The Windup Girl (英語) ペーパーバック – 2010/5/1
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Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history's lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko. Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.
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Windup Girl is not an easy novel to read. It's long, there are a lot of characters, the world is complex, people's motivations are diverse as are their personalities. The local, future Bangkok, also takes some time to adjust to, at least for me since I have never been to Bangkok. It takes a while to sink into the world and know your way around. That is, as well as any of the characters do at any rate, which is not very well. Everyone has a different view of what's going on and is keeping secrets from all of the other characters. No one is simple. No one is easy to relate to. The Windup Girl, Emiko, is probably the most identifiable character, which says a lot.
I enjoyed the novel. I enjoyed the challenge of reading and understanding. I enjoyed the author's depth of understanding of this alien landscape. The use of Thai words and concepts gives the world substance and character.
While I am giving it five stars -- which it deserves -- I caution potential readers that this is not a book for everyone. If you're looking for something light and uplifting, this isn't it.
One last point, a negative one, there is a huge unresolved issue at the end of the book. Normally I can forgive authors for not clearing up every little thing, but this was like getting punched in the face. Come to think of it, I think I'll knock it down to four stars just for that.
The book is set after the rise and subsequent fall of globalism, in a time when international trade is really just rebuilding itself. The Kingdom of Thailand sits as a rare, independent nation amidst a sea of global warming collapsed environment and gene warfare induced famines and diseases. And inside it, the Trade Ministry and the Environment Ministry are waging an idealogical war. Is isolation, a weird form of 'nature-ism', and fear of the outside keeping the country safe? Or do they need the mega-corporations' genetically modified grains to safely feed their people at the cost of being indebted to those mega-corps? And just like the proverbial butterfly that sets off a hurricane, one illegal wind-up girl accidentally ignites the dynamite of change.
Bacigalupi does so many things right -- the atmosphere, setting, dialog, completely unique story, etc. -- but he appears to lack trust in the reader. It's true that he has a complex location and a complex cast of characters operating inside a very rich cultural environment. Basic workings of the environment are often repeated to the point that it's difficult as a reader to get really engaged. It is not until the last third of the book, where the action really picks up, that Bacigalupi appears to be too busy trying to get across everything that's happening that he forgets to keep re-explaining things and the reader's engagement is really achieved.
Additionally, this book is rather poorly edited. I read the hardback edition and there were a somewhat distracting number of simple typos (spelling, number or gender matching, extra words in a sentence that clearly should have been deleted).
The "new people" have been designed to serve the remnants of mankind as sex slaves, specialized labor and warriors. One new person female sex slave (a windup girl) discovers that her creators have accidentally given her some unexpected capabilities that give her an advantage over old style humans.
I came to read Paolo's books with "The Water Knife" and enjoyed it so much I searched for his earlier works such as this.