Paulo Bacigalupi – The Windup Girl

Title: The Windup Girl
Author: Paulo Bacigalupi
Year: 2005

Take Bangkok, brimming with a multitude of different cultures and the capital of Thailand, a monarchy with complicated political structure, and put it through a genetically engineered apocalypse which has left most of the world in chaos and starvation, but where Thailand is still an island of relative calm in South-East Asia, much thanks to an odd mixture of advanced bio-engineering and old-style, steam punk reminiscent technology. The result is the Windup Girl and the man responsible for the thought-experiment is Paulo Bacigalupi.

Even though I consider the setting described in the previous paragraph to be interesting enough to read almost regardless of anything else, a novel requires a more personal approach and very seldom can it rely entirely on setting. The Windup Girl takes its name from one of the main characters, a genetically engineered human being produced by the secluded state of Japan, created to please and to be subservient. Regarded as an animal, if not a thing, she still harbours feelings intimately human, and thus struggles to free herself from her genetic heritage as well as her training, thus adding a touching tale about the intertwined factors of heritage, training and environment.

This is Paulo Bacigalupi’s debut novel and as such it is extremely good. There are no obvious flaws or major glitches that a more experienced author would have been able to avoid. However, I think it’s clear that Bacigalupi has some polishing to do, because there are minor flaws and imperfections that interrupts the otherwise fascinating tale. For instance, he’s prone to repeat similes and metaphors or just dwell on the same kind of details again. Let me give you an example; the windup’s skin is impeccably beautiful, which unfortunately means that it can’t transport heat very effective, leaving the girl vulnerable to overheating. This is a really neat detail, but it gets tedious to hear about it every time she moves. A more experienced author would realise that the idea is fabulous without employing it to excessively.

The story is neat and well thought-out, although it isn’t magical in an sense of the word. It’s good enough to suffice as a pretext for showing a really cool setting and occasionally even surpasses the ingenuity of the surroundings. A tendency to focus on two many characters make the book a little bit longer than it should have been, but this is not a serious flaw.

In all, this book is awesome, not only in itself, but also because of what I hope it means for the future. I don’t mean to say that I think an apocalypse derived from genetic engineering gone wrong is a good idea, but I do hope that the future will bring more books from Paulo Bacigalupi’s hand and that they will be as rich in ideas as this one, but perhaps presented in a slightly more refined way. This is still a very good book and I give four snails to the Windup Girl.

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  1. Xhakhal’s avatar

    My absolute favourite sentence, the one single sentence that I think captured the nature of the catastrophe that had happened, was actually one of Mr Lake’s.
    “He was inoculated against diseases that hadn’t even been released yet!”

    That sort of language about disease was one of the most clear-cut ways to show how differently the people of Bacigalupi’s world are forced to think, compared to our own.

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    1. Olle Linge’s avatar

      Yeah! I remember that one very clearly as well, at least now that you mention it. It’s when Anderson comes down with something but refuses to believe that it’s actually something else than an ordinary cold, right? I agree that it works well to represent the mindset in Bacigalupi’s world.

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      1. Xhakhal’s avatar

        That’s the moment! Close to the end of the book. It was great ?

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