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The Windup Girl [Paperback]

Paolo Bacigalupi
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (547 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Noted short story writer Bacigalupi (Pump Six and Other Stories) proves equally adept at novel length in this grim but beautifully written tale of Bangkok struggling for survival in a post-oil era of rising sea levels and out-of-control mutation. Capt. Jaidee Rojjanasukchai of the Thai Environment Ministry fights desperately to protect his beloved nation from foreign influences. Factory manager Anderson Lake covertly searches for new and useful mutations for a hated Western agribusiness. Aging Chinese immigrant Tan Hock Seng lives by his wits while looking for one last score. Emiko, the titular despised but impossibly seductive product of Japanese genetic engineering, works in a brothel until she accidentally triggers a civil war. This complex, literate and intensely felt tale, which recalls both William Gibson and Ian McDonald at their very best, will garner Bacigalupi significant critical attention and is clearly one of the finest science fiction novels of the year. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—In a future Thailand, calories are the greatest commodity. Anderson is a calorie-man whose true objective is to discover new food sources that his company can exploit. His secretary, Hock Seng, is a refugee from China seeking to ensure his future. Jaidee is an officer of the Environmental Ministry known for upholding regulations rather than accepting bribes. His partner, Kanya, is torn between respect for Jaidee and hatred for the agency that destroyed her childhood home. Emiko is a windup, an engineered and despised creation, discarded by her master and now subject to brutality by her patron. The actions of these characters set in motion events that could destroy the country. Bacigalupi has created a compelling, if bleak, society in which corruption, betrayal, and despair are commonplace, and more positive behavior and emotions such as hope and love are regarded with great suspicion. The complex plot and equally complex characters require a great deal of commitment from readers. Even the most sympathetic people have darker sides, and it is difficult to determine which character or faction should triumph. This highly nuanced, violent, and grim novel is not for every teen. However, mature readers with an interest in political or environmental science fiction or those for whom dystopias are particularly appealing will be intrigued. If they are able to immerse themselves completely into the calorie-mad world of a future Bangkok, they will not be disappointed.—Karen E. Brooks-Reese, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Reviewers seemed to struggle with The Windup Girl, but in the same way one struggles with a great work of art. All were bewildered by the world Bacigalupi has created and by his ability to create characters that effectively dramatize its many differences from (as well as crucial similarities to) our own. Yet all felt the need to dwell upon some aspect of the book that did not quite sit right with them--whether it was the intense (though not gratuitous) violence or the sleights of hand Bacigalupi uses to craft the plot. Perhaps such reactions were not surprising, though, for a book that many hailed as a masterpiece of the unsettling.

Review

(Starred Review) This complex, literate and intensely felt tale, which recalls both William Gibson and Ian McDonald at their very best, will garner Bacigalupi significant critical attention and is clearly one of the finest science fiction novels of the year. --Publishers Weekly<br /><br />Bacigalupi is as unflinching in his examination of the unthinkable cruelty, humiliation and banal evil that humanity inflicts on the Other as he is on the bleak future that our mass consumption society will inevitably unleash. In his fictional vision, there will be no miraculous rescue from our moral or environmental sins. The Windup Girl will almost certainly be the most important SF novel of the year for its willingness to confront the most cherished notions of the genre, namely that our future is bright and we will overcome our selfish, cruel nature. --BookPage

Bacigalupi is as unflinching in his examination of the unthinkable cruelty, humiliation and banal evil that humanity inflicts on the Other as he is on the bleak future that our mass consumption society will inevitably unleash. In his fictional vision, there will be no miraculous rescue from our moral or environmental sins. The Windup Girl will almost certainly be the most important SF novel of the year for its willingness to confront the most cherished notions of the genre, namely that our future is bright and we will overcome our selfish, cruel nature. --BookPage --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

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From The Washington Post

Not since William Gibson's pioneering cyberpunk classic, "Neuromancer" (1984), has a first novel excited science fiction readers as much as Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Windup Girl." I missed it last year when the book first appeared, but three recent events have made it a timely addition to the summer reading list.

First, just two weeks ago "The Windup Girl" was awarded the Locus Magazine Award for best first novel. Second, in May Bacigalupi received the even more prestigious Nebula Award -- given by the Science Fiction Writers of America -- for best novel of the year. Those are convincing literary endorsements. But the third reason to pick up "The Windup Girl" is for its harrowing, on-the-ground portrait of power plays, destruction and civil insurrection in Bangkok.

Even though the book is set in an imagined future, its depiction of the city during violent unrest feels astonishingly true-to-life. Inadvertently, Bacigalupi offers a window on what it must have been like in Thailand's capital during this spring's strife and bloodshed. Though he stresses in his acknowledgments that the novel "should not be construed as representative of present-day Thailand or the Thai people," its overall vision of this wondrous and decadent city is nonetheless very close to that found in such contemporary thrillers as John Burdett's "Bangkok Tattoo."

By the end of the 22nd century, the world has been ravaged by deadly viruses, the disappearance of entire species, the rising of the oceans and the loss of all power based on petroleum. Sailing ships and dirigibles transport goods. Computers still exist, but they are operated by treadle-power, like old-time sewing machines. Guns shoot "razor disks" rather than bullets. Factories employ megadonts -- genetically altered elephants -- to turn their dynamos. Even "the Empire of America is no more," while something unspeakable happened in Finland. Not least, gigantic corporations like PurCal and AgriGen have become supra-national forces, with their own armies.

The Thai kingdom has so far survived, in part because it has sealed itself off from the outside world, and through draconian measures managed to keep the food supply relatively safe. The Environment Ministry -- supported by the brutally patriotic "white shirts" -- maintains stringent border and biological security: It has been known to burn entire villages to the ground at the very first instance of deadly "blister rust," "cibiscosis" or "genehack weevil." However, in recent years, the Child Queen has allowed the upstart Trade Ministry to gain power and to encourage some small-scale foreign investment in the kingdom.

Pretending to be a developer of innovative "kink-springs," Anderson is in fact an agent of AgriGen, assigned to Bangkok to orchestrate a covert yet aggressive initiative by the Des Moines-based corporation. He employs Hock Seng, an aging but resilient Chinese who lost his shipping company, family and very nearly his own life a few years previous during the genocides in Malaya. Trusting no one, he dreams of re-establishing his name and wealth. By contrast, Jaidee, the so-called Tiger of Bangkok, is the pugnaciously idealistic captain of the white shirts, determined to preserve his country against the onslaught of foreign influence and corruption. His unsmiling Lt. Kanya suffers from some dark burden on her soul.

And then there is Emiko, the windup girl. Windups, or New People, are essentially genetically modified test-tube babies, creche-grown in Japan. In other countries they are branded and loathed as genetic trash, without true souls. All windups move with a herky-jerky gait, like puppets on invisible strings.

In essence, Emiko has been designed to be a supremely beautiful, compliant geisha. Obedience has been built into her DNA. Her skin has been made ivory smooth by reducing the size of her pores. Never intended to function in a tropical climate, Emiko has nonetheless been callously abandoned in Bangkok: Her patron decided "to upgrade new in Osaka." She was then bought by the unscrupulous Raleigh, a survivor of "coups and counter-coups, calorie plagues and starvation," who now "squats like a liver-spotted toad in his Ploenchit 'club,' smiling in self-satisfaction as he instructs newly arrived foreigners in the lost arts of pre-Contraction debauch."

Raleigh's nightclub soon features a very special sex show: Each night the brutalized Emiko must suffer the attentions of an inventively sadistic co-worker. Afterward, her body is for hire by anyone seeking a forbidden, transgressive thrill. The girl lives in near-suicidal despair.

Until the night she meets Anderson, who tells Emiko of an enclave of windups, "escapees from the coal war," dwelling in the forests to the North. Emiko soon dreams of fleeing her sordid destiny and making her way, somehow, to this village.

From the windup, the smitten Anderson learns of a mysterious Gi Bu Sen, who has developed a new blight-resistant fruit that has recently appeared in the Thai markets. Protected by the government and living in luxurious seclusion somewhere, this Kurtz-like farang can only be the renegade AgriGen scientist Gibbons, the greatest generipper in the world, long thought to be dead. He must be found and restored to the corporation. It is because of his genius -- and the kingdom's hidden storehouse of carefully preserved seeds -- that Thailand has been able to stay "one step ahead of the plagues."

As the novel advances, the political machinations grow increasingly tense. General Pracha, Minister Akkarat, a sinister adviser to the queen named Somdet Chaopraya, even the so-called "Dung Lord" all vie for power. Meanwhile, the increasingly troubled Lt. Kanya converses with a ghost, one who knows her secret. While Emiko may be the titular windup girl, Kanya is the novel's woundup woman, a human kink spring under intense psychological pressure. When everything begins to fall apart, these two will determine the fate of Krung Thep, the City of Divine Beings -- Bangkok.

Readers of science fiction will recognize multiple influences on this excellent novel: Cordwainer Smith, J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, China Mieville and even, possibly, Margaret Atwood, who proffers a similar vision of post-apocalyptic want, fanaticism and gene-manipulation in "Oryx and Crake" and "The Year of the Flood." Clearly, Paolo Bacigalupi is a writer to watch for in the future. Just don't wait that long to enjoy the darkly complex pleasures of "The Windup Girl."

bookworld@washpost.com

Reviewed by by Michael Dirda
Copyright 2010, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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