30 August, 2010

Review: The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl (2009) [US][UK] by Paolo Bacigalupi is my second best speculative fiction read of 2010, even though it was published in 2009 and won the Nebula. The novel is set in a near-future dystopia ravaged by global warming, rising seas and quickly mutating viruses which destroy the food supply. Enemy and savior, shadowy American agricultural corporations keep the world alive through the development of virus resistant food products, but they are loosing the race.

The Windup Girl takes place in a compelling version of future Bangkok where issues such as xenophobia, slavery, environmentalism and fanaticism take center stage. The draconian measures adapted by the Thai government to insulate their country from the world are personified in the huge sea walls which keep Bangkok dry, a city that is otherwise below the water level. The story of the Windup Girl is one of outside pressures transforming a society that has successfully remade itself and insulated itself from Western 'corruption'. Gritty, dirty and alive, Paolo Bacigalupi will lead the reader through the hearts and minds of a people that are balanced on a tightrope between oblivion and redemption.

The novel focuses on the political upheavals in Bangkok and the political and social ballet which takes place between the protagonists. The Windup Girl brings together some of the most colorful and entrancing characters to have graced the pages of spec fic - from genetically altered servants to unscrupulously ambitious immigrants and shadowy economic hitmem - readers will feel themselves on the front line of a spiritual, economic and social war whose outcome is anything but certain.

I have had a hard time pinning down exactly why I enjoyed this book so much. I can't point to any one criteria and say "this is what made the book great". There was no character that stole my heart or earned my hate. The setting was exquisitely believable but also unremarkable for all its realism. The writing was solid, consistent, enjoyable and even bordered on the poetic. Mr. Bacigalupi expertly avoided falling pray to the repetitive monologues so common to the genre. At the end of it all, I suppose that my delight came from the perfect storm of all these positives, most notably the dark vision Mr. Bacigalupi has for our future.

I highly recommend The Windup Girl to anyone who reads, anything, ever. No seriously, just read it. The fact that the average American reads only seven books a year should in no way stop you form making this one of your very own seven books. So drop the Stieg Larrson, pony up, and read something original and interesting for once. In case you would actually like to know what happens in the novel, you can check out this compelling review of The Windup Girl or this one here.


Jamie Gibbs said...

This has pretty much sold it for me. I've heard a number of good things about this book on fantasy and sci-fi podcasts, Now I just have to find the time to read through it. Awesome review :)

Bryce L. said...

I've been going back and forth on this one, I guess this means I've got to read it. Maybe it will be number 7.

Unknown said...

I read his Pump Six and other stories and it had two "prequels" to the Wind Up Girl. Was not for me. Great review though.

redhead said...

I got 100 pages in, and took Windup Girl back to the library. Nothing negative to say about the storyline, but it just didn't grab me.

But with so many positive reviews floating around, looks like I should give it another shot.

Danmark said...

THE WIND UP GIRL AUDIO BOOK is a wonderfully performed book of a very bleak and depressing future much like Phillip K. Dick's work in DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP and the film version BLADE RUNNER. The world is in a post petroleum age and in an age where world starvation is an ever present fear. Somehow Thailand remains the undefeated country of the world and continues to get by with a people who love their under age queen.

The down side of the book for me was it breaks down into soft core pornography at points to build sympathy for the title character, and in my opinion, she was sympathetic enough and it was just uncomfortable and superfluous.