Sunday, July 24, 2011

Love this cyberpunk novel

Reading Paolo Bacigalupi's novel, The Windup Girl, will give you a natural high. Having won the Hugo and the Nebula, one certainly develops expectations even before opening the first page. The Windup Girl has been described as cyberpunk or biopunk, as it's set in an Earth when oil has run out and the major source of fuel are springs that have been coiled with the highest possible amount of joules possible.

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:
  1. You love cyberpunk and you're a fan of William Gibson.
  2. You'll read anything that's won the Hugo and Nebula.
  3. The author's name is pronounced BATCH-i-ga-LOOP-ee.


ןıuǝ oɟ ɟןıƃɥʇ said...

as a certified futurist, i strangely have a major aversion to novels about the future -- which is like a goldmine of futures studies data. lol

Peter S. said...

But you have to give this book a shot, line of flight!

caite said...

I received the audio version of this book and I am not sure if that was the problem but I simply could not finish this one. not at all...

Peter S. said...

Hello, caite! Could be. As I was reading this book, I had to go back to some pages sometimes just to make sure that I had the details correct.

Anonymous said...

The good thing of much recent science fiction is its exploration of what the world could become if the exploitative and oppressive socio-economic framework that underlie the present would go on unchecked. Such predictions of a dystopian future should be inspiration for the present generation to collectively act for the coming into being of a more equitable and less rapacious social order. Would definitely look for this title.