The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi just won the Nebula Award, and is one of the finalists for the Hugo Award to be announced at the end of summer.  Time, in their Top 10 Everything in 2009, called The Windup Girl the #9 novel of 2009.  Jason Sanford gave The Windup Girl five stars at SF Signal in his insightful review.  In fact, The Windup Girl gets so much great press I don’t think I should try to review it.  When I read Wake by Robert J. Sawyer, also up for this year’s Hugo award, it was so good I couldn’t imagine another novel beating it.  Well, The Windup Girl is such a tour de force that now I can’t imagine anything beating it.  I’ve got four more novels to read before September, including Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America by Robert Charles Wilson, that like The Windup Girl is another view of our world gone mad next century.

Look at the cover of The Windup Girl to see the future:


Paolo Bacigalupi pictures the future without oil,  powered by weird clockwork “kink-spring” devices that stores kinetic energy, plagued by relentless blights on genetically engineered food crops, a future that struggles against the rising oceans and global warming, while enduring complex political intrigues.  But the most interesting aspect of this future is the new people, called windups, designed by gene splicing, who are outlawed and despised.  The title of the novel refers to an abandoned Japanese new person struggling to survive in Thailand as a sex slave.

As one of my reading friends told me, “The Windup Girl is dark.”  One reviewer even called it a dystopian novel, but I don’t think that’s correct.  Let’s just say it’s a very gritty future.  I suppose every century is full of hardships, so this future might not be any more bleak than the next.  If 19th century people could have read about a fictionalized but true version of the 20th century, they would think we lived through hell.  But the overall quality of life now is better than any time in the past, even though we might have millions complaining about how our present time sucks.

I really admire Bacigalupi’s creative vision of the future, but I don’t expect the 22nd century to be like The Windup Girl.  Our current problems, can be seen as evolving into the world of The Windup Girl, but on the other hand, I think by then we will have solved those problems and the 22nd century will have new problems we can’t imagine today.

No one can predict the future, but I’d like to believe in a future where we get smarter and solve our present problems.  But our world is diverse beyond any measure.  How would the past judge 2010 if they saw two films:  It’s Complicated and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?  One film shows the world as light-hearted and cheery, and the other as brutal and perverse.

If we read dozens of science fiction novels about the 22nd century, will they all be bleak?  I want life to be like Wake, where the problems are mathematical and scientific, which is why I liked that book so much.  I loved Wake, but I have to admire the creative writing of The Windup Girl.

JWH – 5/20/10

4 thoughts on “The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi”

  1. Both of these sound like books that I must add to my list. I haven’t read any Sawyer, but I have read several short stories by Bacigalupi and I enjoy his writing style. I had wanted to get to Windup Girl before the awards came out but it never panned out. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed it and it gives me even more hope that I’ll enjoy it once I give it a try.

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