Monday, October 12, 2009

Review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
359 pp HC
Published by Night Shade Books

Those readers who are familiar with Paolo's Hugo Nominated work "The Calorie Man" (which I truly suggest reading before Windup because it will make clear some of the otherwise cryptic references in the book) will instantly recognize the world of "The Windup Girl". The world of the Windup Girl is calorie starved. Plagues have decimated the worlds food supplies and petro-chemical are if not totally depleted are very scarce. In this world the "gene-ripper and calorie-men" are all that keep the world fed and supplied with energy but at great cost. Their power is held not by governments now but huge corporations that control grains for food and the various technologies to make energy. Power now is based around genetically engineered animals and mechanical devices storage devices much like batteries or engines but more in line with a watch's main spring than an internal combustion engine. The world's currency is now the calorie and the joule and the corporations guard them well. Wars are fought over control between different corporation for such control.

Into this mix we are introduced to "New People" or Windups. Genetically engineered from human and animal genes to be the perfect servant for areas where the native populations have declined seriously or the ultimate soldier. Toys for the ultra rich.

Emiko is the windup in our story. Abandoned in future Bangkok. Emiko is forced to hide amongst the very dregs of humanity used as a plaything by anyone that can manage the price set by her "patron".

In Windup Girl we are introduced to the various factions that are tasked with keeping Bangkok dry, fed and energized, plus fighting each other for control. Above it all are the mysterious corporations manipulating and spying for the ultimate prize.....plague free food stuffs that could bring untold wealth.

Paolo has done a great job of expanding on the earlier shorter works. His future Bangkok lives and breathes. You can feel the oppressive heat, smell the stench of animals kept in close quarters. The noise and the strangeness.

Mix in a healthy dose of political intrigue (which to be honest I usually run screaming from) and you have a book that you just can not put down. You feel Emiko's conflict. Her every fiber is designed to serve without question but she is tortured by the conflict to be more than a toy but to be someone in control and to have others like herself, a group to which she can belong. The mysterious Anderson who seems to be very much a dangerous company man but is totally undone by the likes of Emiko. Kanya who serves two masters to her undying shame and other equally realized characters. The milieu alone makes the books worthwhile, but to have real people woven into the tapestry is wonderful. Don't get me wrong, there are cardboard cut-outs, but they are there mostly to set the tone not be the focus.

If you found the Calorie Man or the collection Pump 6 as entertaining as I did then you will find The Windup Girl immensely entertaining.

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