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The Windup Girl (2009)

by Paolo Bacigalupi

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,3362691,472 (3.76)2 / 474
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.
  1. 131
    River of Gods by Ian McDonald (santhony)
    santhony: Very similar dystopian view of the near future in a third world environment.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  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. 10
    Mosquito [short story] by Richard Calder (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Two powerful stories strike an eery chord...
  9. 21
    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!
  10. 32
    Bangkok 8 by John Burdett (ahstrick)
  11. 00
    Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (sturlington)
    sturlington: Steampunk
  12. 11
    Neuromancer by William Gibson (g33kgrrl)
Asia (30)
Ghosts (78)

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English (263)  French (2)  German (2)  Polish (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (269)
Showing 1-5 of 263 (next | show all)
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is the Coen Brothers meets Blade Runner.

It's the 23rd century and global warming has run amok. The great cities of the world are under water. Enormous corporate conglomerates genetically manipulate strains of wheat and rice to feed the world while extorting the last bit of cash and blood. Countries incessantly war over resources. Genetically created diseases ravish societies. And the Japanese genetically generate the New People, their perfect servants to support a rapidly aging and non-replenishing society.

Set in Bangkok, Thailand, the book follows the stories of four main characters "Song of Ice and Fire"-like: Anderson Lake, the American 'calorie man' coming for Thailand's stock of genetic diversity, Hong Seck a Chinese Refugee from the US, Jaidee Rojjanasukchai a "white shirt" Tiger of Bangkok who works for the ministry that polices the health of the country and Emiko, a discarded "windup," a genetically modified human turned into the perfect servant but now without a master.

The four main plotlines sort of wander along telling four parallel stories that cross over and intersect and explode in exciting ways while exploring this science fiction future of ecological devastation. This is not an uplifting or positive book -- it is /very/ Coen Brothers where people are generally awful in an ever increasing tide of awfulness until the plot explodes on everyone in a mess of fiasco.

It definitely does move. As a book, it is well written, if not meandering at times. The problem is that the plot does meander and some of the stories don't feel terrifically satisfying. The story of Emiko the Windup Girl is by far the best of the four stories in the book but the other three tend to fall flat at times without drive.

I knock it one star for occasionally losing its point. As a science fiction book its a thinker. A downer, but a thinker. ( )
  multiplexer | Jun 20, 2021 |
Great world building, and a compelling portrait of Thailand. (Or at least, it seemed compelling to someone who's never been there.) I actually found the notion of giant agribusiness megacorps as economic predators more compelling than the disbelief-suspension-snapping notion of creating sentient people from scratch, but not by much. Most of the characters turned out to be nicely multi-dimensional -- very few dedicated Good Guys vs Bad Guys, and I liked the open ending. I was concerned he would tie it up too neatly, and thankfully, he didn't. ( )
  qBaz | May 28, 2021 |
Wow. What an unpleasant book, full of unpleasant things happening to not-very-likable people. I kind of see why it won the Hugo and Nebula -- the world-building is good -- but that's the only reason I'm giving it two stars instead of one. If I could un-read it I think I would. Also, while you can make a case that the author is using the eponymous Emiko as a vehicle to consider the issues of nature, nurture, free will, and genetic engineering, you can also make a case that she is a poor, pathetic thing created by the author only to serve as the target of the voyeuristic male gaze. ( )
  AmphipodGirl | May 23, 2021 |
Definitely enjoyed this, didn't rock my world but it is well worth a read if you like cyber/biopunk, or just a good old noir-tinged action. ( )
  francoisvigneault | May 17, 2021 |
I imagine there are a few different reasons why the post-apocalyptic setting appeals to so many authors - wanting to explore how people would act without the familiar comforts of the real present; interest in the dramatic possibilities inherent in stranding a select group of people in a hostile landscape; the desire to send a message about possible consequences of some societal action or trend; or maybe simple boredom with "hopeful" visions of the future. The Windup Girl is an excellent post-apocalyptic take on climate change and genetic modification, and it manages to touch on a few of those themes while also featuring great characters and a genuinely gripping plot. It's very condescending to compliment a sci-fi book on also being a "good read", as if the genre weren't interesting enough in its own right, but it truly is notable the way that Bacigalupi managed to work so many different aspects of good writing in here.

It's set in 23rd century Thailand after climate change and a series of devastating genetic plagues have eliminated the petroleum-based economy. Power is provided by a steampunk-ish mixture of human power, genetically modified brute animal labor, and powerful "kink-spring" battery equivalents. Thailand has managed to survive, more or less, by almost completely isolating itself from the outside world in a manner reminiscent of pre-Meiji Japan, and the main action of the book revolves around the tension between foreign factories that would like to open the country up, internal forces who want to enable that, and other internal forces who fear that doing so would expose the country to polluting outside forces and destroy their society (it's worth pointing out that in real history Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that was never colonized or invaded by Europeans, so this is a clever choice of setting on Bacigalupi's part). In the middle of this economic tension are an American investigator from a foreign "calorie company" looking for pure genetic seedstock, a Chinese-Malaysian businessman-turned-refugee-turned-businessman, members of the country's internal environmental enforcement ministry battling corruption, and a Japanese replicant prostitute assassin (who's not as ridiculous as that description makes her sound).

There's a lot of stuff to like about how Bacigalupi set up his world. For the most part the characters never leave Bangkok, so we're immersed in a hot, crowded, filthy, dangerous city that's very different from and very similar to the real city of our own day, and the various locales around town are always vividly described. I've never been to Thailand so I can't comment on how accurate the culture is, but since this is sci-fi I'm willing to buy the portrayal of it here in the form of constant Thai words and phrases. There are your standard big evil megacorps, in this case standing in for Monsanto, yet they are given believable profit motives and are incompetent and greedy in familiar ways. Many of the characters are religious, yet with the somewhat baffling exception of the ghost of a dead character, the book sticks to "realism" and suspension of disbelief is easy. Information on the past disasters is handed out sparingly and appropriately, so the novel is free from clumsy info-dumps. There's a lot of intrigue, palace politics (I liked the hints that the Queen that the people love might be a Big Brother-ish fiction), and sudden reversals of fortune, with few deus ex machinae, and Bacigalupi is admirably willing to kill off his characters in satisfying ways. The book ends with a cataclysm, yet it seems to end well for the most sympathetic character in a plausible way. Throughout the whole book the sense of a city and society under siege, and the painful choices that accompany the drive to survive, is always present and always compelling. Basically it's what Greg Egan's Teranesia should have been in all respects.

The most interesting parts of the book to me are the economics of the world and the ecology. To cope with this new world, the Thailand of the book is trying to reverse the forces of the Colombian exchange by pursuing an island strategy and devoting all of its energy to repelling the new plants, animals, and viruses that the evil foreigners have unleashed. In real life, island strategies don't work, both in human terms (again, pre-Meiji Japan) and in non-human terms (islands like Hawaii, the Galapagos, or Mauritius have all famously lost species like the dodo to invaders they just couldn't compete with), and so I liked the way the battle between stasis and change was resolved. While I don't quite buy the extreme virulence of the plagues in the book - in real life diseases that kill too high a percentage of their hosts too quickly go extinct since they no longer have anything to feed off of, and in fact often become much less severe over time, as in the case of syphilis - I'm willing to believe that either an evil megacorp could be deliberately mutating the pathogens or perhaps there's some quality of the world (increased radiation from abandoned nuclear plants?) that has made it so inhospitable. The return of long travel times and information delay due to the lack of oil is also interesting for the student of international trade before the 20th century; I can easily see the return of the great mercantile empires and mercenary trade barons due to high returns and interest rates (fun fact: the word 'farang' in the book means 'foreign white people' in real life too, and was the inspiration for the name of the Ferengi aliens in Star Trek). The way that the characters scheme and haggle over trivial items and think of things in terms of food is very realistic, as is the extreme inequality, so I was reminded frequently of a cross between an industrializing city like 19th century Chicago and an overstuffed refugee camp.

If you're looking for a good post-apocalyptic science fiction novel with a solid backing premise, an interesting world, a riveting plot, and well-drawn characters, this novel deserves all of the awards it won. It tackles things like fears over genetic modification without being silly, and it ends on the right ambiguously promising note that makes you want a sequel while still being satisfying on its own. ( )
3 vote aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 263 (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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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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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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