The Windup Girl

Title: The Windup Girl
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Year: 2009
Language: English
Pages: 361
Format: Paperback

The book is set in the future, the 2200s, in Thailand. The world has been hit by global warming, eradicating diseases, and food that disappears. Anderson Lake is an American Calorie Man. His cover is a factory manager, while he combs the streets looking for food that people think is extinct. He is looking for food he can bring home to America to make up for the lost calories in his homeland. He wishes to rip the genes to create more of these foodstuffs. He is also trawling the streets looking for a seed bank he has heard about.
On the streets he meets Emiko, one of the New People, created by the Japanese to act as a high-end toy to a Kyoto businessman. She’s been left in Bangkok because the man didn’t have permits to take her back home. The New People are seen as soulless and devils, and used toys, slaves and soldiers. Lake becomes completely obsessed with her and uses her for his own gain.
Jaidee Rojjanasukchai is the chief of the White shirts, agents of the Environment Ministry, an upright, honest man who will go to any length to do the right thing. His second in command, Kanya, tries to make him work the system, but he insists on doing the right thing.
Global warming and genetic engineering has brought the world into chaos and calories are currency. Lake and Rojjanasukchai’s efforts are not helping and Bangkok is turning into a powder keg.

The book has several important characters, the one I find most interesting are Lake, Emiko, Kanya and Jaidee Rojjanasukchai. There’s a whole bunch of others too, but I can’t deal with all of them.
Anderson Lake is American and works as a factory manager. This is merely his cover as he roams the streets looking for foodstuffs the world thought was extinct. He plans to send them home so the Americans gene rip them and they don’t have to buy the food. He has heard about a seedbank where the nation of Thailand keep their real seeds and he hopes he can “borrow” a bunch of seeds to take back home to America. He is a pragmatic and ruthless man. He is willing to use pretty much anyone to get what he wants. He irrationally falls for Emiko, a Windup girl, who he thinks is fascinating and beautiful. Most people seem to think that the New People are wrong, bad, evil slave toys. Lake doesn’t really seem to share this prejudice and basically finds her very fascinating. While he tries to do his job he gets more and more interested in this creature and he tries to work the system to get good gene rips and seeds back home. He is completely willing to use Emiko to his own gain, no matter if he likes her.
Anderson is fascinating. He is pragmatic and ruthless as I said, and he does whatever it takes. He is good at playing the world like it’s his little playground. He falls for Emiko, but he is willing to pimp her out to get his way.

Emiko is a Windup Girl. She is one of the New People, made in Japan, for the pleasure of a Japanese businessman. She is beautiful, but created with a slight flaw. To make her as beautiful as possible, and to make her skin seem spotless her pores are not made for the tropic climate of Thailand and she tends to overheat. She was left in Bangkok because the man who owned her didn’t have permission to take her home. She works in a sex club, and is owned by a man called Raleigh. Because of her design she can’t help herself but being turned on by the humiliating abuse she endures at the club.
She hears about an enigmatic man Gibbons and a seedbank and Lake learns this from her. He also tells her about a refugee camp for New People and she decides to try and pay of her debt to Raleigh and go there.

Jaidee is the commander of the whiteshirts. They are the enforcers for the Environment Ministry. Jaidee is an outstandingly upstanding man. He is completely incorruptible and this makes him severely unpopular. His second-in-command tries to make him work the system to his advantage, but he refuses for most of the book. He used to be a muay thai champion in his youth and is still referred to as the Tiger of Bangkok. When he torches the shipment belonging to a man called Richard Carlyle he raises the heckles of the white trading community. The Trade Minister tries to get him to back off, but he won’t. To persuade him they kidnap his wife and Jaidee apologizes and eventually becomes a monk.

Kanya, his second-in-command, takes over for him. Kanya is better at working the system and works for two masters. She is a very interesting to me. She was almost the victim of a plague and was saved and placed in the Whiteshirts. She discovers a new plague is making its way through Thailand and starts trying to contain it. After Jaidee is made a monk the general of the Whiteshirts unleashes a sort of reign of terror. Kanya tries to keep Bangkok under control and save her people from the plague. Kanya seems to have a strong sense of what is wrong and right. She still chooses to do the wrong thing now and then. She is good at working the system. She tries hard to save her city, and she does everything she has to, doing things that make her feel uncomfortable. She seeks out people she dislikes in the hope of saving people from the plague. She also goes to every extreme to save her people. I love Kanya. I mean she pissed me off, and I feel like I should too, cause she’s dishonest, but I loved her so much. Kanya is awesome!

What I thought
So I loved this book. It was a bit hard to get started for me, because in the beginning Lake is the point of view. It’s told in a third-person narrative, but we follow different characters and get to hear their thoughts. Lake works for a calorie company and for a while I had no idea what he talked about. He mentions AgriGen, generips and kinksprings and I had no idea what it meant. When I understood what all that stuff meant I really fell in love with it.
I think the characters are interesting. They keep doing what they need to do, no matter the consequences. What I liked is that their bad decisions seemed to come back and bite them on the ass, so that’s good. I liked Emiko, a lot. She’s interesting. She is a slave and it is unclear whether or not she has her own soul or her own conscience, but she seems to me to have her own dreams and her own for lack of a better word: soul. She also has a bunch of secrets that not even Emiko knows.
The concept is interesting to me. It’s sort of dystopian, but not really, it’s also an SF-biopunk thing. And for some reason that is to me the best genre-combo ever. I liked the creepy future it painted: global warming and disease killing us, and nutrition becoming currency.
I was a bit confused at times because I couldn’t follow all the names and I didn’t always know their connection to each other. I had no idea who the Somdet Chaopraya was for a long time. He’s the regent for the Thai Child Queen. He is basically the most powerful man in Thailand, but I had no idea who he was. I didn’t know how Akkarat tied in with Lake or Jaidee. It took me a while to figure people out, but once I sort of had control on them it was easier.
I give the book big thumbs up and four and a half out of five stars and you know all other positive things you can think of. I’m looking forward to reading more Bacigalupi-stuff. I like his writing.