Title: The Windup Girl
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Release Date: September 1st 2009
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl is a world-building masterclass. Imagine a post-apocalyptic Bangkok under imminent threat of being swallowed by the sea, in a world devastated by global warming. Its only defense a sea wall that must be protected at all costs.
“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.” – Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl
Picture a world where so many species of plants and animals are extinct that calories have become the number one source of income and power for governments and corporations; Where new species of farm crops and fruits have to be genetically engineered repeatedly every time a new strain of blight taints the food, making it deadly for human consumption.
Here is a world where bio-engineered animals like megodonts (similar to mammoths; used to power machinery) and cheshires (feral cats with camouflage capabilities that scavenge on human remains) have become a normal part of human life. Here is the world where genetically engineered humans (e.g. windups) like Emiko exist.
“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.” – Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl
Thailand, a country known for weathering constant political upheavals and natural disasters, is a perfect setting for this science-fiction novel. As the story progresses we see, the tensions between government, corporate, religious, environmental, and other factions constantly vying for power and supremacy.
We see how Thailand’s constitutional monarchy barely resists the influence and dominance of the farang (a Thai word meaning “a person of white race”), while the outside world continues pressuring the Thais to open trade routes and share biological research.
We see the people living and making a living in Bangkok struggle to survive, to find meaning in their lives, when a single spark could result in many lives lost, perhaps an entire nation destroyed.
At the center of everything is Emiko, a windup girl. Once a respected Japanese courtesan, she now works at a Thai brothel, where she is mocked and ridiculed for her stutter-stop body movements, her always-submissive biological engineering. As Emiko continues to struggle against her design and dream of freedom, the tension within her winds up to scathing proportions.
“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.” – Paolo Baciaglupi, The Windup Girl
Until everything comes to a head, and all chaos breaks loose.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is three-fourths build-up, and one-fourth explosion. I admit, I got bored somewhere in the middle. But it is all worth it in the end. Everything just falls into place. It is the kind of story I want to read again immediately after the first time because I feel like I can appreciate it much better the second time around.
Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:
4 out of 5 Beans