Review: The Windup Girl

Review: The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Published by Night Shade Books on September 1, 2009
Genres: Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Pages: 359
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

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.

What Happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism's genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.

First Sentence: “‘No! I don’t want the mangosteen.'”

For years, I have been looking forward to reading this book. I did check it out from the library once and read a couple of pages, but I gave up and moved on to something else. I hoped that now, with a broader experience of dystopias, I might get into the story and appreciate its marvelousness. Sadly, I did not. Were I not incredibly stubborn, I would have DNFed this early on.

Tons of brilliant people that I have the utmost respect for love this novel. Honestly, they’re smarter than I am, I expect, so it could be that I just don’t have what it takes to fully appreciate The Windup Girl. That said, I can appreciate the depth and breadth of Bacigalupi’s world building. Many novels feel sort of slapdash, as though some things have not really been though out at all, but every bit of this has obviously been fine-tuned and worked out with precision.

In fact, there is such focus on the world building that I occasionally felt rather like I was reading a newspaper or a text book on that period of history. The whole book was a description overload for me. Perhaps if I had an interest in science, I would apprecciate all of those details, but, with science always having been my least favorite subject, I had trouble focusing or caring.

In The Windup Girl, mankind has, through the constant genetic modification of food, created new diseases and is having difficulty producing food. Conglomerates that produce new disease-free strains essentially run the world. The Windup Girl takes place in Thailand, where Anderson Lake has been sent to investigate the appearance of fruits previously disappeared. They are hiding a seedbank and his company wants access. In addition to the science, there’s a ton of politics, which also really is not my thing.

The Windup Girl follows a fairly significant cast of main characters, not a single one of whom I cared a fig about. In fact, I’m not even entirely sure whether I was supposed to like them or not. Were some of them protagonists and some antagonists? Other than Emiko, the windup girl, being a protagonist, I’m really not sure. One of the characters dies fairly early on and I had absolutely no reaction to his death. Was I supposed to feel sad? Was I supposed to be glad? I legitimately have no clue.

The title character, the windup girl, proved most interesting, but even her sections got more boring for me as the novel went on. Actually, I think the only reason I cared what happened to her was that I felt pity for her. As she gained in power, she seemed to need my sympathy less and I was able to focus on just how little personality she really has. Admittedly, this is not her fault, considering that she is an engineered human, made to obey.

While I have no doubt of Bacigalupi’s great talent, this novel, at least, was not for me. I failed to have any sort of emotional reaction to this book whatsoever; I was just bored. I hope that his young adult dystopia, Ship Breaker, is more accessible. The Windup Girl will appeal to readers who delight in detailed world building.

Favorite Quote:

“‘Sex and hypocrisy. They go together like coffee and cream.'”

8 responses to “Review: The Windup Girl”

  1. Nori says:

    I’ve heard really good things about this one too. Did you read his YA dystopia, Ship Breaker? It took me a while to get into it, but I eventually loved that one. Maybe he works better as a YA writer? You made me want to not read this one or at least get it as a library book.

  2. You have commitment girl, seeing how you felt about this novel I definitely would not have been able to finish it. I’m all about great world building but there has to be more to it, it’s not good when it starts feeling like you’re in class reading a text book. Great review, sorry you didn’t enjoy this one more.

    • Christina says:

      Sometimes I know that if I don’t finish something, I will just try to read it again later, so it’s better to just get it over with, rather than continually rereading the first half. :-p

  3. M.A.D. says:

    Well, appreciate the honest review and have to say that I would be attracted to this book by it’s cover. I probably would read this, I really enjoy detailed world building (and Ship Breaker has been on my radar for a while) lol

    Mary DeBorde M.A.D.

  4. Kat Balcombe says:

    Oh now I’m torn – I love intricate world-building but I’m also a fickle woman – I need some kind of entertainment in the world-building!

    I’m still going to keep it on my wishlist, but will be giving it that wary one-eyebrow raised kinda look…..

    • Christina says:

      You should definitely keep it on your wishlist. You like quite a few things I don’t. This might work for you! And, if it doesn’t, you should be able to tell pretty early on and stop reading. 🙂

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