese a sus algo más de 500 páginas. Otros autores la habrían aumentado a 800 páginas sin problemas, seguro. Bacigalupi presenta una historia sombría y pesimista, que te hace reflexionar, sin por ello renunciar a la aventura. Sin duda, un escritor a tener muy en cuenta.
124 reviews3 followers
August 25, 2010
So in this mediocre book we have :

1) An unoriginal world setup – we’ve run out of fuel and are looking for alternatives, and experimenting with genetic modification has resulted in plagues and diseases and food shortage. These are scares people commonly talk about today, so nothing too exciting.

2) The characterization is clumsy and simple – the “good guy” is a man’s man, a fighting champion now fighting for the people. The politicians are corrupt and scheming. Etc.

3) From a feminist perspective, the book presents offensive portrayals of women* see below

4) The plot doesn’t tie together well in several places.

5) All of this is expressed through choppy sentence fragments (I found many paragraphs with one or two complete sentence and 5 or 6 sentence fragments in a single paragraph – not exactly smooth reading.)

None of that would surprise or annoy me much except that this book was nominated for both Nebual and Hugo (did it win both? it won at least one of those) and it has a prominent displays in every major bookstore. It’s not a well established author; this isn’t someone who learned the genre in its earlier incarnation. It’s a new guy. Apparently, this is what we think the next best thing in science fiction should look like. And that makes me sad.

*There are hardly any female characters to start with – 4 women have speaking lines out of dozens of speaking characters. THEN the main female character is a sexbot who just can’t help being submissive (repeatedly described as doglike). She is of course genetically modified to enjoy all forms of sex whether she wants to or not (including graphically described anal champagne bottle insertion - wait did I accidentally buy sci fi erotica? I thought this was mainstream. Oh wait, it's sci fi, this is expected, right? Well if it was 1958 it would be expected . . . )

At one point, she’s unconscious from an attempt someone made to murder her. She’s so injured she’s passed out. Yet the main character (male) can’t help noticing that her clothes have magically shredded off her in the murder attempt and a few seconds after she opens her eyes, she’s engaged in steamy foreplay with him (seriously. What kind of sick writer writes this crap? Neither of them will be thinking about sex when she was in a coma 30 seconds beforehand. The author seems to have had a rule that this character must be engaged in degrading sexual acts during 80% of her time on page).

The book fails both the bechdel and the miller tests.



Side note : (seriously, guys, isn’t it time to start writing female main characters who aren’t sexbots? Please? That’s all we want. Human women, not cyborgs or aliens or genetically mutated sexbots. Women who do NOT spend the majority of their time in the story thinking about or engaging in sex and also women who are not professional sex workers. Look around you. Most women are not sex workers. Isn’t it a little weird to make 50% of the women in your story sex workers? Yes. It’s weird. But I digress.)

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