The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi

  Summary (Amazon):  Anderson Lake is AgriGen’s Calorie Man, sent to work undercover as a factory manager in Thailand while combing Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories.

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. Emiko is not human; she is an engineered being, 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 this 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 and forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly-acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.

In this brand new edition celebrating the book’s reception into the canon of celebrated modern science fiction, accompanying the text are two novelettes exploring the dystopian world of The Windup Girl, the Theodore Sturgeon Award-winning “The Calorie Man” and “Yellow Card Man.” Also included is an exclusive Q&A with the author describing his writing process, the political climate into which his debut novel was published, and the future of science fiction.

My Review (spoilers!):

Executive Summary: terrible

I had a really hard time getting into this book. I found it to be boring, mostly unoriginal and terribly sexist. How it won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards is beyond me. I also found the plot to be overly convoluted while at the same time almost completely pointless. That’s a pretty impressive feat.

It’s a post-apocalyptic book set in Thailand. It has a lot of the stereotypical post-apocalyptic book premises–no oil, no cars, genetically engineered humans. But its main focus is on food. Huge food companies (i.e. Montesanto) have taken over and are controlling the food by genetically engineered blights and other things. OK that’s slightly different, but it’s still just a twist on starvation which other sci-fi books explore for one calamity or another.

The main character of the book, Anderson Lake, is a “calorie man” (not a windup girl as you would expect by the title). He owns some sort of factory which is on the surface producing a kink-spring to help increase energy potential. In actuality, Anderson is there to figure out where the Thai seedbank is because it is supposed to be the main one with a lot of genetic material. Presumably he will take this back to Iowa with him (which obviously is where the huge food companies are based). Which completely makes NO SENSE in a post-apocalyptic future where there are no cars.

Anderson meets “the windup girl” Emiko in a sex club. She’s some sort of Japanese new person (genetically engineered by misogynistic assholes to be the perfect little woman). And when her former boss abandoned her, he didn’t mulch her like apparently he was supposed to. So now she gets raped at a sex club on a daily basis (and is described in vivid detail in the book). Yes, this is the character the book was named for.

Emiko feeds Anderson information about the seed bank and he eventually lets her hideout at his place after she killed everyone who gang-raped her, including the regent to the child queen. Seems OK but she’s been his personal sex toy in the story for a while by this point.

At some point in the story, it is revealed that the manager of Anderson’s factory (Hock Seng) is trying to steal the kink spring design and sell it to basically obtain the equivalent of citizenship. Hock Seng is a refugee who in his former life was an executive. A bunch of stuff happens which I don’t really remember and some people from the factory start to die from some sort of genetic algae plague. Hock Seng and some girl who works there cover up the deaths and they leave.

At the same time as the main story is happening, there’s a separate, just as uninteresting, side story happening about the political unrest in Thailand which culminates after the death of the queen’s regent. I won’t even discuss it because frankly, it came off as completely hollow and I don’t really remember it.

In the end, Anderson ends up dying from the plague that originated from his factory (Bye, Felicia), and Emiko teams up with a different renegade scientist from one of the big food companies and his lady boy. The scientist tells Emiko that he will use her DNA to create a new race of better new people who will actually be able to breed.

The end.

Verdict: 2 stars

I rarely come away from books feeling as though they were a complete waste of time. This one was it. I would not recommend it at all.

 

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