The Windup Girl Review
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Paolo Bacigalupi, long the focus of a small but devoted following in the sci-fi community, has entered the literary mainstream with a bang with his award-winning novel, The Windup Girl.

Set in 22nd-century Bangkok, where resurrected megodonts wind springs to power airships and engineered plagues threaten planet-wide starvation with every harvest, The Windup Girl has the power of a train wreck: too terrible to watch but too exciting to look away. And the cast is no less dynamic than the location.

Anderson Lake arrives in Bangkok to track down the Thais’ hidden stock of seeds, which could mean thousands of lives saved from starvation and thousands in profits for his corporation, AgroGen. His Chinese refugee assistant, Hock Seng, scorns the foreign devil’s interest and instead focuses on a new design of spring, which could buy his freedom from the enforced poverty of Thailand.

Meanwhile, a Thai Robin Hood known as “The Tiger of Bangkok” destroys the foreigners’ imports. The Tiger’s own government seeks to shut him down, as the politicians believe that the only way for the country to survive is to make treaties with the foreign corporations. But the popularity he enjoys protects him—for now.

At the center of the political and economic intrigue is Emiko, the windup girl herself. Boiling in her own genetically-modified skin, she is unable to survive in the tropics of Bangkok without the assistance of Raleigh, who forces her to perform as a prostitute in exchange for the ice that keeps her alive. An old associate of Raleigh’s, Anderson eventually comes into contact with Emiko. From there, she becomes both the actual and symbolic hub around which the rest of the action turns: Anderson becomes obsessed with Emiko, Heng wishes to capture her for his own profit, and the government seeks to destroy her as an unnatural abomination.

The Windup Girl is a compelling story. It’s over 500 pages long, yet I couldn’t put it down. (I missed more than one meal in my race to finish.) While the story’s main plot of the evil corporation seeking profit against human misery, while a corrupt government collaborates is overused, I found that each of the characters’ individual perspectives on the same situation turned the clichés into ambiguity. Anderson Lake works for the evil company, yet he finds compassion for a creature that’s not even human. The Tiger of Bangkok seeks to protect his country from foreigners, but he fails to acknowledge that everyone is connected. In The Windup Girl, the line between right and wrong is often difficult to distinguish—if even present.

If you’re looking for light reading, I would not suggest this book—the quickly-switching perspectives require closer attention than usual. But if you’re looking for a good story with a bite to it, I would hand you this book and recommend that you clear your day; it’s worth it.

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