Review: Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
I loved Bacigalupi’s short story collection Pump Six and Other Stories ( my review ). Two of the stories were explicitly set in the same universe as The Windup Girl. “The Calorie Man” established the post-oil agri-tech that drives much of Windup Girl’s plot and “The Yellow Card Man” firmly establishes that Bacigalupi can believably write in the Thai setting of Windup Girl.
Bacigalupi writes DARK. The world of Windup Girl is a future where we didn’t make it to the stars. We ran out of oil, the superpowers crumbled under their own weight, and disease swept over both humanity and its staple crops. We survived as a species with a significant amount of genetic engineering. Unique genetic information and the knowledge to manipulate it are the ultimate commodity in this future. The plot swirls around a small nation that has the former and representatives of those with the latter.
The cast of point of view characters is unusually large. Knowing the motivations of minor characters adds a fractal complexity to the story. Everyone is working at cross purposes. I really like how the greed of an assistant, the gratitude of a child worker, and the desire for revenge all build a house of cards. The “main” characters inevitably discover how fragile their foundation is.
Lighter than air flight, pedal powered computers, liquefied coal powered luxury vehicles, giant elephants genetically engineered to efficiently convert crops into usable energy, a plague of invisible cats, and an discarded, over-engineered, beautiful young lady. The interesting mixture of technology makes this a fun read. It’s an important book for 2 reasons. It firmly avoids the anglo-centric nature of much science fiction. That would be reason enough for it to stand out from other books. The second reason is that it shows a world that’s only lightly extrapolated from our own. To mangle the Gibson quote slightly, this dystopic setting is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet. Starvation, energy scarcity, and agribusiness as a powerful international player all exist today. It’s quite believable that they could be THE central issues in a not too distant future.
Like the Windup Girl, whose very existence is the result of narrowly avoiding the trash, the world Bacigalupi creates is ever so slightly hopeful in that humanity has at least managed to survive. It’s well worth your time to read and quite deserving of its Nebula Win.
I’d been meaning to write this review for a while. I saw a ton of tweets about this video today, but haven’t watched it yet. I suspect it might be awesome.
And don’t forget my Machinery of Light Giveaway. David J. Williams’ future is 180 degrees different from Bacigalupi’s, but both frighten me.