Night Shade Books 2009
Genre: Science Fiction
Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's Calorie Man in Thailand. Undercover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reach the bounty of history's lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko...
Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.
What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism's genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers on the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.
I found the Windup Girl slow to start but once it got going I was fully engrossed in the story. Bacigalupi creates a stunningly detailed world where big agricultural business have grown completely out of control. I really loved the exploration of a potential road resulting from uncontrolled genetic modification of crops. Another science fiction issue that Bacigalupi tackled was that of human genetic engineering and the social response to the products of human-directed development. It was interesting to see the New People treated not just socially inferior but also legally so. It made the tension of discovering Emiko as a living being capable of independent thought much more poignant.
As much as I enjoyed the concepts central to the Windup Girl and the writing itself there were a few things that tainted my enjoyment of the novel. First, none of the characters were very likable. A partial sampling of the viewpoint characters: the corrupt, cold and calculating calorie man, the greedy and vicious factory administrator, the desperate windup girl, and a cruel and corrupt city guard.
Second, there is a scene that depicts fairly graphic sexual violence. The purpose of the scene is likely to demonstrate the societal opinion of the New People and to show why Emiko can't remain where she is but mostly it strikes me as completely unnecessary.
Overall, I enjoyed the Windup Girl. The world and the concepts that are explored were highly engaging and interesting. It has some issues and quirks as well as being a fairly dark and gritty novel. I would recommend the Windup Girl with the caveat that it isn't going to be a book for everyone.
Written as Part of the Speculative Fiction Challenge