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The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
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The Windup Girl (original 2009; edition 2010)

by Paolo Bacigalupi

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3,7802111,378 (3.76)2 / 395
Member:Erratic_Charmer
Title:The Windup Girl
Authors:Paolo Bacigalupi
Info:Night Shade Books (2010), Edition: (2nd), Paperback, 300 pages
Collections:Already read
Rating:***
Tags:science fiction

Work details

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (2009)

  1. 111
    River of Gods by Ian McDonald (santhony)
    santhony: Very similar dystopian view of the near future in a third world environment.
  2. 146
    Perdido Street Station by China Miéville (souloftherose)
    souloftherose: Although Perdido Street Station is more fantasy than science fiction, I felt there were similarities in the exoticness of the world-building and readers who enjoyed The Windup Girl may also enjoy Perdido Street Station.
  3. 113
    The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (souloftherose)
    souloftherose: Another novel about a dystopian future with strong environmental themes.
  4. 71
    Zodiac by Neal Stephenson (CKmtl)
    CKmtl: Fans of one of these works of Ecological SF may enjoy the other.
  5. 60
    Neuromancer Trilogy: Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson (rrees)
    rrees: Gibson's global world of dirty cities and high technology are generally more optimistic that that of the Windup Girl but the styling is similar and the weaving stories of people and corporate interests are similar.
  6. 50
    The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: These two powerful, well-plotted novels each give detailed, dark visions of two different cities in the nearish future.
  7. 20
    Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy (bridgitshearth)
    bridgitshearth: This book seems to be overlooked: very quiet, no flash or catastrophe, very down to earth vision of a future with limited resources. It's one of my favorites, ever!
  8. 20
    Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (bridgitshearth)
    bridgitshearth: I find I can't say it better than some of the reviewers on Amazon. Enthralling, riveting, compelling....
  9. 10
    Mosquito by Richard Calder (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Two powerful stories strike an eery chord...
  10. 32
    Bangkok 8 by John Burdett (ahstrick)
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English (206)  French (2)  Polish (1)  Hungarian (1)  German (1)  All languages (211)
Showing 1-5 of 206 (next | show all)
Okay, here's my review. It's short and to the point. I finished this book two days ago, and can't remember how it ended. Yeah, yeah, I know that it's won awards, and people right here on Goodreads have given it 5 stars. I'm amazed.

Sure, it had an interesting plot. A rather unique plot when you come down to it. A timely plot considering much of the world's situation. But, a good plot, hell, a brilliant plot does not guarantee a good book.

I defy anyone to tell me that they felt anything for the characters except the one from which the book derived its name, the Windup Girl. And, frankly, she was less than the primary character. Everyone in this book, through their double dealing; damn the people there's money to be made; look out for number one attitudes could easily be mistaken for a third term US Congressman, or a raking Senator. You're hoping someone will nail them.

For me, this was a "How many chapters are left before I can start another book" novel. ( )
  baggman | Feb 11, 2016 |
Let's set aside the writing for now, and just talk about the premise of the book. The supposed science doesn't gel. As a bioengineered "New Person," Emiko moves with a jerky stutter-stop motion (to mark her as a non-human) and has the loyalty and submissiveness of a dog. In fact, a genetic scientist character remarks that her gene pool comes partially from a Labrador retriever.

Emiko's submissive behavior strains credulity. Humans have a very similar pack mentality to dogs, and I think the only reason most people are not blindly submissive to authority is because we can think and reason. As an intelligent human being (she speaks seven languages), Emiko should be able to overcome her submissive genes. But even when she's gang raped, Emiko can't help but obey commands. Right. In creating the character of Emiko, the author created a fantasy female ... yet another sexbot. She's cute, tiny, submissive, built for good sex, super-powerful, in need of rescue, and ready to drop to the floor and worship the first man who gives her the time of day. Oh gee, where have I seen this before? Could it be Freya from "Saturn's Children?" Or how about Pepper Potts, who was not engineered to be a sexbot, but was just born that way? There are too many to name. To me, this character archetype is very transparent as a male fantasy object.

Oh, and how sexy is stutter-stop motion? I have trouble believing that scientists would bioengineer sex-slaves who move like creaky robots. They would find some other, much sexier, way to mark them as different.

Now let's talk about the bioengineered mastadons. In this futuristic novel, climate change has wreaked havoc and the world is starving to death. People can no longer rely on petroleum. So in order to power their computers, people rely on spring or windup mechanisms, gas power, or ... mastadons?! Yes, that's right. Apparently these enormous bioengineered elephants are very efficient in converting food to power. I'm not sure I buy this. If your country is starving to death, would you rather plant a field full of hay (or whatever mastadons eat), or a field full of wheat or corn for human consumption? A mastadon must eat a lot more than a human. Honestly, if this is a survival scenario, I think that any government would put its citizens first, and sell or butcher the poor mastadons.

I wanted to like this novel, since it came so highly recommended, and it won the coveted Hugo Award. But in addition to the issues I mentioned above, I didn't like any of the characters. This was a difficult book for me to get through. The only reason I stuck through until the end was a) because I was listening to it as an audio-book, which makes it easier, and b) high quality prose. Paolo Bacigalupi writes atmosphere and action equally well. Several times, I was tempted to stop reading, but some clever little hook pulled me through to the next scene.

I kept hoping to warm to the main characters ... or hoping to see them die in some deservedly unpleasant way. I was partially rewarded in the end. The characters never redeem themselves, but several of them get served a piece of justice.

This is Highbrow science fiction, with a capital "H." It's not about fun characters or a fun story. It's about a Messsage, written in a very elegant, intricate, complex, brutally adult way, so you'll feel smarter for reading it. I guess I feel a little smarter. But I can't quite bring myself to recommend this to the average reader. Go for it if you love Charles Stross, China Meiville, and Neal Stephenson. They're not bad company.

This review was originally published on my blog. ( )
  Abby_Goldsmith | Feb 10, 2016 |
What? I haven't said anything about this book yet?
I've now read this book for two different book clubs. And I'm working on reading everything that Bacigalupi's ever published. The Windup Girl won the Hugo and the Nebula, and well-deserved both.

What makes this book so excellent?
Well, first, it posits a frightening, fully believable, and wholly realized future. Set an indeterminate amount of time from now, not all the details are filled in. The Expansion (a time period that we're obviously in right now) has occurred, followed by the Contraction (a period of economic and ecological collapse), and now it's been long enough that some people have schemes and dreams of rebuilding... but things potentially are just getting worse. What I like about the setting is that although not every detail is IN the book, you get the impression that they EXIST. Wars have occurred, names of countries have changed, crises have happened elsewhere, offstage... All the action takes place in the context of a world, not a little narrative bubble.

Bacigalupi also excels at portraying the intersection of individual and culture. All his people have depth of character as individuals, but their actions and behaviors are also informed not only by their circumstances but by their cultural background and/or group identity. Nearly all of the characters in the book are reprehensible people, who do unforgivable things. As a reader, however, you can't help feeling empathy, or at least, understanding, for nearly all of them, because their motivations make sense. Everyone in this book has a believable reason for behaving in the way that they do. Circumstance drives people to do as they do, and if you want to survive in this world, you have to have an eye for the main chance.

I don't think that a description of all the main characters is called for. The book reveals them. But it's unavoidable to mention the titular character, Emiko. A character genetically engineered and trained to be a slave and a sex toy. The mere premise causes a knee-jerk reaction in some people, and admittedly, doing this right could be hard to pull off. However, Bacigalupi does a fantastic job with her character. (I have to note here that any 'reviewer' who refers to Emiko as a "robot" did not actually read the book.) In creating her, and depicting what happens to her, he harshly criticizes some very real aspects of certain cultures which fully warrant that criticism, and does so fairly and accurately. (Not one culture or group in this book gets a pass, or is portrayed as 'good' - just about everyone has somehow been complicit in bringing the world to where it is.) But Emiko also exists not just as a political statement but as a fully realized, sympathetic character. Like all of us, she is torn between one instinct and another, conflicted, having to endure, able to find hidden reserves of strength to survive. She also shows us that whatever people try to do to humanity, people will always strive for freedom. And she also, finally, tells us that although technology may be the instrument and cause of our downfall, it also may be the only slim straw of our hope.

The book is not without aspects that I quibble with. One of the main premises of the book is that food is in short supply, and energy is measured in calories. People are described as on the brink of starvation. However, the book itself is FULL of food. People are constantly walking through markets full of fruits and vegetables, stopping at noodle stands, eating, eating eating. It undercuts the stated scarcity of food when you're seeing food everywhere. Also as far as the calories - I love the megadonts. It makes cultural sense that the Thai would want to genetically engineer giant elephants. BUT - how are they feeding them? Do you really get enough work out of feeding them to justify the expense? (That's actually already an issue with today's, smaller elephant in Southeast Asia.)

I loved that the book takes place in Thailand. In reality, Thailand is the only Asian kingdom that has continually maintained its independence and never fallen to an invader or colonial forces. It makes sense that in the future, they could be a last holdout, maintaining strength in isolation, protecting their heritage even while torn by internal conflict.

I didn't actually have a problem with the imaginary kink-spring tech. It's something people are working on. (http://www.asme.org/kb/news---articles/articles/nanotechnology/carbon-nanotube-s...)

Bacigalupi obviously thinks genetically modified foods are a threat. I'd say he's far more against them than I am. But, hey, it is entirely possible that Monsanto (oh, I mean AgriGen) could and would create genetically engineered crop plagues that would force industries worldwide to rely on their products. It's not the technology, it's about the use to which the technology is put. And, I suppose, if you believe that technology will never be put to its worst possible use, you have rosier view of human nature than either I or Bacigalupi has. There's an inevitability there... OK, I'm rambling. But, yay, seedbanks! Yay crop diversity! And yay, rambutans!

Go read this book. And then go read Pump Six.

Addendum: I think everyone should also read Apatt's review, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/280574847 ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Very violent at times especially around the commodification of feminine women/femininity in general. Excellent and interesting world building. ( )
  kale.dyer | Feb 8, 2016 |
The Windup Girl was an interesting story and the setting was fairly unique in my experience. It’s set in Thailand, in a dystopian-type future, featuring genetic manipulation and political maneuvering. There are four main point-of-view characters, each of which are mostly focused on their own concerns and are trying to achieve a goal that’s important to them, either for the betterment of themselves or for the betterment of a certain group of people.

The world-building was well done and I found the setting easy to visualize. The characters were believable and interesting, although I liked some more than others. There were a couple I liked for different reasons, one I really disliked, and one I couldn’t make up my mind about. Later on in the story, a previously-introduced character is elevated to the status of a point-of-view character. I liked that character pretty well also.

My interest fluctuated throughout the book, although it stayed consistently high during the middle. The story took a while to build up and then the later parts triggered my “too much chaos, just kill them all” reaction. I get that reaction sometimes when events in a story seem to have turned into such a huge unrecoverable mess that I just don’t care what happens anymore. I did actually like the way things turned out at the end of the book, though. It wasn’t a super happy ending, but I knew better than to expect one after reading the author’s anthology Pump Six and Other Stories last November.

A couple of the short stories in that anthology are set in this same world, before the events in this book. They aren’t at all necessary to read in order to enjoy The Windup Girl, but I think they did affect how I saw things while reading this book and added a little more depth. ( )
  YouKneeK | Feb 7, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 206 (next | show all)
It is a reasonably convincing vision of a future rendered difficult and more threatening than even our troubled present.
 
The Windup Girl embodies what SF does best of all: it remakes reality in compelling, absorbing and thought-provoking ways, and it lives on vividly in the mind.
 
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.

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."
 
One of the strengths of The Windup Girl, other than its intriguing characters, is Bacigalupi's world building. You can practically taste this future Thailand he's built [...] While Bacigalupi's blending of hard science and magic realism works beautifully, the novel occasionally sags under its own weight. At a certain point, the subplots feel like tagents that needed cutting.
added by PhoenixTerran | editio9, Annalee Newitz (Sep 9, 2009)
 

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paolo Bacigalupiprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chong, VincentIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davis, JonathanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Horváth, NorbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lacoste, RaphaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Podaný, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Rien n'est permanent. C'est l'enseignement central du Bouddha. Pas une carrière, pas une institution, pas une épouse, pas un arbre... Tout est changement, et le changement est la seule vérité.
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Book description
Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history's lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko.

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What Happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism's genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? In The Windup Girl, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi returns to the world of "The Calorie Man" (Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winner, Hugo Award nominee, 2006) and "Yellow Card Man" (Hugo Award nominee, 2007) in order to address these poignant questions.
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What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits? And what happens when this forces humanity to the cusp of post-human evolution? This is a tale of Bangkok struggling for survival in a post-oil era of rising sea levels and out-of-control mutation.… (more)

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