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The Windup Girl

by Paolo Bacigalupi

Published by Night Shade Books.

Print edition available 2009

Reviewed by Dale Arnold
Review posted 10/13/09

I am not on the Crook Award Committee, a book for review was provided to BSFS by the publisher.

This book tells a story of the not so far future where global warming and genetic engineering has altered our Earth into a slightly twisted and creative version of our present world. The story is set in a future Thailand and the ancient culture of the region combined with the stress of future environmental disaster drives much of the background in the story. We have a world where nano-tech devices are charged like a battery by genetically derived animals running on treadmills--to power consumer devices. The food cycle has collapsed under unintended bioengineered products run amuck (or maybe with cruel purpose) forcing the poor to buy enhanced grains the from vast and hated calorie corporations. Artificial life forms known as “Windup People” provide grunt labor for human masters in many countries and even though they are programmed to crave service to humanity they still feel a faint desire for freedom. Thailand outlaws Windup People, except for the few living in foreign embassies, and much of the storyline involves a lone Windup Person abandoned in Thailand.

The author’s voice is clear and even lyrical. We do come to care for the characters and their motivations, some fair and some foul during the story. In many ways the plot line of the Windup Girl character is less important than the various other characters and the world they inhabit. We have failed heroes, cads turning into quasi heroes and betrayal of trust on such a far reaching scale it is difficult to keep who is stabbing whom in the back, and if their ploy is working or not, strait. The ending seems a bit weaker than the rest of the book would otherwise deserve. I at least figured out every element of the revelations and plot turns that concluded the book well before they occurred. Yet, in spite of this the book is an enjoyable story well worth the investment in time and cost of purchase. I believe it will show up as a Hugo Nominee because it is good and fits into the currently fashionable paradigm of How-The-Future-Might-Be instead of the How-The-Future-Was of the older SF paradigm.

The cover art is very nice, but either the artist did not read the description in the book or decided to forgo rendering the megodont as in the story and went with a more traditional elephant.

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