Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book Review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Book Review:  The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Night Shade Books (April 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597801585
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597801584

In this stunning vision of an all too plausible future, Bangkok is a city under siege.  Only a series of levees and coal-powered pumps keep the rising oceans from drowning the Thai capital.  All the things we take for granted--oil, free flowing electricity, abundant food--are distant memories.  Genetically engineered foods are both a constant threat, presumed to be the source of horrific plagues, and the only hope for survival.  Thailand has refused to allow the multinationals to take over its food supply, relying instead on a secret cache of seeds; it stands alone, the last unconquered country.

Against this backdrop of sweltering heat and constant threat, humans scheme and plan, oblivious to the larger forces at work.  An ethnic Chinese refugee from genocide in Malaysia, plotting to regain some sliver of the status and power he once possessed; an undercover "calorie man," seeking out Thailand's genetic secrets; an incorruptible Thai officer and his unsmiling deputy; and finally, the "windup girl" of the title, a genetically-engineered woman, created by the Japanese as the ultimate servant, hard-wired to obey.  

For three years, I lived as a farang in Bangkok, and to my inexpert eyes, Bacigalupi does a brilliant job of capturing the essence of Thai culture as it might become in some dystopian future.  More importantly, he creates believable characters who elicit our sympathy despite their deepest flaws. With this book, the author has captured something about the human spirit, the will to survive even when death might be preferable, the urge to strive for something beyond mere survival.  

On the cover of my copy, a blurb from author Lev Grossman declares "I hope he writes 10 sequels."  So do I!

  • Genre: Futuristic tropical dystopia
  • Read it if:  you love Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, Blade Runner, or Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go
  • Skip it if:  you are squeamish, don't believe in global warming, or dislike seeing lots of foreign words in italics.
  • Movie-worthy:  Yes!  If Christopher Nolan directed, it could be the Blade Runner of the 21st century....

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