Published by Start Publishing LLC on May 5, 2015
Genres: Biopunk, Fiction, Science Fiction
Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, a biopunk, dystopian science fiction novel, depicts a bleak future that feels alarmingly possible. The world’s produce has become limited, due to bio-engineered plagues wiping out crops. Genetic codes for lost produce have become lucrative information sought out by “calorie men”. One such American, Anderson Lake, travels to Bangkok in search of fruits and vegetables to mass produce for the West. Bangkok has managed to isolate itself and remains one of the only regions where produce is still grown without the influence of the capitalistic calorie companies. Anderson runs a kink-spring factory, a futuristic power source, as a cover for his calorie man endeavors. Heck Seng, a Chinese refugee, working at Anderson’s factory is hoping to steal his kink-spring technology to gain wealth. While in Bangkok, Anderson encounters Emiko, a bio engineered woman, or windup girl, who works at a strip club. Windups are seen as evil, non-human beings, designed to be laborers, soldiers or sex workers. Other characters in the story are on either side of a conflict between Bangkok’s Trade Ministry and Environment Agency. These storylines are initially separate but converge by the story’s epic conclusion.
One of the many things I loved about this book is the moral complexity of the characters. Bacigalupi’s characters are written as believable people that are motivated by power, greed, and survival. While all the characters are great, I found myself most attached to the characters of Heck Seng and Emiko. I got excited whenever I reached a chapter told from either of their perspectives. Heck Seng became the most interesting character, once his heartbreaking backstory was revealed. I believe Emiko, aka the windup girl, was ironically the most human of any of the book’s characters. When her character was first introduced I was concerned. Emiko seemed to represent the unfortunate stereotype of the submissive, sexualized Asian woman. I was relieved when Bacigalupi rejected this stereotype by taking Emiko’s character in a very different direction. The novel’s worldbuilding is excellent. Rather than have all the info dumped on the reader from the start, Bacigalupi parcels out information about his world at a slow, deliberate pace. Deciphering the society’s structure and figuring out how they got to where they are was a lot of fun. I felt like an anthropologist piecing together the history of Paolo’s world. Another highlight for me was the inclusion of Asian fruits, such as rambutan, durian, and lychee (especially the rambutan, what an addicting snack), all of which my husband recently introduced me to after a trip to H Mart. Religious and cultural themes are weaved throughout the story. The morals of many characters stem from Buddhist beliefs. A fellow reader pointed some subtle references to Noah’s ark that foreshadow later events in the story. I also found themes of colonialism represented by the white calorie man.
There is one queer character in the book that works for the Environment Agency and she is a bad-ass. I found myself rooting for her and her character arc was very satisfying.
This book contains strong scenes of sexual assault. One specific scene (you will know it when you read it) was especially intense and difficult to read.
I rate this book five out of five stars. Fans of Westworld or A Song of Ice and Fire will enjoy this book. I would just recommend that you wait to pick this up until you are in the mood for an immersive, challenging read.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assualt