The Windup Girl
By Paolo Bacigalupi
I put off writing this review because, even after several weeks, I don’t know what I think of this book. On some level, it was brilliant but on others it was so sad and disturbing that I almost put the book down because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go on. I finished and while I can’t say I enjoyed this book, I was amazed by it.
Anderson Lake is a calorie man in Thailand posing as a factory manager. What he’s really there for is to look for fruits and vegetables thought to have gone extinct that are now reappearing in street markets. His company, AgriGen, wants the seeds. Through another business associate, he meets Emiko, a bioengineered human working as a sex slave at a whorehouse. Their two lives collide as a new bioengineered plague runs amuck in Bangkok, the government begins infighting for power, and a company with the money to buy off the world lands on the shores of Thailand.
There is much more to this story, but in the interest of spoilers, I’ll say no more. As I said above, parts of this book are brilliant — a world running on traded calories, bioengineering corporations releasing plagues, bioengineered humans. It’s dark, scary, and oddly believable. You can buy into the world and the science behind it: engineered foods, humans, and superbugs. But there’s something so dark about it that it was also so depressing and disturbing that I wanted to shower the reek of this book off me at times. These corporations are so money hungry they don’t even think of the people in their way (and in the way is really how these corporations think of people); releasing plagues without thought so they can take over promising a cure for what they themselves unleashed.
Each and every character is on their own. There’s no sense of community anywhere. Even when one character finds himself caring for someone, he pushes the thought away almost horrified by his own feelings. They’re all horrible but it’s the world that made them that way and you see that but still hate the way they interact and don’t. Everything is some exchange. And then there’s Emiko, the bioengineered new human. She’s a sex slave. She’s bound by her genetically engineered DNA to obey. Imagine for yourself how’s she’s treated.
But I have to go back to world building for a moment here. Science fiction and fantasy are all about the worlds. Bacigalupi commands the world in The Windup Girl. He stretches it beyond belief and you see how his would and could be possible. No checks. No balances. The manipulations of science, the shattered lives of people who can’t get out of the way fast enough.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression about this book. My husband liked it (that was the reason I read it) but I think you need to go in with an open mind and one that isn’t too easily offended. It’s an interesting take on what would happen in a world were energy trading takes place and science has the ability to change lives at the drop of a hat. If you’re looking for something different, this might work for you.