The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi won the Hugo and Nebula awards last year and I finally got around to reading it. I have to say that it deserved to win–it’s really quite the story. It is a story set in and of Thailand somewhere in the late 22nd century or so. Oil has mostly run out and eco-plagues caused by genetically modified organisms have wrecked havoc with the worlds ecosystem. Patented (and sterile) food supplies are the jealously guarded province of mega-corporations like AgriGen and SoyCal. The narration of the book is provided through the eyes of five different people.
Anderson Lake is an undercover calorie man (calories of work are a basis of currency) in a Bangkok struggling to keep ahead of rising sea levels. His cover is as a factory head developing a new process of kink spring (organic energy storage) devices. His real job is to find the Thai seed bank and the gene scientists they are using to keep Thailand from under the control of the calorie corporations.
Hock Seng is Anderson’s office manager. He is a Malaysian Chinese refugee in Thailand. He used to own a shipping corporation but a genocidal purge by extremists forced his entry into Thailand. He is continually looking for an edge to regain his footing. He thinks the kink springs are such an edge.
Emiko is the titular Windup Girl. She is a genetically modified human, known more politely as New people , bred for obedience and features in a Japan that needs to create its own servants in order to make up for an aging population. Her state is the lowest of any of the people in the book as she is cruelly used by many.
Jaidee and Kanya are White Shirts–essentially a kind of environmental police. Their job is to enforce strict import controls and keep a lid on plague borne problems.
Amid this background of an energy starved and bio-shocked world we follow the characters and their goals and their flaws. I think that Bacigalupi does a very good job of showing these characters and what is driving them. Many of the driving forces are fear and prejudice, but Bacigalupi makes that understandable from that characters viewpoint.
One particular prejudice is against the New People. Most of the people in the book don’t consider them human at all. For the Japanese and Europeans they are servants at best. For the Thai’s they are fit only to be “mulched.” I can, unfortunately, understand how these views would emerge in the world presented by Bacigalupi. Humanities ability to pick out differences and declare that trait as “non-human” are all to apparent throughout history.
Bacigalupi does a fantastic job of putting us into the middle of this world and slowly feeding out the details of what is going on. No big info dumps here–just a slow a steady building of a complete world.
Very good book–highly recommended.