Book Review- The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

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I was drawn to this book by its cover, which gave off a sort of Steampunkish, old-meets-new vibe but was clearly not set in jolly ol’ England. It turned out not to be Steampunk at all, but was an incredibly interesting world unlike any other I have ever encountered.

Somewhere in our near future, the world’s economies have collapsed and re-formed into something you wouldn’t recognize. Profit may still be the goal for the large corporations that control the rise and fall of governments, but their currency isn’t yen or dollars; it’s calories. After years of biological warfare between these “calorie companies”, the world’s biodiversity has dwindled, leaving only genetically altered crops that can withstand the blights the companies have engineered to take out the competition. But in a few remote places, seed banks still exist and hold the hope for the future of humankind, as well as increased profit margins for the big companies.

That is where Andersen Lake comes in. He is living in Thailand and posing as a businessman, but in reality he is working for one of the largest calorie companies in the world. A new fruit has just come onto the market for the first time in decades, but its source remains a mystery. Thailand is one of the few countries that has resisted the influence of the calorie companies, but their political situation is fraught with tension as certain government factions lobby to let the calorie men in. The local police force is doing its best to keep order, but with such rampant corruption, how do they stand a chance?

Alternate cover

Alternate cover

Another inhabitant of this crowded cityscape is Emiko. Outside of her native Japan she is known derisively as a “windup” or “tick-tock”, though in truth she is flesh and bone. She is part of a race of New People, some of whom were genetically engineered to serve the needs and whims of the rich, while others are killing machines employed by the Japanese to conquer other nations. Emiko was abandoned by her master when he decided to upgrade to a newer model upon his return to Japan, and she lives her life in fear of discovery. In order to afford the valuable ice she needs to keep herself from overheating she had to become a sex-worker, and is subjected to torment nightly as the mistress brutalizes her for the entertainment of people who are both fascinated and repulsed by this new type of human.

Emiko continuously struggles against her “programming” which forces her to be subservient, until one night she finally breaks free and unwittingly brings about the revolution that has been simmering near the surface.

This book was fantastic, and I can’t recommend it enough. The world the author creates is so different and yet so plausible and consistent that you can’t help but be sucked in. This is not a single story, but the tales of many people who find themselves intertwined at a turning point in a history which is yet to come. This is post-apocalyptic fiction at its best. Please be aware that there are scenes that involve graphic sexual violence against Emiko, so if you are sensitive about that subject this is not the book for you. It is by no means gratuitous even though it is disturbing, it is an important part of the narrative and bringing Emiko to her breaking point.

Phoebe Darqueling is a globe-trotting writer and artist working in the Steampunk ouevre.

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Like my reviews? Check out more cool stuff at my website!

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