a review by Nalini Haynes
Emiko is a windup girl, a genetically engineered creature designed and trained to act as a personal assistant and consort to wealthy Japanese businessmen. Emiko’s master decided that the cost of her fare home to Japan from Thailand was too expensive, so he decided to leave Emiko in Thailand illegally and upgrade to a newer model on his return to Japan. Emiko would be mulched by the authorities if she was discovered, so she works as entertainer and whore for a club owner who pays significant bribes for authorities to look the other way.
Anderson Lake is a calorie company man who is searching for genetic material from which to create new foodstuffs in this new, post-apocalyptic world. In Thailand calorie company men are not welcome, so he poses as a developer of kink springs (batteries). When Anderson discovers a new fruit akin to Lychees in the Thai markets, his excitement leads him to forget discretion, blowing his cover.
Hock Seng is Malay Chinese, living in Thailand as a yellow card second class citizen after fleeing Malaysia as the sole survivor of his clan after attempted genocide. While working for Anderson, Hock Seng defrauds the company in order to gain sufficient wealth to ensure his survival and, hopefully, a possibility of remarriage with a son to build a new future.
Jaidee is the Tiger of Bangkok, heralded as a hero of the people, he fights to keep possible ecological threats out of Thailand. He offends people in high places in doing so, leading to conflict. Kanya is a woman who survived a plague as a child to become an unsmiling adult working as Jaidee’s second in command.
Anderson meets Emiko and becomes infatuated with her, whilst trying to balance his cover and his true mission, an impossible feat. Emiko wants to live more than just survive. Jaidee’s burning of imports destroys necessary materials for Anderson’s kink spring company. Hock Seng takes short cuts without those materials that jeopardise everyone.
Bacigalupi describes a world that has been destroyed by greed, with calorie companies who have destroyed the food chain in order to create monopolies for their products. The natural outcome of this selfishness and greed is starvation of the masses alongside of new, artificially created diseases designed to wipe out competition in the food market place. The oceans have risen, wiping out many major cities including New York. Bangkok survives as the holy city of Thailand, surrounded by levies and supported by coal fired pumps in the monsoon season. The political climate is intricately derived and complex in its machinations, with the overwhelming motivation of most of the key players being self-interest. Many experts would say Bacigalupi’s description of the future is overly optimistic in terms of climate change, but his depiction of the calorie companies is frighteningly believable.
This is a well-paced narrative with twists and turns along the way. While characters surprise the reader, none of their actions are really out of character given their backgrounds and development.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is truly worthy of all the awards and accolades it has received. Read this if you enjoy intelligent, character driven stories with believable politics in a dystopian world. While not as many pages as Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes or Brandan Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, this book is up there with them as one of my favourite reads in the past few months.
This article was previously published in Dark Matter issue 3, April 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.