Received from the Publisher
From the BLURB:
In Thailand, Anderson Lake is a calorie company man working for big business. Under cover as a factory manager, he combs Bangkok's street markets in search of near-extinct foodstuffs. And there he meets the Windup Girl, the beautiful and enigmatic Emiko - now abandoned to the streets. She is one of the underclass of New People, creche-grown and bred to suit the whims of the rich. Engineered as slaves, soldiers and toys, they are seen as soulless by some and as devils by others. As Lake becomes more drawn to Emiko, conspiracies breed within his working life becomes and the politics of a troubled age threaten to spiral out of control. The pressures mount as what he should do conflicts with what he wants to do, threatening to bring down his world. So what happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits? And could bio-terrorism's genetic drift force mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution?
‘The Windup Girl’ was the debut novel from Paolo Bacigalupi. The novel actually won the prestigious science fiction/fantasy literary award, The Hugo, in 2009 for Best Novel. . . so I wasn’t too surprised that the book was fantastically impressive.
The story is set in twenty-second century Bangkok. This futuristic location allows Bacigalupi to highlight and magnetize the various ways that humanity has managed to clog the world. This century has been choked by climate change, oil reserves have been pillaged and mega corporations are bleeding society dry and capitalizing on the world’s downturn. As a result, the world now mostly functions on animal-power (think ‘The Flinstones’), food is scarce and under threat from bio-terrorism, and rising tides have seen most coastal towns wiped out. Thus, the Bangkok of the distant future is surrounded by seawalls, behind which lies an ominous ocean. . .
Bacigalupi’s world is a terrifying imagining, mostly because it’s so believable. There is an element of steampunk to this Bangkok, where wind-up springs have come technological leaps and bounds as stores of energy. . . but the animal-powering, the horrendously black effects of climate-change and the general mish/mash of great technology coupled with forced past-times makes for an eerie futuristic world. This twenty-second century is just one stand-out in Bacigalupi’s richly imagined novel.
The story is focused on Anderson Lake, a ‘calorie man’ working undercover for a mega corporation. Lake’s job is to search for untainted food sources (anything that hasn’t been raped by genetic modification), and in a world where calories are life and food is scarce, Lake is big business. But Lake is side-tracked from his mission when he discovers a Windup Girl named Emiko. A Windup Girl is genetically engineered to serve the Japanese (think Geisha-Girl robot slave), but Emiko was abandoned by her ‘master’ and now resides in Thailand where she earns her keep at a sex club.
The doors of Soil open. Girls drop to their knees. The Somdet Chaopraya looks around himself with distaste. “This is a place you farang frequent?”“As I said, not the finest. I am very sorry for that.” Anderson beckons him. “It’s this way.” He strides across the room and pulls aside the curtain, revealing the inner theatre.Emiko lies on stage with Kannika kneeling over her. Men crowd around as Kannika draws out the telltale movements of the windup girl’s design. Her body twitches and jerks in the light of glow-worms. The Somdet Chaopraya stops short and stares.“I thought only the Japanese had them,” he murmurs.
Anderson Lake is thrown into a world of corporate backlash when he discovers that Thailand has a private seed bank and a rogue geneticist who could be his ticket to the big-time. But Lake’s infatuation with Emiko could ruin everything, as could the government’s involved in stealing Thailand’s seed bank.
I’m not normally a ‘fantasy’ reader. I slant more towards paranormal and urban fantasy, with heavy doses of ‘romance’ thrown in. But I've got to hand it to Bacigalupi. . . he drew me in and never let up and as much as ‘The Windup Girl’ isn’t my typical reading fare, I was completely wrapped up in the story from page one.
The world Bacigalupi has imagined is broken and fantastical; equal parts intricate and breath-taking, while also offering a terrifying glimpse into future collapse.
The world-building is definitely the stand-out in this novel. Anderson Lake and Emiko never quite reached the same heights with their characterization as the twenty-second century did with its landscape. . . regardless; I was just as invested in their story. Emiko was a test-tube product of this world’s greed and instant gratification, and Anderson Lake was the epitome of that greed. These two had a beautifully complicated story that was a nice point of balance amidst the mega-corporation double-dealings.
Having now read Bacigalupi’s impressive debut, I can understand why he so deserved the coveted Hugo award. ‘The Windup Girl’ is full of fantasy flair, set in a terribly realistic future it tells of a sad love story and an even sadder story of humanity. . . brilliant.