Review: The Windup Girl

I’ve finally gotten The Windup Girl off my to-read list, and having finished it, I’ll have to watch Paolo Bacigalupi for future novels.

The Windup Girl is something different than I’ve ever encountered. It’s part wild cataclysm, part dystopia, part social commentary, and all action. I’m not kidding on the last, either. Whether it’s Hock Seng shrewdly planning the rebirth of his financial empire, Anderson Lake pursuing an elusive new fruit on the behalf of shady agricultural megacorporations, Jaidee’s crusade against the corrupt Trade cartel that aims to hijack Thailand’s sovereignty for financial gain, or Emiko’s constant struggle against her lot as a Windup, something is always moving.

In this universe of the future, plagues of disease and gene-hacked insects have washed over the globe and oil is scarce or nonexistent. Not only has transportation crashed, but crops immune to the newest mutations of both are in short supply, and Thailand is one of the last bastions of agriculture not owned wholesale by the various calorie monopolies. It’s a snapshot of a future dictated by gene patents, industrial sabotage, energy shortages, and nouveau slavery. Where kink-springs and flywheels are manually wound and filled by human and animal labor, countries fanatically guard their seed banks, and human life is worth less than ever before, because now it’s direct competition.

It’s bleak and terrible, at least in Thailand. Bacigalupi crams this implicit desolation into every paragraph. Each character assumes it, thrives on it, perpetuates it for her own survival. Everything is dead or dying. Disease is around every corner. Starvation is a fact of life. It’s very clear the world is now utterly despoiled of its bounty, and the remainder of humanity has been reduced to scavengers of various description. The pressure has brought out the worst in humanity, and the crucible of its survival is underway.

By the end of this novel, I was defeated and broken. I hated humanity and all it wrought in this novel’s universe. The plight of the Windups clinched my feelings in this regard. They’re not people, but assumed automatons, bequeathed no souls by even the most liberal-minded, slaves and tools every one of them. Yet simultaneously they are the future, having faculties and abilities far outstripping their antiquated cousins, if only rendered infertile by public mandate and clever gene manipulation. It’s certain that these impediments will eventually be removed, and then in decades or centuries to come, humanity will breathe it’s last gasp and the real future will be born. This is the turning point we witness in The Windup Girl. It’s a glimpse of the chaos necessary for the transition; a tiny justification of its origins.

Despite the unrelenting action, the depressing atmosphere, the inescapable tincture of decay and desperation, this is a wonderful read. I’d dare even call it a classic in the making. Post-apocalyptic fiction is difficult to read, with the inherent hopelessness and depressing imagery, and this was no different, yet I can’t help but cheer for Emiko and hope her ending will differ from the one humanity brought upon itself. It’s compelling despite everything that makes it difficult to read, and I strongly suggest you make time for The Windup Girl.