|The Windup Girl is Paolo Bacigalupis
first novel, although he has been writing fiction at the shorter lengths (short story to
novella) for a few years, and is the co-winner of the 2010 Hugo award; a spectacular
achievement for a first time novelist.
The Windup Girl is set in the 23rd
century: a time when there is no longer petro-chemicals to fuel the world; where seed
companies have engineered biological warfare to ensure that their seed stocks and gene
banks are all that the world can rely upon and farm; where xenophobia and bigotry is rife.
This is a world where motive power is counted in calories and calories have to be grown in
the field. The action of the story plays out in a Bangkok that is protected from drowning
by a high sea-wall, and where shipments are made as much by airship as they are by ship.
The eponymous windup girl is a self-aware "doll" created by a Japanese
company, imported into Thailand and abandoned when her owner returned to Japan. She, like
all the other characters in the book, is struggling to survive in a society where no one
can be trusted but all expect trust. All the characters have their public and private
faces. Secrets and lies are traded as false coin for the secrets and lies of others.
This was not an easy book to read as it was not a happy, uplifting tale. It was grim
and at times bleak, but it was very well written, with finely turned characters who were
always following their own agenda and were always true to themselves. In my opinion this
deservedly won the 2010 Hugo for best novel it was a damn fine book, richly and
This is a debut novel, set in a quasi-post apocalyptic Thailand. Thanks to the miracles
of genetic modification, crops and humans are no longer safe from rogue viruses that have
incorporated modified genetic material, resulting in all sorts of plagues and diseases.
Genebanks house the raw materials of unmodified foods, and Thailand is one of the last
holdouts of pure food; pure in that the Calorie Companies dont control
Thailands food production. Anderson Lake has been sent to Bangkok to aid AgriGen in
wresting control of the Thais genebanks for use by the company. But it is not just his
story. Hock Seng, his companys plant manager, is a refugee from the anti-Chinese
pogrom that overtook Malaysia and he is playing his own game, as are several other minor
characters. Woven into the story is Emiko, an abandoned Windup Girl, a Japanese "new
person", a genetically modified construct designed to be the perfect compliant
employee. Currently she is stuck in a seedy bar in Bangkok, working as a stripper and
prostitute. Her situation is perilous if the Thais find her, she will be thrown in
the recycling vats. Anderson Lake takes her as his lover. To make life more interesting,
there are two main factions within the Thai administration the Army and the
Environment Ministry, the latter responsible for keeping Thailand genetically safe.
The main protagonists, Lake, Hock, Emiko, and Kanya of the Environment Ministry weave
in and out of the thread of the story, which culminates in a minor civil war precipitated
by Emiko defending her honour. Alliances change and nothing is quite what it appears. Lake
is bent on furthering AgriGens position, Emiko on finding safety, Hock wants
security and Kanya needs to answer to two masters. The civil war brings survival and
provides a satisfying conclusion for most.
This is a brilliant novel, and I can understand why it won both the Hugo and Nebula
Awards for 2010. The characters are believable, and Thailand makes for a good setting,
being sufficiently alien for most Westerners without stretching the imagination beyond
breaking point. Bacigalupis style is sufficient for the story and he has obviously
listened to the advice given to him. A definite page-turner, I devoured the 500+ pages in
two days. I look forward to his next offering, only hoping it will be as good.