Set in the same future as the Hugo Award nominated novelettes “The Calorie Man” and “Yellow Card Man,” Paolo Bacigalupi’s debut novel The Windup Girl is nothing short of an instant dystopian classic – replete with genetically engineered elephants, clipper ships and dirigibles.
Set in near future where much of the world is underwater – New York City, New Orleans, Mumbai, Rangoon, etc. – the global economy has collapsed, and never-ending agricultural plagues have the majority of the world’s population battling starvation, Bacigalupi’s vision of the future is vividly imagined, all-too-plausible, and downright chilling.
Here’s how Bacigalupi describes downtown Bangkok, where much of the storyline takes place: “…the towers of Bangkok’s old Expansion loom, robed in vines and mold, windows long ago blown out, great bones picked clean. Without air conditioning or elevators to make them habitable, they stand and blister in the sun. The black smoke of illegal dung fires wafts from their pores, marking where Malayan refugees hurriedly scald chapatis and boil kopi before the white shirts can storm the sweltering heights and beat them for the infringements. In the center of the traffic lanes, northern refugees from the coal war prostrate themselves with hands outstretched, exquisitely polite in postures of need. Cycles and rickshaws and megodont wagons flow past them, parting like a river around boulders…”
With the world’s food sources ruined by decades of GMO (genetically modified organisms) diseases, the real power is now in the hands of the predatory calorie companies (can you say Monsanto?). But in the chaotic markets of Bangkok, calorie man Anderson Lake stumbles across amazing, new foodstuffs resistant to the dozens of diseases plaguing most crops. Somewhere a rogue generipper is playing God with a cache of seeds from long-extinct plant species… But as Lake, posing as the head of a factory trying to produce efficient energy coils, closes in on the seed stash, his assistant, an old Chinese refugee named Hock Seng, plots to capitalize on the potentially revolutionary energy coil technology…
Also on the streets of Bangkok is Emiko, a windup girl, a bioengineered creation who most humans see as an “illegal piece of genetic trash.” With DNA that includes dog genes, Emiko is as obedient as she is stunningly beautiful. Left in Thailand by her Japanese owner because it was too expensive to transport her back home, Emiko now works as a prostitute but dreams of some day finding some semblance of freedom….
Amidst the backdrop of looming political, economic and ecological cataclysm, Anderson Lake, Hock Seng and Emiko all race to achieve their objectives before the defecation hits the rotating oscillator – but no one can predict what is about to befall them all!
Good science fiction is supposed to not only be entertaining but also thought-provoking, challenging, stimulating... and that is exactly what The Windup Girl is. Imagine a world where calories are currency, where every joule of energy is invaluable. Now take a good look at our society and all of its extravagances – from SUVs to super-sized fast food meals – Bacigalupi’s future may not be that far off.
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