The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Public Speaking (pəblik spēking), noun:

  1. The process of speaking to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain the listener.
  2. Something Rory should not do.

Four weeks ago I talked about THE day. The day where I spoke in public to people who paid for the privilege. If that day was THE day, then today is the sequel. Part two of my three part series is tonight and I am only slightly nauseated – a vast improvement. Today’s topic: genetically modified organisms in modern fiction. I accept that a few of you just tuned out.

I previously neglected to mention – the risk of sounding pompous being too great – that the series sold out very quickly. If anything, it makes it worse because I can assure you that whatever these people think they are paying for – it’s not to listen to me (but yet it is…do you see the dilemma?). Given the amount of time I’ve spent detailing my apprehension, you may be wondering why I subject myself to this. The explanation is one I feel many twenty-something (and thirty-something) Americans can relate to: student loans. Yes, I am a mercenary.

The Windup Girl

So is Anderson Lake. Anderson, under the guise of factory manager, combs the streets of Bangkok looking for new, historical food – foods that have been brought back from extinction. Here he meets Emiko, a not quite human girl designed for the whims and pleasures of a wealthy businessman, until he abandons her in the street. In Thailand, new people are thought to be soulless and evil, and she faces a variety of degradations. Emiko eventually learns of the Thai seed bank and villages for the new people and sets off to find them.

The Windup Girl is a dense, intelligent debut novel. It is a biopunk science fiction novel set in 23rd century Thailand. The world building is very well done and is possibly the most successful aspect of the novel that at points can get repetitive. Although The Windup Girl definitely has a ‘message’, it still manages to make corrupt multinationals and radical isolationists sympathetic. More importantly, it doesn’t preach…excessively. I very well may be biased though, because I tend to agree with the authors point of view regarding GMO’s.

Bacigalupi creates a post-collapse civilization that has not fallen to pieces. Instead, it has moved on as best it can. There is commerce, trade, technology, and community, albeit it in what we would consider a degraded state. Humanity persists. Life persists. It’s convoluted and hopeful, full of struggle and despair. In other words, it’s a very plausible science fiction world.

While The Windup Girl does many things well (it must have, it won the Hugo award), I struggled with the number of main characters and a few of the story lines (Hock Seng, primarily) bordered on farce. Are there challenges? Yes. There’s slang – in many languages.  Bacigalupi obviously has a vast vocabulary, his word choices are not difficult, just unusual. For example, fecund and fecundity both appear within the first twenty pages. That’s not to say it’s not an important, readable,  imaginative book worth your time, because it absolutely is. It’s intelligent with moments of poignancy (particularly with Emiko) and enough action and style to keep the pages turning. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. 3.5/5.

Would you pay money to listen to the above?

Thought not, wish me luck.

Fruit SaladThis novel is all about fruits and vegetables. So a summer fruit salad it is.

19 thoughts on “The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

  1. I read this and liked it, mostly for the worldbuilding. I didn’t love it but thought parts were quite interesting. The idea of historical foods for one. Other parts I just found disturbing.

    Actually, I think this book makes for great discussion. There are so many topics to cover. Good luck!


    1. Thanks, it didn’t go quite as well as last session, but I’m still alive and no one threw anything at me.

      I like the book the more I think about it, but then the more I think about it the more questions I have.


    1. It totally qualifies for the Foodie Challenge – really. It’s all about the future of food in regards to genetically modifying our crops. There’s quite a bit about the diseases plants will become prone to. It’s a very interesting, very dense read. It’s thought provoking and a little alarming, although sometimes I think gene modification is not the major nutritional issue facing Americans – it’s the understanding of what they are eating and obesity.


      1. This sounds very interesting, even a little strange. I’ve never heard of it before, so thanks for the review!

        BTW: It definitely DOES qualify for the Foodies Read Challenge! And thanks for adding your link to the challenge!


      2. It it’s speculative fiction/science fiction based on the future of food, it’s fascinating. It’s definitely worth a read if you love food and are concerned about what’s happening with GMO’s.


    1. Thanks. It didn’t go as well as I would’ve hoped (a few too many awkward pauses), but I survived it and only have one more left in this session (I have an urban farming series this fall, so not done for the year yet). One of the attendees called me the voice of reason – I’ve never thought I’d hear that…


  2. Honestly, world building is what I love best about good science fiction, but sometimes, it gets a little overwhelming. The book sounds really great! Still, I feel like this is probably something I should get past midterms before attempting… 🙂 Good luck tonight!


    1. Thanks! This is definitely a great science fiction novel, it has a few issues, but the world he creates is amazing. It can be a reward for after you finish your midterms!


  3. viel gluck, yo (or rather that but in the past participle on the basis that you’ve probably already done it. Yo.)

    Book sounds interesting, stuck it on my to read list. If I don’t like it I will probably sue, but don’t take it personally.


    1. Vielen dank. I did, it was not my best outing.

      The book is good, you should like it, whether you will, I don’t know. I won’t take it personally, but I will blame you if I don’t like The Bonfire of the Vanities.


      1. Lots of people don’t like Bonfire, I don’t understand myself, but maybe it’s cos I quite liked the sense that I quite strongly despise most every character in it.

        Which takes some doing.


      2. I bought it three-ish years ago at a used book sale along with Orlando by Virginia Woolf. It’s become a bit of a competition which one I will avoid longer.


      3. Orlando wins.

        I found with Bonfire (the first time) and with another of his A man In Full that it can take quite a lot of effort to get into it at first.


    1. It’s good and definitely worth a read, it just isn’t perfect. It’s one of those books that’s important, but there are no likable characters.


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