The Windup Girl: Mesmerizing audio

The Windup Girlfantasy  book review Paolo Bacigalupi The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Chapter one — really interesting. Chapter two — really interesting. Chapter three — hit the off button about five minutes in.

Let me explain how that worked.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is the story of a near future earth where food is controlled by calorie companies because all the naturally occurring food sources have been wiped out by plagues, and the new animals and plants are genetically engineered and patented. This massive restructuring of basic sustainability, combined with the disappearance of oil and the oceans rising globally and destroying coastal cities like New York, combine to create a world that is at once strangely foreign and completely natural. It feels like a steampunk novel, with a weird combination of advanced technology and manual labor creating a dystopia that feels all too possible.

Chapter one is told from the perspective of one of the calorie men, Anderson, who is sent to Thailand to discover how the Thai people are creating their own food in defiance of calorie company patents and contracts, and to discover how to exploit the new sources that Thailand is developing. He’s a harsh, uncaring man, aware that he is serving private interests over the public good and completely okay with that.

Chapter two is told from the perspective of his personal secretary, Hock Seng, a Malayan man who is a yellow card, a refugee from China where the Malay have been persecuted and slaughtered by the Green Headbanders, radical Islamic fundamentalists. His secretary hates both Anderson and the Thai people equally and is intent on corporate espionage, trying to steal copyrighted information to earn enough money to reestablish his tribe that has been exterminated.

And then we got to chapter three, where we meet the titular Windup Girl, Emiko. She is genetically engineered, raised in a crèche and trained from birth to be a servant and a sexual companion in Japan, where the technology is understood and admired. When she is cast off and sent to Thailand, where she is seen as potentially demonic, she is sold into sexual slavery. I hit the off button when she is raped on stage as a form of entertainment. The graphic brutality turned my stomach. While recognizing that sexual slavery is reaching epidemic levels throughout most of the world, I do not want to read about it for entertainment purposes.

This is a compelling story. The narrator of the Brilliance Audio production I listened to, Jonathan Davis, is mesmerizing, with the right amount of bitterness and languid pacing to reflect the oppressive heat and horrible life circumstances of the people in the story. While none of the characters are likable, they are complex and recognizable as real people. This is definitely an issue story — dealing with topics of environmental degradation, food security and international terrorism, but done so in a way that hadn’t seemed preachy so far. I just couldn’t deal with the sexual violence.

The Windup Girl — (2009) Publisher: What Happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits? And what happens when said bio-terrorism forces humanity to the cusp of post-human evolution? In The Windup Girl, award-winning author Paolo Paolo Bacigalupi The Windup Girl SFF book reviews Bacigalupi returns to the world of “The Calorie Man” ( Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winner, Hugo Award nominee, 2006) and “Yellow Card Man” (Hugo Award nominee, 2007) in order to address these questions.


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RUTH ARNELL is a retired professor of political science in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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2 comments

  1. I made it a good bit further, but probably ended up missing a lot. I kept zoning out and having to rewind. I’ll try it again, but in print so I’m not so easily distracted. It wasn’t the sexuality that got me so much as it was that I just didn’t care what happen to any of the characters. They were all unlikeable.

  2. I thought The Windup Girl was excellent. Dark and challenging, yes, but also filled with gorgeous prose and fascinating characters. I gave it 4 stars myself, but I can see how some people might not be in the mood for its grim tone and its occasionally confusing narrative. For a debut novel, it’s a stunning accomplishment. Beautiful cover illustration, too.

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