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Book: The Windup Girl

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Title: The Windup Girl

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi

Publisher: Night Shade Books

I have this bad habit. I click my way around Amazon.com, looking for things that I wish I had. Not a unique problem to be sure, but more often than not I end up shelling out for something that I didn’t need.

Fortunately that does not apply to this book, since firstly it’s awesome, and secondly I bought it at my local hulking bookstore monolith (Barnes and Noble). I did see it on Amazon first though, and for that I must thank them.

In a nutshell, Windup is a coagulation of every bad global warming and GM food scare statement ever, and then stretched and pulled and twisted to the absolute most extreme logical outcome.

Normally I would begin to dry heave at the idea and move on. I had enough of that garbage in my Environmental Science class. Windup manages to avoid this by focusing on the world as it is rather than bitching out the people that messed it up, and it makes for a far more interesting read. Seeing how the people in the book work around or integrate and use the remains of “Pre-Contraction” human society is fun and constantly revealing interesting workarounds for the problems that a society without power faces.

Taking a step back, I’ll go over the book’s setting, hopefully in a way that’s a bit more straightforward than the jacket provides. It’s the future (of course). How far into the future isn’t ever explicitly stated, but long enough that the adults in this world have a hard time believing that cars used to be for anybody other than the rulers of nations. Oil has dried up, and a series of ruinous diseases have wiped out a vast majority of plant and animal life on Earth, and new strains are appearing with every season.

In the end, water levels rose and plunged large swaths of land underwater, power is now derived from the kinetic energy of humans and genetically engineered animals, and the corporate powerhouses are now the “calorie companies” located in what remains of the United States, producing new strain resistant crops and selling sterile seeds to foreign nations at exorbitant prices.

It’s a pretty believable world, and while many of the specifics aren’t ever explained, you don’t feel like they need to be, since  all of the problems are problems that exist today, only taken to the utmost extreme.

The story follows quite a few characters, starting with and centering somewhat around Anderson Lake. A “Calorie Man” sent to the unfriendly nation of Thailand in order to search for clues that may lead him to the nation’s seed bank. A seed bank containing seeds from crops long lost to the diseases is worth more than entire nations, and Calorie Men are charged with acquiring access to these banks for the sake of their companies.

The book also follows it’s namesake, a New Person named Emiko. The New People are genetically manufactured humans created by the Japanese as high-power executive toys and workers to alleviate the nation’s declining birthrate. Emiko was a secretary for a Japanese businessman, until she was discarded on the streets of Bagnkok. Now she is under an eccentric club owner who uses her as a perverse attraction for customers in return for safety from those who are less than fond of “Windups”.

Also featured with their own stories are an old Chinese man struggling to guarantee his own future in the face of the brutal treatment “Yellow Card” citizens recieve, and an infamous soldier from the Environmental Ministry as well as his second-in-command as they fight to keep plagues outside the city gates.

They each provide an interesting and unique perspective on the happenings in the city, and help get you caught up on how the world works in the book, because there is little time spared to make sure you understand the finer points before the next important plot point. I like books better this way, and it’s why I enjoyed Glen Cook’s Black Company books so much. there is no bogging down, and the satisfaction that comes from unraveling a world and learning how it works is divine.

Story-wise I’m reluctant to say much because I’m horrible at determining what qualifies as a ‘spoiler’ or not, but I will say that the book only gets better as you get further in. The first half or so is fairly vanilla, and I was almost questioning my purchase, then it hits you and doesn’t stop. The climactic chapters are some of the most interesting that I’ve read. The author really knows how to paint a scene, and it makes the last third of the book quite the page-turner.

I haven’t read a lot recently, and even when I did I stuck mostly to Sci-fi and Fantasy, but I think that The Windup Girl is a very good book, and it will be really disheartening if it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

Also of interest: The Windup Girl isn’t the first foray of Bacigalupi’s into this world. He has previously written about it in his short stories titled “The Calorie Man” and “The Yellow Card Man”, both available in his collection of published short stories titled “Pump Six and Other Stories.

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Written by PIR

November 17, 2009 at 14:54

Posted in Books

Tagged with ,

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