SPOILER ALERT!! I don’t hold anything back in my reviews. You’ve been warned.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is a book about our addictions, and how those addictions lead us to unexpected places. Set in a future Thailand, Bacigalupi leads us down the rabbit hole to a world very much like our own, but filled with new genetic horrors and an un-natural girl who changes the fate of the last hold-out of a natural “niche”.
The story begins with Mr. Lake, a western businessman in Thailand, there to see after his company’s interest. We learn through him, that the world has Contracted after the great Expansion. Energy is no longer cheap, world population has dwindle due to disease, famine, and war, and the ecosystem we were once familiar with is gone, replaced by new and improved critters with no natural predators.
We don’t stay with Mr. Lake for very long after he realizes that the Thai have started to cultivate old world fruits like the ngaw. For the rest of the book, Mr. Lake strives for the seed source for this fruit and in doing so, starts to unravel the delicate balance that keeps Bangkok from washing away with the sea.
We learn from his Chinese factory manager, Hong Seng, that complicated racial undercurrents threaten to push the people over the edge during the hot summer the story takes place. Jumping to Jaidee and Kanya, a Thailand Ministry Captain and his junior officer, responsible for keeping contamination under control, we find the plot thickens as political factions are anything but settled and something is about to boil over.
Amongst it all, there is Emiko, a Japanese bio-engineered human, enhanced to serve. She is a whore who is repeatedly raped and brutalized until she finally explodes.
Ah, by the way, this isn’t for the faint of heart. There are rapes (above), violence, animal cruelty, and, um, more violence. It’s also hot and sticky. Meaning, it really exudes the tropical humid heat of Thailand. It’s one hell of a book. It has won many prestigious awards. And I can see why. The descriptions are vivid (maybe a bit too much for some of the scenes), the characters well drawn out, the plot intriguing and pertinent, and the writing superb (though I did find a few typos!).
But, I didn’t like it. I gave it three stars over on Good Reads, but it deserves more.
I didn’t like it purely because I just didn’t like it. There wasn’t a good guy to root for. At least, not for me. Not even a “fallen hero” sort of dude. There was Jaidee (who I really liked), but he gets killed and ends up being a ghost (phii) that plagues his sub-ordinate. Lake is a corporate asshole looking to use the entire country to gain. Emiko is other-worldly and when she decides to explode after a particularly rough rape session, I just didn’t believe in her character anymore. Why wait until after the rape? I would have thought, given how it happened, she would have exploded during the event and ripped the other whore’s heart out that had been abusing her during the entire book. It just didn’t make sense.
Hong Seng was too much of a wimp to root for. He just wafted on the wind, taking opportunities as he saw them, but didn’t take action when he could have because he was too much of a coward. Why? He was brave enough when it came time to save his own ass. Just seemed too much like a setup.
And Kanya? She betrayed Jaidee. I just couldn’t look that woman in the eye, even if in the end she did the right thing. And really, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? What is the right thing? It’s so hard to know what that is and this book explores how our choices today might look like in the frightening future.
Given all that, I still enjoyed the book and would recommend it to others (as long as you’re not squemish).
Happy Reading! 🙂