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The Windup Girl (2009)

by Paolo Bacigalupi

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,6242761,476 (3.76)2 / 480
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.
Recently added byMWise, Scottysteensma, private library, ToriahO, Arina8888, BomboChipolata, nickrowe
  1. 131
    River of Gods by Ian McDonald (santhony)
    santhony: Very similar dystopian view of the near future in a third world environment.
  2. 81
    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.
  3. 147
    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.
  4. 104
    The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (souloftherose)
    souloftherose: Another novel about a dystopian future with strong environmental themes.
  5. 71
    Zodiac by Neal Stephenson (CKmtl)
    CKmtl: Fans of one of these works of Ecological SF may enjoy the other.
  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. 40
    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. 31
    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 [short story] by Richard Calder (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Two powerful stories strike an eery chord...
  10. 32
    Bangkok 8 by John Burdett (ahstrick)
  11. 00
    Autonomous by Annalee Newitz (DemetriosX)
  12. 11
    Neuromancer by William Gibson (g33kgrrl)
  13. 00
    Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (sturlington)
    sturlington: Steampunk
Asia (29)
Ghosts (104)

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English (270)  French (2)  German (2)  Polish (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (276)
Showing 1-5 of 270 (next | show all)
This book almost made me quit writing. It's...it's pure genius. Bacigalupi thrusts us into this incredibly detailed and rich, almost dystopic world. At times I was rendered speechless by the brutality, the frailty, the love, and the humanity in this book. It's told from multiple points of view and tells an incredibly amazing story. Do yourself a favor and read it! ( )
  CatherinePeace | Apr 8, 2022 |
review of
Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - August 5, 2015

I recently got into a somewhat heated debate w/ a good friend of mine over publishing. Hopefully, I won't be doing a disservice to my friend's side of the argument in my encapsulation thereof here. His position was that the only way to be published in respected academic journals was to imitate the form of someone else's already published article w/ one's own content inserted in it. My position was (& still is) that the publications most worthy of respect are the ones looking for & appreciative of more original form & content. This summary doesn't really do justice to the sequence & nuance of the back-&-forth but it'll do as an intro to my review here.

I learned about The Windup Girl from a woman I was chatting up in a coffee shop line. Since I'm sincere when I ask people for reading recommendations, I found a copy of the bk soon thereafter & added it to my many piles of bks-to-be-read. It's Science Fiction, wch I generally love, & it's both a Hugo & a Nebula award winner, wch i respect, so I was expecting to like it & anticipating a pleasurable read.

When I started reading it, I wasn't disappointed. It struck me as off to a strong start, somewhat original, I wasn't sure where it was going & I was expecting to enjoy getting there, intrigued. "Another Thai genehacking success, just like the tomatoes and eggplants and chiles that abound in the neighboring stalls. It's as if the Grahamite Bible's prophesies are coming to pass." (p 2) [interpolation re American English: Why is is the "e" in the plural of tomato there?! That strikes me as another superfluous Britishism (like the 3rd "u" in "superfluous") that the somewhat arbitrary academic arbiters of American English have failed to eliminate.] "Ngaw. It shouldn't exist. Yesterday, it didn't. Yesterday, not a single stall in Bangkok sold these fruits, and yet now they sit in pyramids, piled all around." (p 2) Genetically modified food is important here.

"Still dim, still cavernously empty with desks and treadle computers" (p 12) "Hock Seng is already sitting at his computer. His bony leg ratchets steadily at the treadle, powering the microprocessors and the glow of the 12cm screen." (p 12) Power is provided by primitive manual means. "Less than one percent of the Malayan Chinese escaped the Incident." (p 13) Something or things has/have happened to cause massive deaths. "from the time when petroleum was cheap and men and women crossed the globe in hours instead of weeks." (p 16) This is a post-petroleum era. "It's all so reminiscent of when the Green Headbands came with their machetes and his warehouses burned." (p 21) In times of deprivation, minorities get scapegoated by religious zealots.

"Hock Seng grimaced. "Is this what my kindness to you has earned? Did I not attend your wedding? Gift you and Rana well? Fete you for ten days? Did I not pay for Mohammed's admission to college in K.L.?"

""You did that and more. My debts to you are great." Hafiz bowed his head. "But we are not the men e were before. The Green Headbands re everywhere among us, and those of us who loved the yellow plague can only suffer. Your head would buy my family security. I'm sorry. It is true. I don't know why I don't strike you now."" - p 71

Eventually, this novel fell into a pattern. Perhaps it cd be correctly called "Steampunk". I haven't pd much attn to the Steampunk genre. What the name evokes for me is a version of Cyberpunk in wch precomputer eras of technology predominate. I think of that possible prototype of Steampunk, Jules Verne's The Demon of Cawnpore. My review of that (online here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17618514-steam-house ) states:

"It started off very promising w/ a steam engine run mechanical elephant capable of pulling 2 houses, a sortof Recreation Vehicle on a grand scale - placed in the context of an anti-imperialist revolt in British-occupied India."

Verne's 1880 novel was certainly imaginative in its depiction of a steam-powered mechanical elephant put to work in India. Bacigalupi, 2009, has "megodonts", genetically engineered animals similar to elephants also being used as beasts of labor.

When I think of Steampunk I think of William Gibson & Bruce Sterling's 1991 The Difference Engine about the computer age arriving a century early thanks to Charles Babbage & steam-driven cybernetic engines.

My point here is that the initial good impression that The Windup Girl made on me became somewhat ameliorated by it's being an instance of what my friend advocated for in the debate mentioned at the beginning of this review: In other words, The Windup Girl puts slightly newish content into a pre-fab container proven to be commercially successful. I will say that it was very well done - better, I think, than many of Gibson's later novels of related ilk.

The Windup Girl of the title is one of the "New People", genetically engineered people grown in test-tubes:

"If her body, this collection of cells and manipulated DNA" - p 34 "Gendo-sama used to say that she was more than human. He used to stroke her black hair after they made love and say that he thought it a pity New People were not more respected, and really it was too bad her movements would never be smooth. But still, did she not have perfect eyesight and perfect skin and disease- and cancer-resistant genes, and who was she to complain?" - p 34

In a touch that's 'classic' cyberpunk, the Windup Girl is a sex object who gets abused for the entertainment of powerful people. "Nothing that Kannika conceives to hurt her and make her cry out is truly different. Except that she draws cries and moans from a windup girl. That, at least, is novelty." (p 34) I wd've liked the bk more if the author hadn't resorted to such a typical appealing to the lurid tastes of his readership - even tho this sex abuse fits the plot 'nicely'.

Sure, the clients who enjoy this sort of thing are depicted negatively: "New People serve and do not question. She moves toward the stage with the careful steps of a fine courtesan, stylized and deliberate movements, refined over decades to accommodate her genetic heritage, to emphasize her beauty and her difference. But it is wasted on the crowd. All they see are stutter-stop motions. A joke. An alien toy. A windup." (p 36) But isn't the appeal of such scenes for many readers a similar Ignorati vicariousness?

The problems of this future are connected to the genetic dead-ends engineered by greedy companies, companies much like the Monsanto of today:

"Without the lesson of the cheshires, Emiko might have had the opportunity ti supplant the human species entirely with her own improved version. Instead, she is a genetic dead end. Doomed to a single-life cycle, just like SoyPRO and TotalNutrient Wheat." - p 114

""You're saying that you yoked the world to your patented grains and seeds, happily enslaved us all—and now you finally realized that you are dragging us all to hell."" - p 151

In this post-petroleum future, an ultra-rich gangster can afford to use humans as the ballast that makes his elevator work:

"Dog Fucker drags open the gate and steps in. The woman at the elevator controls disengages the brake and shouts into the speaking tube before yanking the gate closed again. Dog Fucker smiles through the gate. "Wait here, yellow card." And then he is whisked up into darkness.

"A minute later, ballast men slide into view in the secondary shaft. They squeeze out of the lift and dash for the stairwell in a herd." - p 135

The Windup Girl revolves around different philosophies about genetic manipulation. One of the masterminds of this manipulation expresses his ideas this way:

""Everyone dies." The doctor waves a dismissal. "But you die now because you cling to your past. We should all be windups by now. It's easier to build a person impervious to blister rust than to protect an earlier version of the human creature. A generation from now, we could be well-suited for our new environment. Your children could be the beneficiaries. Yet you people refuse to adapt. You cling to some idea of a humanity that evolved in concert with your environment over millennia, and which you now, perversely, refuse to remain in lockstep with.["]" - p 243

Of course, like all utopic visions based around technology, a few possibilities, such as disease evolving to destroy the windups, are left out of the vision. I'm reminded of all the 'labor-saving' devices that've been created - such as automated phone systems. These automations haven't freed the workers for greater leisure time as much as they've led to unemployment, they haven't helped the caller as much as they've exasperated the caller w/ obstacle courses of inappropriateness.

Bacigalupi is thorough & thoughtful. A common exclamation is "Jesus and Noah" instead of the more common "Jesus and Mary" or just plain "Jesus". The myth of Noah has attained new significance as cultures try to save themselves be regenerating plants, that've been wiped out by plagues, w/ seedbanks.

In the authors "Acknowledgments" it's obvious that the bk is well-researched: "James Fahn, author of A Land on Fire, for his expertise and insights into Thailand's environmental challenges" (p 361): I have to ask my usual class warrior question: Where does the money come from to enable the author to do this?! the answer seems almost inevitably to be: From inherited wealth. In other words, the 'lower' classes need not apply to have the time to research & write such a bk. But, perhaps, I'm being too presumptuous & envious.

Ads in the back present an earlier Bacigalupi bk, a collection of short stories called Pump Six:

"The eleven stories in Pump Six represent the best of Paolo's work, including the Hugo nominee "Yellow Card Man," the Nebula- and Hugo-nominated story "The People of Sand and Slag," and the Sturgeon Award-winning story "The Calorie Man." The title story is original to this collection. With this book, Paolo Bacigalupi takes his place alongside SF short fiction masters Ted Chiang. Kelly Link, and others, as an important young writer that directly and unabashedly tackles today's most important issues." - p 362

It appears that some of the stories led up to this novel. I've never heard of Chiang or Link but I'll look for their writing. As for "today's most important issues"? I reckon what those are are open to debate, eh? It may be found that an important issue is how much fiction undermines critical reading - but that might just not be addressed by most fiction writers. ( )
  tENTATIVELY | Apr 3, 2022 |
A different flavor of post-apocalyptic sci-fi. GMOs and large-scale Corporation lead bio-terrorism has wreaked havoc on the world. Thailand has stood up and survived.

The world-building is good. But the character building is a little too labored. The story doesn't really pick up until the last 3rd. Also quite some gratuitous depravity. ( )
  prefrontaller | Mar 24, 2022 |
2.5 stars. Listened on audiobook, and I'm pretty sure I never would have finished it if I wasn't on a road trip. The concept is interesting - the politics and culture of a post-carbon world struggling with food supplies and disease outbreaks and the technology they use to maintain civilization. But the language felt stilted and too verbose. I didn't like a single character and wasn't sure who was intended as the protagonist until well into the second half. I feel like this had a lot of potential but got too tangled in its own micro politics and Bangkok when so much more could have been done with it. ( )
  invisiblecityzen | Mar 13, 2022 |
2.5 stars. Listened on audiobook, and I'm pretty sure I never would have finished it if I wasn't on a road trip. The concept is interesting - the politics and culture of a post-carbon world struggling with food supplies and disease outbreaks and the technology they use to maintain civilization. But the language felt stilted and too verbose. I didn't like a single character and wasn't sure who was intended as the protagonist until well into the second half. I feel like this had a lot of potential but got too tangled in its own micro politics and Bangkok when so much more could have been done with it. ( )
  invisiblecityzen | Mar 13, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 270 (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 (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paolo Bacigalupiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Chong, VincentIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davis, JonathanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Horváth, NorbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lacoste, RaphaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Podaný, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riffel, HannesÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"No! I don't want the mangosteen."
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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.

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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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