We're in a post-apocalypse Thailand, a nation where extinct plant species are resurrected via genetic engineering. It's a Thailand where the most powerful government agencies are two opposing factions -- the Trade Ministry and the Environment Ministry. It's a Thailand where white men (called farang) still make their mark in business. One such farang is Anderson Lake, who oversees the operation of garbage conversion.
Anderson has a fascination for local fruits. When he spots an exotic variety called the rambutan, his determination to find Thailand's seed bank almost becomes a sickness. Then Anderson spots Emiko, a windup. Windups are termed the "new people." They have been bred in test tubes and have been trained to obey. Emiko, a Japanese windup, has been trained for sex. The farang and the windup get into a very unusual relationship filled with sordid sex.
But The Windup Girl is anything but a love story. It touches on the traitorous world of politics, the sleazy dealings in business, and the chilling consequences of technology. Bacigalupi makes it clear that his novel is set in a world where our current 20th century technology (our reliance on oil, electricity, and uncontrolled bioengineering) has failed and people have been left to measure energy on a calorie basis.
The Windup Girl does remind me a bit of Frank Herbert's Dune. You never know who will turn against you. Anderson's assistant, an illegal Chinese immigrant, betrays him. An incorruptible officer of the Environment Ministry is sentenced to become a monk, thus triggering a chain of events. It was inevitable that Trade and Environment engage in a war. The Windup Girl is rife with these political themes. However, Bacigalupi still makes the novel very readable.
The novel's a bit lengthy at more than 500 pages though. But readers are motivated by Bacigalupi's unpredictable turns. And the characterizations of Anderson, Emiko, and the supporting characters are something that the reader will be able to relate with. I bought this book expecting a sci-fi novel thick with cliffhangers, with a fast-paced narrative, and with wonderfully detailed descriptions of place. I wasn't disappointed.
Read this book if:
- You love cyberpunk and you're a fan of William Gibson.
- You'll read anything that's won the Hugo and Nebula.
- The author's name is pronounced BATCH-i-ga-LOOP-ee.