Book review: The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl

I read some reviews of Paolo Bacigalupi’s science fiction novel The Windup Girl, which won Nebula and Hugo awards and was listed on lots of prestigious best-of lists. The general consensus was that it was brilliant, so in June I bought it as an ebook from WebScription for USD $6, which is crazy cheap (and DRM free to boot, being from a small independent publisher, Night Shade Books). I started reading but was distracted by other things, until just last week on the plane back from Europe I got stuck in and finished it.

Wikipedia has a good summary of the novel’s setting (but don’t read the full article if you’re planning to read the book because it summarizes the plot and the ending):

The Windup Girl is set in the 22nd century: Global Warming has raised the levels of world’s oceans, carbon fuel sources have become depleted, and manually wound springs are used as energy storage devices. Biotechnology is dominant and mega corporations like AgriGen, PurCal and RedStar (called calorie companies) control food production through ‘genehacked’ seeds, and use bioterrorism, private armies and economic hitmen to create markets for their products. Frequent catastrophes, such as deadly and widespread plagues and illness, caused by genetically modified crops and mutant pests, ravage entire populations. The natural genetic seed stock of the world’s plants has been almost completely supplanted by those that are genetically engineered to be sterile.

This world, so foreign and alien yet so very believable, is unveiled slowly – so much so, that in the first half of the novel a great deal of the details pass by without their significance being understood. The second half of the novel is increasingly faster-paced with war and conflict, making the complex who-what-where interactions challenging to follow.

It is, however, incredibly engaging and thought-provoking. I go to the end, closed my reader and after a few minutes of reflection, resolved to start again from the beginning right away so that I could fully appreciate the depths of the story and absorb any subtlety that I had missed. It’s not often that a novel is so good that you want to re-read it immediately.

Emiko, the ‘Windup Girl’ referenced in the title, is fascinating but the theme of genetically engineered humanoids and their place in society is, to me, the less significant idea explored. Far more terrifying and real is the background story where corporations wage agricultural warfare in the old-fashioned quest for the almighty dollar, where corrupt governments let anything slide for the right price – and, as character Yates points out early on, ‘people starve all the same’.

We’re monsters living on a fragile planet, people, but maybe not for the reasons you think. Read The Windup Girl and be very afraid.

~ by goatlady on September 10, 2010.

One Response to “Book review: The Windup Girl”

  1. […] which I don’t often do, but it was a really, really interesting and thought-provoking book: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. I got into it so much I read it twice, back to back. Finally, I raved a bit about Triptykon and […]

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