Review of THE WINDUP GIRL by Paolo Bacigalupi (see his website)
Night Shade Books, September 2009
In the not-too-distant future, the Kingdom of Thailand fights a lonely battle against ecological disaster. 'White-shirts' from the Environmental Ministry burn out disease while maintaining a seed bank that allows them to develop crops resistant to the programmed blights and diseases unleashed by the 'calorie companies' which have monopolized food creation in most of the world, but which have also often lost the race against their own plant viruses, losing whole families of food crops.
Authro Paolo Bacigalupi (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of speculative fiction by Bacigalupi) adopts the modern SF approach of flipping among multiple point of view characters, an executive/spy for an American calorie company, a 'yellow card' Chinese immigrant, a captain of the white shirts, the windup girl the novel is named after, and the captain's lieutenant. All (except maybe the white-shirt captain) pursue their own agendas without much regard for the potential impact on Thailand and the ecological disaster that's overtaken the world.
The use of multiple point of view characters, most of whom are unsympathetic, distances the reader from the story...which might be a good thing considering how dark Bacigalupi's tale becomes. Destroying is always easier than creating and in Bacigalupi's universe, it's as easy for a hacker to introduce new viruses as it is for today's hackers to unleash another computer virus. Bacigalupi plays with technology. Springs, powered by human energy or power stored from mutated elephants, run vehicles, weapons, even airships although it's hard to imagine a world where storing of mechanical energy is efficient. Still, I love Bacigalupi's extrapolations of a post-petroleum contraction, to corporations chasing profit at any cost in a world where it's easier to create markets by destroying native foodstuffs than to create better product, and where twenty-first century skyscrapers are the ultimate slums once energy is not available to drive elevators and air conditioners.
THE WINDUP GIRL tool a long time to get started. Several times in the first two hundred pages, I set the book down (reading a couple of other books between when I started and when I finished it). The lack of sympathetic characters distanced me from the story despite the intriguing universe and solid environmental message. Ultimately I stuck with this story and found it to be overall enjoyable. (Note: six years later, I still remember this book vividly so that's something to consider).
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to email@example.com. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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