Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits? And what happens when said bio-terrorism forces humanity to the cusp of post-human evolution? In The Windup Girl, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi returns to the world of his award-winning “The Calorie Man” and “Yellow Card Man” in order to address these questions.
Thoughts: Where a good deal of futuristic settings are largely Western in origin, Bacigalupi breaks the mold and sets The Windup Girl in Thailand, exposing readers to a new culture, language, and set of experiences and values. My own compehension of Thai being limited to “sawatdi kha” and “mai pen rai,” I managed to expand my vocabulary a little simply by reading this book. It was, I must say, a welcome change from the white-bread, Western-dominated culture often expressed in futuristic settings.
Also interestingly, while still being science fiction this book takes us back a few steps in terms of technology. The level of power that we enjoy even today is gone. Computers are run by treadles. It’s borderline steampunk in that more things are made of cogs and gears, simply out of necessity. Humanity’s control over the world has been decimated by crop failures, advanced disease, climate change. The whole Monsanto controvery is ramped up to 11 here by corporations taking control of all things edible, cracking the genetic code to make it resistant to all the blights and ills that killed crops previously, and making all the crops sterile so that people have to rely on them for food. Nobody can just take a handful of apple seeds and some land and start their own orchard.
Almost makes you wish for the kind of future where we’re just off exploring alien planets, doesn’t it?
The titular character of the novel, Emiko the windup girl, is interesting in that she’s not the main character (though we do see a fair amount from her viewpoint, so it’s fair to say that she’s a protagonist) but more of a catalyst. Resigned at first to spending her life being degraded in the sex trade, Emiko’s journey of self-discovery and -realization not only free her from sexual slavery but also serves as the jumping-off point for an entire political revolution in Thailand. And they say one person can’t make a difference…
Bacigalupi’s chilling version of the future is one that could all too easily become reality, which is, of course, the most terrifying part of speculative fiction. The future he creates is not dystopian; it doesn’t pretend to be perfect or tightly-controlled, though it does bear a few of the earmarks of a dystopian society in the making. The skill at which the author weaves the fine detail of culture and speculative future together makes for a fascinating tapestry, one which I’m very pleased to have glimpsed, even if it comes with a disturbing ending. Bacigalupi is one author you simply can’t afford to miss.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)