Jeffrey Keeten's Reviews > The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
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Apr 05, 2012

really liked it
Read from April 05 to 08, 2012

“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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."

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Comments (showing 1-50 of 61) (61 new)


Niclas this review made me want to read this book even more.


Jeffrey Keeten Niclas wrote: "this review made me want to read this book even more."

Thank you Niclas. I bet you will love it.


message 3: by Melki (new)

Melki I went searching for this at the library - no luck, but I did get Ship Breaker by the same author. Hope to get to it soon.


StoryTellerShannon I've moved it up on my "to read list" because of you.


Tfitoby great review, makes me want to re-read it. although i sort of always want to re-read this book.


message 6: by B0nnie (new) - added it

B0nnie This looks very interesting. Scary, but interesting


Jeffrey Keeten Melki wrote: "I went searching for this at the library - no luck, but I did get Ship Breaker by the same author. Hope to get to it soon."

I just received Ship Breaker in the mail yesterday. After reading Windup Girl I'm really looking forward to reading it.


Jeffrey Keeten Shannon wrote: "I've moved it up on my "to read list" because of you."

Thanks Shannon! I don't think you will be disappointed.


Jeffrey Keeten Tfitoby wrote: "great review, makes me want to re-read it. although i sort of always want to re-read this book."

Thanks Tfitoby! I do think it is definitely re-readable. I hope Bacigalupi keeps writing more books in this vein.


Jeffrey Keeten B0nnie wrote: "This looks very interesting. Scary, but interesting"

A rather quick read, but plenty of "food" for thought.


message 11: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee Ann Went to the rural library today and got this book. Found your review very interesting. Now I will read it and comment after I have. Thank you for inspiring me to read it..


Jeffrey Keeten Lee wrote: "Went to the rural library today and got this book. Found your review very interesting. Now I will read it and comment after I have. Thank you for inspiring me to read it.."

Thanks Lee! I hope you like it. Sorry about taking so long to respond. Somehow your response did not prompt me in my feed.


message 13: by Karl (new) - added it

Karl Castillon Interesting, Now I will borrow this "WUG" from my sister... thanks btw...


message 14: by Lynne (new)

Lynne King Jeffrey, Mmmmmm...

So, I go with this:

“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.”

Spot-on!


Jeffrey Keeten Lynne wrote: "Jeffrey, Mmmmmm...

So, I go with this:

“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 intellec..."


Sometimes I feel like he/she has been taking a good long snooze. I really liked that quote and don't know why I didn't have it in the original posting of this review. Nice to look at them with new eyes. Thanks Lynne!


message 16: by Bill (new)

Bill This book has been on and off my reading list several times. It's back on now.


Jeffrey Keeten Bill wrote: "This book has been on and off my reading list several times. It's back on now."

Thanks Bill! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


message 18: by S. (new) - rated it 4 stars

S. Nice write-up. Love the visuals


Jeffrey Keeten Michael wrote: "Nice write-up. Love the visuals"

Thanks Michael! I think this was the first review where I advanced to a larger scale review with the html, formatting, and pics etc.


message 20: by Rose (new) - added it

Rose Fantastic review! I'll have to check it out.


Jeffrey Keeten Rose wrote: "Fantastic review! I'll have to check it out."

Thanks Rose. I'm glad you enjoyed the review.


message 22: by Erika (new)

Erika Wow, great review! It's on my Wish List. Just curious--why did you dock it a star? Do you not give five star reviews out in general, or was there something you thought could have been handled better?


Jeffrey Keeten Erika wrote: "Wow, great review! It's on my Wish List. Just curious--why did you dock it a star? Do you not give five star reviews out in general, or was there something you thought could have been handled better?"<

A 4 star review is a good review. This is probably at least a 4.25. The rating system that GR provides is insufficient to allow for precision. The difference between a 4 or 5 star review for me is subjective. The book is great!



message 24: by Ted (new) - added it

Ted Wow, Jeffrey, this sounds like a great beach-read! Adding it. 8)


Jeffrey Keeten Ted wrote: "Wow, Jeffrey, this sounds like a great beach-read! Adding it. 8)"

Perfect beach-read material. I hope you enjoy!


message 26: by Erwin (new)

Erwin Great review, Jeffrey! I will add it to my tbr list.


message 27: by Jay (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jay I enjoyed the Water Knife. I'm trusting you about the Windup Girl.


Jeffrey Keeten Jay wrote: "I enjoyed the Water Knife. I'm trusting you about the Windup Girl."

This was the first book I read by Bacigalupi, and it made me a fan. So without hesitation, especially since you liked Water Knife, I can't imagine you not enjoying this one as well Jay. I always have to look up this author's name to spell it correctly.


message 29: by Vessey (new)

Vessey Jeffrey, I think everything you talk about in this review is important, but what drew my attention the most was this:

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.

How cool it is that I found your awesome review just now, because I just finished reading my friend Deanna’s review of ”Only Ever Yours”, which I really want to read now. I think you should read it as well. It makes a pretty good case and I hope you list the book as well. You’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s quite relevant to the passage you’ve shared.

And to spice things up :), I have to tell you that currently I’m reading ”My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult that is also about…well, I’m too ignorant in such matters to know if what the characters do in it could be qualified as genetic manipulation, but it does seem so. It’s about a couple of parents who discover that their two year old daughter has leukemia and they decide to have another daughter so they could use her as donor. With the doctors’ help they manage to create the perfect match. She is called a designer baby. Nothing about her is left to nature, which in itself is quite freaky and entails ethical questions, but what’s even more important is the fact that the girl, years later, decides to sue her parents, wanting medical emancipation, because she doesn’t want to be a donor anymore. Which entails other ethical questions. On one hand I understand her desire to have a normal life and to not have to go through painful and risky procedures again and again, but on the other it seems somehow quite radical to give up just like that and leave her sister (with whom she is actually very close) to die. Which makes you think about whether we have the right to engineer babies like that and for such purpose. Even when it comes to saving your child’s life. Sorry for making my comment so long by explaining about it, but I’m really excited about it and it also has relevance and I thought better tell you about it. What a trail of coincidences, eh? :) Here’s link to Deanna’s review of the other book, if you want to check it out. It sounds so chilling and so cool. Thanks for your thought provoking and way too exciting review, Jeffrey. :) So here's the link:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Jeffrey Keeten Vessey wrote: "Jeffrey, I think everything you talk about in this review is important, but what drew my attention the most was this:

Unintentionally he falls in lust/love with Emiko, a Windup Girl, an illegal co..."


Both books sound very intriguing Vessey! Have you seen the movies Gattaca (1997) and The Island (2005)? Both cover the topics you are discussing here and would be fun, but chilling additions to your reading. Great review by Deanna! Thanks for sharing.


message 31: by Vessey (new)

Vessey Jeffrey wrote: "Vessey wrote: "Jeffrey, I think everything you talk about in this review is important, but what drew my attention the most was this:

Unintentionally he falls in lust/love with Emiko, a Windup Girl..."


Oh, I haven't seen them, but I've heard of them. I know that "The Island" is with Scarlett Johnason. Right? I shall look for them. Thanks, Jeffrey! And thank you for reading Deanna's review. She's a lovely person and puts a lot of effort into her reviews. Just like you do, you gently mad reviewer. :)


message 32: by Jeffrey (last edited Jun 11, 2016 05:15AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jeffrey Keeten Vessey wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "Vessey wrote: "Jeffrey, I think everything you talk about in this review is important, but what drew my attention the most was this:

Unintentionally he falls in lust/love with Emik..."


Ethan Hawke is in Gattaca. He has a tendency to show up in movies I really like. Scarlett and Ewan MacGregor are in The Island. I really enjoyed both. I have a poster of Gattaca in my movie room downstairs. And yes my gently mad tendencies about books spills over to movies as well. :-)


message 33: by Elentarri (new)

Elentarri Between the negative reviews and the positive ones, I can't decide if I should get this for my husband for his birthday. He loves dystopian/ SHTF/ after SHTF novels.


Jeffrey Keeten Elentarri wrote: "Between the negative reviews and the positive ones, I can't decide if I should get this for my husband for his birthday. He loves dystopian/ SHTF/ after SHTF novels."

That is always the dilemma when suggesting or buying books for other people. I love dystopian books as well and really enjoyed this one. The writing is solid if you think he'd like the concept. There are getting to be so many negative reviews on GR of really good books it is hard to know who to trust. The Water Knife by the same writer might be an option as well.


Linda I absolutely enjoyed this book, as a sci-fi dystopian reader, knowing it's hard to find a real satisfying book in this genre it had really surprised me.


Catherine Ward i loved this book but also felt like it dropped the ball at the end.


message 37: by Elentarri (new)

Elentarri @Jeffrey, After Dark reads and Catherine - thank you for the help. :)


message 38: by Margitte (new)

Margitte Great review, Jeffrey!


message 39: by Vessey (new)

Vessey Thank you so much for reposting this awesome review! I love you <3


Jeffrey Keeten After Dark reads wrote: "I absolutely enjoyed this book, as a sci-fi dystopian reader, knowing it's hard to find a real satisfying book in this genre it had really surprised me."

The genre has been watered down by YA. It seems that writers who are interested in writing dystopia tend to go the YA route because of how well those books have been doing. Even Paola has written several YA books as well. This is one of the few modern dystopia books that I really liked.


Jeffrey Keeten Catherine wrote: "i loved this book but also felt like it dropped the ball at the end."

The dystopia and noir elements really worked for me Catherine. I didn't feel the way you did about the ending, but maybe the glow of the rest of the book was still working some magic on me.


Jeffrey Keeten Elentarri wrote: "@Jeffrey, After Dark reads and Catherine - thank you for the help. :)"

You are welcome!


Jeffrey Keeten Margitte wrote: "Great review, Jeffrey!"

Thanks Margitte!


Jeffrey Keeten Vessey wrote: "Thank you so much for reposting this awesome review! I love you <3"

You are most welcome!


message 45: by Linda (new) - added it

Linda Jeffrey, your review of this novel has me adding it to the pile of books I hope to read in my lifetime.....Lol!


Jeffrey Keeten Linda wrote: "Jeffrey, your review of this novel has me adding it to the pile of books I hope to read in my lifetime.....Lol!"

I know, right? My TBR is rather obese these days. I need to put it on a diet or read more books faster. Thanks Linda! I hope you do get a chance to read this book and enjoy it as much as I did.


message 47: by Noxa (new) - rated it 3 stars

Noxa Erm, the green headbands have nothing to do with the Trade ministry or the Thai in general:
they are the prevailing party in Malaysia after the coup that killed most and exiled the remaining Malayan Chinese over to Thailand.

Otherwise a great review.
😊


Jeffrey Keeten Noxa wrote: "Erm, the green headbands have nothing to do with the Trade ministry or the Thai in general:
they are the prevailing party in Malaysia after the coup that killed most and exiled the remaining Malaya..."


I'm sorry you didn't like the book Noxa as indicated by your rating. I thought it was inventive, had good world building elements, and yet had those noir elements that reminded of a Graham Greene novel.

I'm not sure how I put the green headbands in the mix in Thailand. It has been a long time since I've read it. I know as far as real history that Thai's have been split between color factions and that may have been on my mind when I was writing the review. Sorry for the mistake. I know that anything wrong in a review opens the reviewer up to criticism and usually detracts from the reader appreciating the rest of the review, so thanks for giving me the otherwise thumbs up.


message 49: by Vessey (new)

Vessey Thank you so much for reposting this wonderful review, Jeffrey! I love you <3


Jeffrey Keeten Vessey wrote: "Thank you so much for reposting this wonderful review, Jeffrey! I love you <3"

You are most welcome!


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