The Windup Girl

Paolo Bacigalupi book cover Another meta-review?

The Ministry for the Future was the last book I treated in this way. It, too, was a dystopian vision but other than that the two books have little in common, except that both have been very highly recommended by all sorts of people.

The Wind-up Girl is twelve years old, not one, and was a first novel, not the latest of many from an acknowledged master. Perhaps more importantly for the reader, the Ministry is somewhat nerdy and the Girl is a cracking thriller.

An enthusiastic review on The SF Site sets the scene:

The Windup Girl is set in Thailand, in and about Bangkok. Huge retaining walls have been built to keep the sea out (global warming gone rampage). Water is pumped back into the sea with coal driven machines. Petroleum is non-existent. People are starving the world over. The population of the world has been greatly reduced by a virus called cibiscosis which continues to mutate and cause more death. Crops suffer from attack by mutant viruses.

The Guardian conveys more of the novel’s atmosphere –

The Windup Girl has been compared to William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, and it’s easy to see why. The plot-twists, the bursts of violence and a noir stylishness are all here. … It’s hardly the first novel to swap the “cyber” in cyberpunk for genetics … But there’s no doubting the intelligence of Bacigalupi’s imagination, or his readability.

– although to my mind it doesn’t go far enough. Bacigalupi brilliantly evokes Bangkok’s steamy heat and pervasive reek of organic rot, making them metaphors for the (future) city’s entrenched social corruption.


Wikipedia lists the book’s many awards while placing it in a larger context:

The Windup Girl is a biopunk science fiction novel, written by Paolo Bacigalupi and published by Night Shade Books on September 1, 2009. The novel was named as the ninth best fiction book of 2009 by TIME magazine, and as the best science fiction book of the year in the Reference and User Services Association’s 2010 Reading List. This book is a 2010 Nebula Award and a 2010 Hugo Award winner (tied with The City & the City by China Miéville for the Hugo Award), both for best novel. This book also won the 2010 Compton Crook Award and the 2010 Locus Award for best first novel.

The SF Site review likens The Windup Girl to Blade Runner on the basis of both atmosphere and themes, and that’s not unfair, while The Guardian’s review references Ian McDonald (e.g. his River of Gods) as well as Gibson. I came to it myself after reading Bacigalupi’s second novel, The Water Knife, and wasn’t disappointed.

As I said, it’s very highly recommended by all sorts of people.

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