Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mini book review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi was recommended to me by the guy who works across the hall.  Even though he's younger than I and a lawyer/new father/Mormon/guy - none of which I am - we tend to like  many of the same books, movies and t.v. shows: The First Law series (which he also recommended), Game of Thrones, The Avengers, Firefly and Sherlock, to name just a few.  So when he said to read The Windup Girl, I jumped right on it, even though it is straight science fiction which is not my usual bailiwick.

Set in a future Bangkok after some sort of global catastrophe where the seas are rising, fossil fuels are no longer viable and there is a critical food shortage, TWG follows several sets of characters in their machinations to survive.  There's Anderson Lake, an undercover agent for an American calorie-company - one of several global organizations that control the current supplies of genetically-modified foods and that also may be responsible for the genetic mutations and flaws wracking the world's flora and fauna - who is on the hunt for Bangkok's top-secret seed-bank.  His factory manager, Hock Seng, is a Chinese national, formerly a wealthy and powerful merchant and now little more than an illegal immigrant, trying to regain some strength.  Jaidee Rojjanasukchai is a captain of the Ministry of Environment's white-shirts, thuggish lawmen charged with keeping the Kingdom free of environmental hazards, investigating illegal smuggling of foodstuff and technology, burning out the wildly-contagious genetic plagues.  And then there's Emiko, the windup girl, a Japanese being engineered to be a personal assistant, translator and plaything.  She was brought to Bangkok by her rich businessman owner, only to be abandoned; now she survives as a stripper and a whore, humiliated daily by humans who find her both fascinating and repulsive.  Their lives all intersect, tangentially at first, and then Bacigalupi draws the plot tighter and tighter before the world-changing finish.

Bacigalupi's vision of the future is disturbing and far too possible-seeming in this world of ours that is getting hotter and hungrier, as our real scientists play God with genetic manipulations.  The windups are reminiscent of the replicants in Blade Runner [Note to self: watch Blade Runner again because it's awesome], innocent, otherworldly, scary, struggling to understand the world into which they were made, not born.  Because of its subject matter, and the very nature of science fiction, I had to work a little harder at reading The Windup Girl, think a little more than I usually do with my fantasy tendencies.  This book is absolutely worth a read, if only to see just where we may be heading.

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