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217 of 247 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thai generip terror.
Thai generip terror.

It Bacigalupi ever writes anything that is sweetness and light, that right there would be likely proof of the Many Worlds Theory and the fact that you had slipped into an alternate universe.

The setting is Bangkok, or, colloquially, Krung Thep. It is also a near future dystopia. The city now houses many displaced Chinese refugees...
Published on September 23, 2009 by Blue Tyson

versus
34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Windup Novel
Paolo Bacigalupi was an unfamiliar name to me, but this novel received frothing praise and an unusually good cover, so I gifted it to my dad knowing I'd eventually get a crack at reading it (books are good like that).

This is a debut novel, and a quick glance at Bacigalupi's previous work reveals a volume of short stories that includes titles like Pump Six,...
Published on January 5, 2012 by R. Perkins


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217 of 247 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thai generip terror., September 23, 2009
This review is from: The Windup Girl (Hardcover)
Thai generip terror.

It Bacigalupi ever writes anything that is sweetness and light, that right there would be likely proof of the Many Worlds Theory and the fact that you had slipped into an alternate universe.

The setting is Bangkok, or, colloquially, Krung Thep. It is also a near future dystopia. The city now houses many displaced Chinese refugees from a Malaysia turned fundamentalist muslim fanatics. (See his story Yellow Card Man for background) Bangkok itself is only kept from drowning by engineering and technology.

This is a post-oil world, with very little petroleum technology available, remaining. No evidence of solar tech, either, really. Power is provided by human labor and genetically engineered highly efficient animals pourding kinetic energy into springs, which then can be used to power machines. Treadle computers, even. Countries have shrunk in upon themselves as a result, but are beginning to look outward again, with ships, and dirigibles. This makes this setting rather unlike the mass-media or AI ridden future India and Brasil etc. of Ian McDonald's devising.

Particularly nasty are the 'calorie companies' - organisations that have the ability to manufacture crops in large supply: but their crops are sterile, so you always need to go back for more. That is if bugs and plagues 'weevils' and 'blister rust' do not get them. Much dirty, violent dealing in support of this activity (see his story The Calorie Man) and there are mentions of it going horribly wrong in other countries. One of the questions this raises is how they manage to stay around - why, with such hatred of them, are the calorie men and women not mercilessly hunted and slaughtered. The only intimations you get of this are economic power, based in the USA. Also China is apparently dysfunctional, and many other countries are devastated. Thailand, through foresight, is struggling on, and is hence a point of interest. Their genetic stocks and the genetic engineering expert they have on hand to help defend them are of interest to all.

The rapidly mutating diseases caused by genetic engineering meddling and conflict kill many - with mainly the calorie companies having the resources to combat their own hellish offspring, if they care to. Mutated cats with no real predators except humans have also destroyed a lot of the food chain.

The novel has many viewpoints:

Anderson Lake, An American calorie man representative, brought in to try and increase productivity at a factory working on more efficient power springs. More than he seems, however.

Hock Seng, The Yellow Card Man, an elderly fallen Chinese merchant who escaped massacres and now works for Lake.

Emiko, The Windup Girl. A Japanese artificially created human. Unable to reproduce, overheats easily but has many unknown talents. Left behind by her owner, currently a working bar girl.

Kanya, an officer in the Environment Ministry's corps of field soldiers responsible for protecting the city from incursions of disease, animals and artificial humans.

Conflict develops from many angles - there is longstanding resentment between the Environment Ministry and Trade Ministry because of different philosophies, inward, and outward looking, respectively. The foreign merchants look to exploit this. Then there is of course anti-refugee racism. As mentioned before, and historically, the Asian against Asian racism or nationalism is quite horrific.

The novel leaves you uneasy the whole way through, but fascinated. After many thousands of stories I am not easy to surprise. I had no idea what the hell was going to happen in this book, apart from the fact that it was likely to be bloody. The writing is excellent. Bacigalupi is a major talent, if unfortunately not very prolific.

Hard to predict, but I think this novel is quite likely to be important in the sense of SF history. It is brilliant, in its all sweating dystopian style.

Forget whatever else you are reading, and speed browse to Webscriptions where this is a available multiformat DRM free (thankfully, given its theme). Hopefully it will do well enough so his collection 'Pump Six' becomes available, too. This is good enough to buy in any or all varieties, however.

It is that rare beast, a 5 star novel. Great at the start, great in the middle, great at the end.

5 out of 5
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107 of 121 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story of the future that seems too real, September 30, 2009
By 
William A. Greiner (Lynnwood, Washington United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Windup Girl (Hardcover)
It is hard to follow up the review by Blue Tyson...it covers the book very well so I will try not to repeat it.
As a reader of SF for many years,it is a rare moment that a book comes along that is shocking in its originality.
This a story set in a bleak world, but a world with hope as the characters struggle to find meaning and a future in this world.This is a world of corporate domination as groups fight for what is left in a decaying world.
But if anything ...this books central core is what it means to be human. That to be human is to make choices you may not like and that these choices define you for who you are.These characters must make those choices and that is what really makes this book great.
Be warned...this book does leave open a possible sequel but this book in itself is a stand alone story. Major plots are resolved in the end...but there are some questions to be answered.I have a feeling there is more to come.
This an author to watch...the only author that comes close to comparison is Ian McDonald.
This book is a must for all SF fans..enjoy and join me in hopefully a short wait for the next book.
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76 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning, scary and fantastic debut novel, October 6, 2009
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This review is from: The Windup Girl (Hardcover)
Paolo Bacigalupi's debut novel The Windup Girl is a frightening, realistic and brilliant look at the near future of the world. Taking place in Thailand at some point in the future, Bacigalupi paints a picture of a world that is caught between several major problems: climate change has affected the lives of many people around the world, and in turn, has brought a rise in global agricultural corporations, and global energy resources have been depleted, forcing major changes in the way people live their lives, and how a world-wide economy functions with different resources. Corporations have run amok with trying to maintain their profit margins, and released a number of plagues upon the world that devastated the planet's ecology upon which we all depend, and because of their actions, remain just a single step ahead of the latest mutation of blister rust and other assorted plagues. Thailand is a country that has thus far weathered the storm - the Royal government has maintained a fierce isolationist policy to keep the country from succumbing. As a result, Thailand has a precious resource that western companies desperately want: a genebank, containing thousands of new strains of crops that could be utilized to combat the ongoing struggle against plagues and hunger world-wide.

The story follows several discrete storylines and characters, each with their own motivations and demons. Anderson is a `calorie man', a westerner who ostensibly manages a factory that manufactures kink-springs, a renewable power source. Jaidee is a member of the Environmental Ministry, tasked with maintaining a barrier between Thailand and the rest of the world and the dangers that it poses. Emiko is a windup, a genetically engineered woman, designed by the Japanese for servitude and for sex, who has been abandoned in Thailand and fears that she will be mulched (killed and burned for energy). In addition to these main characters, there are a number of other background characters who are just as complex as their counterparts. In a nut-shell, Anderson has come to Thailand on the behalf of a major Agricorporation that is hoping to gain a foothold in the country in order to obtain rights to the country's gene banks. While he is ostensibly looking for ways to combat the plagues, Thailand officials believe that the corporations have far more sinister and selfish motivations for the gene banks. While in the country, he has to walk a narrow line to stay in the country, as the Environmental Ministry intends to keep Thailand free.

Captain Jaidee is a leading member of the Environmental Ministry, and throughout the book, it is clear that the country is not necessarily unified in its position to remain away from the rest of the world. Limited trade and imports occur through the actions of the Trade Ministry, which is at frightening odds with the Environmental Ministry, to the point where open bloodshed and crimes are committed on both sides to try and force their position upon the rest of the country, which eventually interrupts into violence, which helps to push forward some of the plans that Anderson and others have laid to gain more traction into the country.

Emiko's titular character is somewhere between the various storylines. As an artificial biological construct, she is a representation of what is wrong with the outside world in the eyes of a secular nation that believes heavily in the value of one's soul and rebirth. To the Thai people, she is a soulless being, one who is against nature, and essentially lumped in with the problems of the world. Thus, Emiko, who is unsuited for Thailand's climate with reduced pores (she overheats easily) and a body structure that makes her stutter while moving, which makes her a literal odd woman out, and thus a target to the Environmental Ministry (also known as White Shirts for their uniform) who see her as a threat to the country's independence.

Futuristic worlds are a common element in Science Fiction, but it is very rare to have one that is so deeply realized as Bacugalupi's Thailand, one that takes the current state of existence for the country and extrapolates into the future with hypothetical events. The portrait that he paints of the world is very scary indeed, and the constructed world has reacted accordingly though a number of levels. What makes this novel so interesting is just how everything fits together. There are economic elements that make sense, social, biological and political, all of which are not mere exposition in a prologue in the novel, but where they are an active part of the storyline. This, in a way is one of the best examples of show, don't tell, a writing exercise that I remember from creative writing courses. What is even better (or sobering, depending on how you look at it), this world makes sense. I can see major corporations putting profit ahead of common sense, and I can see the world going to hell in much more vivid detail now. Furthermore, Bacugalupi posits the power struggle between various departments of government, each with their own agendas and motives, both at odds with one another, which trails up through to the very end of the book.

There's a strong look at morality and ethics when it comes to bioengineering and the eventual fate of the species, and how our role fits within a society such as what we see in the future. Emiko, a Windup, is shunned, hated, in reaction to what she was, and what she represented: something highly unnatural. By the same token, there are holes in that sort of feeling, as one character confronts towards the end of the novel. One thing that particularly stuck in my mind was how much of evolution is an unnatural, random occurrence, verses how much of it is conscious decisions that any sort of creature makes that better enhances their chances of survival? In this world, survival is predicated on the work of gene rippers and scientists who remain just a couple of steps against plagues - it is noted that the windups are built for a purpose, and that they are immune to most problems in the world because of their unique design. Like the clashes in the Thailand government, there is a larger struggle at stake, survival, with both sides making valid arguments for their continued existence. In a sense, this story is a look at how the human race might choose to survive, and enter a new stage of development. To me, this is a very profound element to the story.

When all is said and done, there is one big theme that goes through and through with this book: survival. Each element of the book deals with this very issue, from the ultimate survival of the human race in a hostile world, to the immediate survival of several characters who are neck deep in political and economic conspiracy to the various branches of government who want to see their vision of the future for their country to survive the coming turmoil.

What truly stands out for this book is the rich detail and fantastic prose. I've purposely taken my time with this book so that I could absorb as much as I could. What Bacugalupi puts together is a superior story, one of the best science fiction novels that I have read in a long time, one that takes the best from well thought out characters, plausible economics and science and a complicated story.

(Originally posted to my blog)
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Windup Novel, January 5, 2012
This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
Paolo Bacigalupi was an unfamiliar name to me, but this novel received frothing praise and an unusually good cover, so I gifted it to my dad knowing I'd eventually get a crack at reading it (books are good like that).

This is a debut novel, and a quick glance at Bacigalupi's previous work reveals a volume of short stories that includes titles like Pump Six, Yellow Card Man and The Calorie Man. He has been crafting this world for a while now, the culmination of which is The Windup Girl. It's a cynical but splendidly imagined projection of the near future: fossil fuels are rare and exorbitantly expensive; global warming has raised sea level and weather patterns are volatile; misadventures in bioengineering have ravaged the world with plagues of viruses, bacteria, fungus and insects; corporate interests gain power as regional governments succumb to revolt.

This apocalyptic Thailand is plausible but miserable. You will not gasp at the majesty of steampunk invention here - you will likely gag. Windup's Bangkok is full of feral cats, religious and political fanatics, refugees and opportunistic businessmen. The resident crime boss is named the Dung Lord, and he vies for power along with Trade Minister Akkarat and General Pracha, the victor of a military junta at the narrative's outset. The cast of characters are all hard-bitten, all nursing personal grievances, all hopelessly driven to do what they end up doing. Anderson Lake (a great name for this anti-hero, but they're all good) is an American agribusinessman sent to Thailand with the objective of gaining access to the Kingdom's jealously-guarded seed stock. While pursuing this goal, he becomes entangled with Emiko, the genetically-engineered courtesan of the novel's title.

Fantastical but believable, larger-than-life but eminently identifiable, this setting is the novel's triumph. Methane-filled dirigibles coexist with genetically-engineered oversized elephants, and it clicks. Buddhist monks and Thai monarchy provide a traditional backdrop over which drapes Bacigalupi's futurism. I quickly became entranced, wanting to discover the world's machinations, the clockwork of the author's imagination. He's excited about the setting, and he should be - his implications are chilling and his questions difficult. Emiko's predicament is particularly profound as she suffers discrimination due to the stigma of being a 'New Human'. From her DNA up, she has been programmed to serve and please her human masters, and the resultant exploration of her free will feels surprisingly authentic given the shoddy treatment I've come to expect of the subject. Throughout the novel she is told that she has no soul, that she is a piece of 'genetic trash', and I feel real sympathy for her hurt and existential confusion. Anderson Lake plays her intriguing counterpoint as he at once frees and frightens her. His struggle parallels hers at times as he seeks to understand a culture that feels alien and resists his every effort to understand it. I became easily invested in and intrigued with Windup's characters and their unique narrative perspectives. Great, then, was my disappointment as I approached the book's ending with the realization that the material had not been done justice.

This novel should have been better. It's compelling enough that I lament criticizing it too harshly, but it buckles under the weight of scrutiny. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was reading a draft, perhaps a first submission of the novel to a publishing house. Bacigalupi's comfort with short story writing shows, and at its best, the novel is concisely exhilarating. Unfortunately, I quickly found myself tiring of reintroductions of the world's core concepts, as if each chapter starts the story afresh. After suffering 50 or so pages of redundant description, I just wanted the author to get on with it, thank you very much. Bacigalupi's Thailand is powered by kink-springs (that store and then release the energy taken to wind them up, like toy cars), and he doesn't miss one opportunity to remind the reader - kink-spring scooters, kink-spring fans, kink-spring guns - every single time such an augmented object is mentioned. The narrative suffers from a paucity of descriptive variety as the same phrases become recycled, then rote. The windup girl of the novel's title moves with a "stutter-stop" motion, which viscerally captures the character the first time it's used, but feels like cruel omniscient taunting by the end of the novel. Characters routinely "shrug" their way through this or that, or "stifle the urge" to do something emotive or self-preserving. It's like Bacigalupi has invented a narrative algorithm for the novel, through which he feeds relevant plot points before handing them, unproofed, to the reader.

That would certainly make it easier to explain the shockingly poor editing. I have never read a more shoddily edited book, and that includes the uncorrected advanced reading copies I would receive during my bookstore days. If technique is the proof of sincerity, Bacigalupi is in danger of being an outright fraud. Some pages contain three or more typos, and I find myself again wondering if I'm reading a draft, summarily scanned by an intern copy editor as it was whisked off to the presses. I can only conclude that

A). his editor(s) is overworked and underpaid

B). the publisher, Nightshade Books, is a peewee operation

C). this book was cobbled together, or the author did not have sufficient time to finish it properly

D). measures of all of the above (most likely)

I wish this work was exceptional, but I have noticed a steep decline in the quality of editing in published works I've read over the last, say, five years. I can only assume that words are getting cheaper and cheaper with the prevalence of internet culture and the continual downsizing of corporate assets such as competent proofreaders. This is a vague and memetic argument, I know, but I can't find another way to explain it.

Wherever the blame lies, I think Bacigalupi was shortchanged by his publisher. This book needed more work - more fleshing out, more exploration. The setting needed to breathe and develop subtlety. It's a fast 359 pages, and it felt hamstrung by an ending that comes as suddenly and awkwardly as an early guest. The characters start with promise but struggle to gain dimension, with little development to mark their progress through the narrative. Their motives never change. Anderson Lake starts and ends the novel with the same unshifting focus on acquiring genetic material. The eponymous Windup Girl wants freedom. Corrupt politicians stay corrupt, and fanatics stay fanatical. The novel's few surprises are unsurprising, and all of them feel incidental, like a lone firework on the 3rd of July. For a story that purports to explore the existential concept of the human soul, I find surprisingly little of it in the writing. I am left tempted to call this The Windup Novel. Bacigalupi has something here, something very worthwhile, and I only wish he'd had a stronger team at his publishing house to help him realize his vision.

Read this novel for the setting. Read it for its chilling predictions and clever envisioning. If you're less critical than I am, you'll likely enjoy it.
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43 of 52 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What an unexpectedly problematic book, October 15, 2010
This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
I really wanted to like this book. Broken nearish-future after environmental disaster, a world still struggling to adapt and survive and progress, mostly post-carbon tech, the beginnings of posthumans - sounds like interesting scifi! And I enjoyed the scifi elements. The way that life has adapted to climate change and ecosystem crisis across the world is great stuff. While some of the tech is cooler than it is practical, it all worked for me.

But.

This is a condensed version of the 2,000-word review I wrote elsewhere on the internet, because while I liked the scifi elements of The Windup Girl I disliked so much more.

First of all, here's a warning for Thai readers or anyone who knows the country very well: it's not a very good depiction. Even taking into account the differences in 200 years, it doesn't feel like Bangkok. As a farang, I was noticing the aesthetic wrongs. Women wearing pha sin (clothing that got phased out in the 20th C), piles of "reeking" durians down every alley (they only reek when they're cut open, which is only done individually at a customer's request). Dubious transliterations of Thai. The kind of foreign language use that makes anyone who knows the words involved laugh so very much ("water tubs splash with snakehead fish and red-fin plaa", anyone?). Based on things like this, I suspect that any Thai reader is going to notice many, many more problems. Granted, some details are really nice (lizard-noises! night-time street stalls! garland sellers and the fact that orchids and marigolds are re-engineered ahead of many other flowers! ghosts!) but, overall, it's like Bacigalupi took the place names Ploenchit, Sukhumvit, etc and applied them to some other city, and it bugged me throughout the book.

There's also a Chinese character who thinks of white people as "foreign devils" non-stop, which felt bizarre and veering into stereotype, and the only time Muslims are mentioned is in the context of a fundamentalist Muslim uprising in Malay. It is, apparently, impossible for current SF writers to imagine a future in which many Muslims are not fundamentalists.

Most egregious of all, to me, is Bacigalupi's handling of the titular character Emiko.

Emiko is one of a Japanese servant class of augmented humans who was abandoned in Bangkok and has been forced into prostitution. With her the focus is so much on how victimised she is, how terrible her life is, how her altered genes make her suffer (her pores are small to make smooth skin so she can't sweat/cool properly and overheats in Thai heat; her genes are doglike and make her subservient and she falls under this sway often). Almost all of her personality and thoughts rotate around this. There are one or two moments when you get a sense of Emiko-the-person not Emiko-the-victim, but they're fleeting. And then.

When she finally snaps and kills a roomful of men who just raped her with a champagne bottle, among other things, we're not actually shown this scene, only its after-effects. The narrative spends more time lovingly detailing the aforementioned rape (plus an earlier over-detailed rape) than showing the survivor of rape surviving, and this is all upside-down and wrong and gross.

This book had far, far too many problems for me to enjoy it, as much as I really wanted to.

I did love the ghosts though.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating ideas; very tedious story and unlikable characters, March 2, 2011
This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
I was very excited to read this book and had heard wonderful things about it. It was a creative book but hard to get through. I listened to this on audio book which probably didn't help any; the audio book was very deliberately read making the story move even slower. I ended up stopping listening to this book about 2/3rds of the way through; it was just too tedious.

The story goes between four main characters. The first is a genetic scientist, a calorie man, named Anderson who is scouring the city to find its mysterious Seed Bank; he is masquerading as a plant owner. The second is Tan Hock Seng an aging Chinese Yellow Card who is trying to make a life for himself and gain back his former glory. The third is a wind up girl named Emiko who has been forced to work in a brothel after being sold to it by her Japanese master. The fourth is Jaidee, an officer of the Environmental Ministry and a revolutionist, who is determined to take back Thailand from the foreigners. In this depressing version of Thailand, a land where calories are the greatest commodity, these four characters will eventually influence not only each other but the fate of the whole country.

First I will say there are some good things about this book. The ideas present in the book are fabulous. The idea of calories being more important than anything after viruses have wiped out most vegetation is unique and compelling. The story is told with wonderful description; such that, as a reader, you can almost feel the heat and smell the smells of the city. Those were the things that kept me reading this book as long as I did.

Now for the rest of the things. The characters (if you can even say they have enough humanity to call them characters) are very dry, they apparently don't have many feelings and kind of just stumble through the story. There are no good characters in this book, they are despicable for different reasons. I did not enjoy a single one of them. Emiko was my favorite, but the passivity she showed at letting herself being constantly raped and tortured was a real turn off. Which I should mention there are multiple scenes where Emiko is explicitly raped and humiliated; again not my favorite thing to read about.

The pace is horribly slow. For example let's say Anderson is going to walk from point A to point B, can he do that? No, he must go on a 30 minute (remember I was listening to this) dissertation on his history, the history of other things possibly irrelevant to the story, etc etc. Then finally many mind-boggling minutes later, when you have finally forgotten what the heck was even going on, he will make it to his destination.

I also have a quibble about the writing style; it is very dry. At times this came across more as a biography of the characters than a story. It was tough to stay engaged with either the story or the characters. I am aware that all of these little random events were probably leading up to something fantastic or mind-boggling...unfortunately I ceased to care about any of it. This audio book seriously put me to sleep while I was driving, it was becoming a hazard to my health (and other drivers) so I had to stop listening to it.

Something written in this type of analytical style would have made an intriguing short story, but as a full-length book it was just too tedious to get through.

Overall I did not enjoy this. The characters were depressing, the pace excruciating, and the world demoralizing. I may read future short stories by Bacigalupi since I find his ideas intriguing, but I will not be picking up any more full-length books by him.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not my Cup of Tea, September 26, 2010
By 
D. Kane (Warm Beach, WA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
This book has won the Nebula, plus some other awards. May win more. The world depicted is certainly dystopian. Some of the ideas he explores and extrapolates from- say the 'Calorie Wars" - are great speculation, doing what good Sci-Fi has always done - hold up a mirror and ask, "Is THIS the future?"

BUT. BUT. The plot arc is dismal. The writing is not that good, and the characters are all abandoned - all except his Windup Girl. The sexual acts described seemed needlessly brutal for his story, not to mention sexist, fifteen year old male nonsense. This book is probably a comic book that escaped and ended up in print. He may become wildly popular. I doubt I will buy, or read, this author again.
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46 of 57 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pop Goes the World, July 5, 2010
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This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
Dirigibles. I knew we were in trouble as soon as the story introduced dirigibles. They've become a sort of billboard for an entire class of bloated speculative fiction, an all-too literal metaphor for lardy, lumbering stories flogging thinly-veiled allegories of modern ills--Goodyear blimps for the beard-and-ponytail set. My advice to authors is, you see a zeppelin lumbering into the airspace over one of your stories, show no mercy--shoot that sucker down. Kill your darlings, as Faulkner said. You'll be glad you did.

Mr Bacigalupi's novel has rightly won praise and awards for its original blend of futurism and steampunk, a kind of retro-future that preys on modern fears, but the whole structure is a bit like a dirigible itself--the impressive-looking frame mostly just holds a tub of gas.

"The Windup Girl" is set in Thailand, in a near-future where pretty much every bad thing you're worried about happening, happened. It's a kind of scrapbook of apocalyptic newspaper headlines. Oil and gas have run out, leaving civilization dependent on muscle power and a bit of coal (peak oil fears, check!). Airplanes and cars have gone the way of dinosaurs and mammoths, which is ironic, since thanks to genetic engineering, mammoths ("megadonts", sorry) are back in fashion as a source of muscle. Oh yeah, zeppelins are back in too. Sigh.

Speaking of genetic engineering, geneticists at a "calorie companies", a bunch of evil corporations located in Des Moines for some strange reason, have deliberately created super-parasites and crop blights, to wipe out the world's food sources and make everyone dependent on their genetically-modified (GM) products (GM food fears, check! Large, faceless company fears, check! Fears of Midwestern states, che--wait, what?!).

Genetic engineering ain't all bad though, since it's allowed the Japanese to neatly solve their problem of a declining population without having to rely on any foul-smelling foreigners. They've created "windups", tailor-made test-tube people, smarter, faster and stronger than ordinary folk, but with deliberate built-in weaknesses to stop them taking over the planet, such as the stuttering motion that gives them their nickname.

Emiko is the "Windup Girl" of the title, bred to be a businessman's ideal personal secretary--sexy, multilingual, obedient, and when you're done with her, pop her in the recycling bin. Her last boss didn't want to keep her but didn't have the stomach to mulch her, so she has been abandoned in Bangkok, forced to work in a nightclub where she is continually humiliated as subhuman.

There she meets Anderson Lake, whose name sounds like it should be the title of an accounting firm, ostensibly the owner of a factory manufacturing coiled springs, but actually an agent of the "calorie companies", searching for Thailand's secret source of new foodstuffs. His mission is complicated by his scheming factory foreman, Hock Seng, an ethnic Chinese from Malaysia who barely escaped an Islamic-inspired pogrom against his people (Fears of fundamental Islam, check!).

Mr Bacigalupi's Thailand is filled with bowing and corruption, ladyboys and royalist-popularist tensions, a weird mish-mash that feels cribbed from the introduction to a Lonely Planet guide and the "Asia" section of the Economist magazine. This is symptomatic of the wider problem with the book--once you get past some rather neat ideas that went into building this world, there's not much to keep you there.

The setting is relentlessly grim, and other than Emiko none of the characters is even remotely sympathetic. I enjoyed the book, I'll admit, but I don't think I smiled once the whole time I was reading it. It feels downbeat and didactic, more like a Greenpeace manifesto than a work of fiction. I wonder if Mr Bacigalupi isn't preaching to the converted here, though. I imagine plenty of speculative fiction readers are already composting and bicycling to work and eating locally-grown organic vegetables, or at least wish they did.

The plot, too, feels as thin as a zeppelin's skin, with events floating from point to point without any particular thrust or trajectory. The climax in particular feels just plain false, involving a sudden and near-psychotic change of heart on the part of one character, while the epilogue's note of hope jars against the crushing despair of the rest of the book.

In short, I feel Mr Bacigalupi's imagination and talent for twisting modern fears into future fables is not matched by his skills as a storyteller. I've already noted the lack of humor, or even humanity in his characters. At times, he slides into cliché--just once, I'd like to read about a band of evil misfits and rebels brought to heel by a benevolent faceless corporation, just for the heck of it. I'd read that.

Just so long as you promise not to put any dirigibles in it.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Cool ideas, but..., March 12, 2011
This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
This book has some interesting ideas about the future of agribusiness and the energy crisis. That's about it, though.

As other negative reviews have stated, the writing is clumsy and does not allow a good flow from page to page. It stifles the reader's interest in the book, good story or not. And the story isn't that great, either. Some things happen, but the author never pursues any plot line to its potential. You instead get five or six subplots that intersect once in a while, but nothing ever really comes together to drive a main plot. I wish the author would have focused on just a couple of these subplots and developed them into a good, deep storyline. I also was left wanting much more development of the ideas such a "kink springs" for energy. A scientifically strange concept, but it was left as a cool idea that remained a cool idea, nothing more.

The characters were not engaging. I found myself unable to relate to them through nearly the whole book.

The rape/abuse scenes made me cringe. They were unnecessarily graphic, and seemed more focused on being "fanservice" for males with depraved fetishes about violating women without consequence (even though the girl kills her abusers) than on driving the plot. The sex-bot thing has already been beaten to death in Sci-Fi, too.

This book could have done with a lot more development and a lot less graphic sexual abuse, but I don't know if we can hope for that from this author's future books, since the book has already won many awards and praise from all directions. I fear for the genre if this is what qualifies for the highest honors of Science Fiction.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile, but not for the impatient, June 16, 2010
By 
T. J. Mathews (Livermore, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The key element that drives Wind-up Girl is its environment, no pun intended. If you were to ask someone who has read most any book what it was about they would likely tell you it's about a person who did so-and-so or had such-and-such happen to them. With 'The Wind-up Girl' they would say it's about a dystopian society that has suffered a series of environmental disasters and how that society responds. The doings of the characters unfortunate enough to live in Bacigalupi's Thailand are seemingly secondary in importance to the setting itself. While there is a plot, it takes an interminable length of time to get moving and much longer before things start to come together. The bottom line is that this is not a book for the impatient.

I listened to the unabridged audio version read by Jonathan Davis. Davis did an excellent job but I don't thing audio books are the best way to experience 'The Wind-up Girl'. It is a pretty involved story with lots of characters and alternating points of view and requires more attention than I can usually afford it while driving, dog-walking or otherwise multi-tasking.

I need to add a final warning. The book has a graphic rape scene that, while some may argue is an integral part of the plot, is extremely difficult to read. I don't consider myself at all squeamish when it comes to sexual content but the level of violence and degradation in the scene in question made me skip over much of the scene.
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The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Paperback - May 1, 2010)
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