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Book Review: The Windup Girl
Sometimes, there are books I want to read very badly, even if there's no good reason why. Perhaps the cover looked cool, or the summary was interesting, but it's never equal to the level of desire I have to read the book. With no information to go on, I already decide the book is going to change my mind and how I view the book's genre. This happened with The Forever War and Elantris, as well as The Name of the Wind. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes I end up with something like Neuromancer.
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi was one of those books that I decided I needed to read. I bought it for my Kindle and read the first chapter and I realized I had no idea what I was about to take in.
The story takes place in a near distant future where new diseases and plagues have hindered the world's food sources. Now, calorie companies are the big money makers, providing food that can fight these new problems. The issue for these companies, and the character Anderson Lake, is that some countries don't want their help. Thailand, in this case, is ready to close its borders to the calorie companies, unless they can be convinced othewise.
From there, we jump back and forth between characters who play vital roles in this struggle. We have Anderson, the calorie agent who is trying to get a deal with the local royalty, Hock Seng, a Chinese refuge who works for Anderson, Jaidee Rojjanasukchai, the Tiger of Bangkok who makes life difficult for outsiders, Kanya, Jaidee's second-in-command, and Emiko, the titular windup girl from Japan.
Each character has a role to play, but it's Emiko who the reader sympathizes with. She's the only character who comes across as likeable and not manipulative, the only one without a hidden agenda. True, Hock Seng is someone to pity and Jaidee is standing for what he believes in, but the world is full of bullies and Emiko is the victim.
As the story goes on, each characters effects the current politics of the country and brings new problems for the others, but it's Emiko the reader roots for and who will play the biggest part in the final outcome.. She's a New Person, a woman born in a lab to be supior. Unfortunetaly, this doesn't help her situation in her abandoned state. She has pores too small to sweat and overheats easily in the Thailand heat. While in Japan, her kind is respected, in Bangkok, she is hated and used as a dancer in seedy night club, constantly abused verbally and physically.
The book builds like a boiling pot, with so much intrigue and backstabbing that you can feel everything ready to spill over. The ending is a satisfying one, even with the dark clouds overhead. There's no happy ending, not for anyone, but you don't feel cheated. Every end seems earned and well thought out. Bacigalupi leaves the reader interested enough for a sequel, but happy enough to leave it at this.
While reading The Windup Girl, I was surprised how much like a cyberpunk novel it seemed to be, even though electricity is out of place. The dystopian nature of the setting, the corporate shadow, and the genetically created people all reminded me of good cyberpunk. I was happy, then, to learn that there's a term out there I haven't heard before, called biopunk, and that term fits this book perfectly. While cyberpunk, like Neuromancer left me annoyed, biopunk can create Megadonts, giant elephants that are more akin to Mastodons, which makes me very happy.
The book is a big one and much more dense than I had been expecting. It was never boring, but chapters took a bigger chunck of time than I had planned. It wasn't easy finishing the book with a busy work schedule, but it was worth it. The pace hits top gear when Emiko makes her fateful move and the book doesn't slow down afterwards.
The best thing about this book is that it is wholy unique. People asked me what it was like and I had little to compare it to; from its unique setting of a futuristic Thailand, to its idea of calorie control, it reads like the best science fiction should, which is new and exciting. It's not just a dystopian book, or a cyberpunk tale, or one about clones and seedy alleyways. You have to read it to really get a grasp of what this book is about.
If you're a fan of cyberpunk or biopunk, or just good science fiction, check this book out for yourself. I haven't read anything else by Paolo Bacigalupi, but I will after this. The Windup Girl is a uniqe, fresh tale and will leave you wanting to talk to your friends about it after!