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The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl (original 2009; edition 2010)

by Paolo Bacigalupi

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3,4601951,549 (3.76)2 / 384
Title:The Windup Girl
Authors:Paolo Bacigalupi
Info:Night Shade Books (2010), Edition: (2nd), Paperback, 300 pages
Collections:Already read
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
    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....
  8. 10
    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!
  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 (189)  French (2)  Polish (1)  Hungarian (1)  German (1)  All languages (194)
Showing 1-5 of 189 (next | show all)
He did a wonderful job of world building, and brought us into it through the eyes of amazing characters! All of them three-dimensional, with strengths and weaknesses that were drawn out through circumstance and familiarity as we got to know them. They were from all sides, and I cheered for all of them, and was genuinely sad when they died and elated when they succeeded.
Set in Thailand after GMOs and big agriculture ruined the earth, the most coveted minds are those that a can crack genetic code. And the question above all is, should we have changed ourselves too? Oh, I love it. How dramatic!
10/10 would read again, even though the start is as slow as a megodont starting a up a power spindle. ( )
  ooshwiggity | Feb 1, 2015 |
Bacigalupi is a terrific writer of hard SF that is paradoxically retro. He calls his work “post-petroleum” instead of post-apocalyptic. The story-telling is remarkable, with a wildly unpredictable and successful twist on the classical trope of the naive Hero … raised in humble obscurity and unaware of his royal and/or godly origins.

From page 10, a description of a factory line:
“The line boss’ bell rings again. Workers step forward to align the cutting tools. They’re producing two-gigajoule kink-springs, and the smaller size requires extra care with the machinery. Further down the line, the spooling process begins and the cutting press with its newly repaired precision blades rises into the air on hydraulic jacks, hissing.
“Num’s bell rings a final time. The line grinds into gear…. Workers crouch behind their shields. Kink-spring filament hisses out from alignment flanges and threads through a series of heated rollers. A spray of stinking reactant showers the rust-colored filament, greasing it in the slick film that will accept Yates’ algae powder in an even coat.
“The press slams down…. The kink-spring wire snaps cleanly and then the severed filament is streaming through the curtains and into the fining room. Thirty seconds later it reemerges, pale gray and dusty with the algae-derived powder. It threads into a new series of heated rollers before being tortured into its final structure, winding in on itself, torquing into a tighter and tighter curl, working against everything in its molecular structure as the spring is tightened down. A deafening shriek of tortured metal rises. Lubricants and algae residue shower from the sheathing as the spring is squeezed down, spattering workers and equipment, and then the compressed kink-spring is being whisked away to be installed in its case and sent on to QA.”

And from page 81, a heart-breaking description of a ruined world. Daily life has become so awful that spirit ghosts, or phii, of good people cannot reincarnate.
“Jaidee has seen these ghosts as well, walking the boulevards sometimes, sitting in the trees. Phii are everywhere, now. Too many to count. He has seen them in the graveyards and leaning against the bones of riddled bo trees, all of them looking at him with some irritation.
“Mediums all speak of how crazy with frustration the phii are, how they cannot reincarnate and thus linger, like a great mass of people at Hualamphong Station hoping for a train ride down to the beaches. All of them waiting for a reincarnation that they cannot have because none of them deserve the suffering of this particular world.”
  maryoverton | Jan 6, 2015 |
A brilliant imagining of life in Thailand after the near future collapse, taking on issues similar to those Atwood considers in _Oryx & Crake_ and _Year of the Flood_. The book does occasionally settle for genre clichés, but the fabulous originality of the rest more than compensates. ( )
  JoePhelan | Dec 14, 2014 |
Summary: Imagine a world where fossil fuels have all but run out, the rising sea level is threatening to swamp Bangkok as it has already destroyed so many of the world's coastal cities, wealth is counted in calories, and bioengineered animals are a common sight, while bioengineered plagues that infect people and crops alike run rampant. This is the world of the characters of The Wind-Up girl. Anderson Lake is in Bangkok masquerading as a factory manager while searching for evidence of plague-resistant foodstuffs kept under tight control of the Thai government. His factory foreman, Hock Seng, is a yellowcard Chinese, fled from plague and genocide in his own country, but barely tolerated by the Thai, forever looking for an advantage, if not the chance to return home. Emiko is one of the Japanese-created New People, born and bred to serve, but now abandoned by her master in this foreign city full of those that despise and fear New People, even while coveting her beauty. The city is watched over by the Trade Ministry and the Environment Ministry, each with its own internal politics and partisans, and each grappling with the other for a greater share of control. Bangkok is a city held in a precarious balance, one that could tip over into chaos and violence at any time, but the spark that catches the city on fire comes from a place no one had expected.

Review: I'm having a tough time pinning down exactly how I felt about this book. I think the best I can say is that while I admired it, I didn't love it, or even particularly enjoy it all that much. I'll talk about the good stuff first, before I try to unpack what about it didn't work for me.

So, the good stuff. Bacigalupi is a hell of a worldbuilder. He drops you right in the middle of his future Bangkok, where you can immediately feel the sweltering heat and dust and tension that permeates the city. (I can still feel it when I think about this book, weeks after finishing.) He also doesn't info-dump at all - there's no newcomer that needs the world explained to them to act as a reader stand-in, so Bacigalupi expects his readers to be paying attention, and to piece together the way the world is and the things that the characters already know from details and hints and subtleties of their thoughts and conversations. It's a little intimidating at first, particularly since I've never been to Southeast Asia, so there were a few times that I couldn't tell what bits of Bacigalupi's world he was drawing from current Thai culture, and which were his own imaginings about our post-apocalyptic future. But I eventually got my feet under me, and once I had a clearer picture of the world he'd created, I was duly impressed - both by the subtle yet complete way he built it, and by the complexity of his vision of that world. Because he's clearly put a ton of thought into how this world works, at all its levels, and all of the pieces fit together seamlessly; there was never a part where I thought "No, I don't things would be like that," so I was able to stay totally immersed in his world, as grimy and uncomfortable as it was.

Okay, so, all of that is good, and is stuff I would ordinarily look for in my sci-fi. So what was my problem? A large part of it was that I had a really hard time latching onto a story. There's so much going on in this book, and Bacigalupi shifts between the point of view of a number of different characters, whose stories (at least initially) don't seem particularly connected, that it took me well over half the book before I realized that the story wasn't really about any of them, but was more about the city as a whole… but even then, a story about a city is a story about its people, and I had a really hard time latching onto the story of any of its characters. The only one who I particularly cared what happened to them was Emiko, and particularly in the first half of the book, her POV chapters are few and far between. (It's not that I disliked the other characters, exactly, but I somehow never got attached to or invested in them, so I couldn't bring myself to care whether Anderson was able to deliver the genetically resistant seed stock to his company, or whether Hock Seng could steal the plans for the factory, or whatever their individual agendas were.)

Part of my problem may also have been the audiobook narrator. I'm usually relatively indifferent to narration style - most narrators I've listened to range from really excellent to at least largely inconspicuous. And while Jonathan Davis might be fine in another context, I don't think he was the right fit for this book. In a book with this many characters, and this much influence of the Thai language, he didn't really provide distinguishable voices for most of the characters, and when he did, they were inconsistent, with accents or distinct vocal patterns fading out in the middle of a conversation (or occasionally in the middle of a sentence!), making it very difficult to keep track of who was talking. (He also… tended to… talk… very slowly… which may or may not have been a conscious choice for the made the characters or setting, but it made the listening longer than it really needed to be.) I think this book probably would have been best served with multiple narrators corresponding to the different POV chapters; but as is, I kind of wish I'd read rather than listened. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: This book is really well constructed, and even though it didn't click for me, I wouldn't argue that it deserved its Hugo and Nebula awards. It reminded me a bit of Perdido Street Station (in tone/feeling more than story), and I think that it's at least worth a try for anyone who's interested in dark and complex stories set in a very believable not-too-distant post-fossil-fuel future. ( )
  fyrefly98 | Dec 9, 2014 |
Slow to get started but then a compelling eco-political scifi.

I worried that it wasn't as much "about" gender as it was super sexist, and the author seemed a little too comfortable characterizing the Thai people.

But while much about it was suspect, it won me over. And since a story of international intrigue doesn't usually win me over I'm curious what this one did right--just like I'm curious why it took so long to get going.

I *think* the beginning was static and was just the introduction of characters and lots of world building. I had no sense of the stakes. I wish I could pinpoint what hooked me...I was pretty bored when the mastodons revolted in the factory. Pretty bored hanging out with the foreigners at the bar. I think it might have been when Anderson saw the Windup raped and the exploitation of the planet and the exploitation of women became linked. When his "fascination" with her and her spliced dog genes that made her obey kinda threatened to derail his crusade. It's always the same question with these books...it is misogyny or ABOUT misogyny. I tire of the distinction but liked the book anyway at least practically because it's food politics were so convincing and chilling. ( )
  wordlikeabell | Nov 16, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 189 (next | show all)
The book is set almost entirely in the City of Divine Beings in Thailand, sometimes rendered as Bangkok, or Klong Thep, its harbour area. After an environmental fall where sea levels have risen - the city is surrounded by levees - the proudly independent Thais feel under siege from the technology of a resurgent West. Gengineered diseases, deliberately created or not, abound, people live in fear of their (re-)occurence. Among other animals and plants, cats have been swept away, their niche overtaken by almost invisible gengineered creations known as Cheshires. In this Thailand anything technological is frowned upon and subject to bribery for acceptance. Machines - even down to hand guns - are powered by mechanisms known as kink-springs or, for heavy work, (this being Thailand) megodont, genetically modified elephants. It is a reasonably convincing vision of a future rendered difficult and more threatening than even our troubled present.

The windup girl of the title is one of the less-than-human clones engineered by the Japanese to deal with a worker shortage and known as heechy keechy by the Thais. She has tell-tale jerky movements, an inbuilt inability to sweat except through her hands and is conditioned to please and obey (spot the fantasy here.) On his leaving Thailand her original owner sold her into a kind of slavery where she is subjected to regular sexual degradation in the floor show of an exceedingly seedy night club. (This aspect reminded me a little of one of the narrative strands in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.)

The novel is by no means flawless. We have four viewpoint characters - not all entirely convincing - one of whom is killed halfway through and whose narrative is taken over by a fifth who is ultimately the agent of change. Perhaps she should always have been the focus of the relevant strand.

While Bacigalupi may have intended our windup girl to feature more prominently, and she does kick off the dénouement, she is more or less a side line character and not involved in the resolution which, rather than being about something more interesting, degenerates into a shoot-em-up civil war. In the early chapters characters spend a lot of time talking to each other. Later chapters do however become shorter and snappier as the action takes over. Despite its setting and several Thai or Chinese main characters it feels a touch Western triumphalist in overall tone but Bacigalupi's Thailand did appear well researched.
added by jackdeighton | editA Son Of The Rock, Jack Deighton (Mar 9, 2011)
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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"No! I don't want the mangosteen."
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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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