Book Review: The Windup Girl

By Kerri Jackson

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The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Orbit, $27.99

Book cover of The Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Photo / Supplied
Book cover of The Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Photo / Supplied

This work of speculative fiction arrives on New Zealand shelves with the degree of hype usually reserved for angst-ridden teen vamps or boy wizards.

Winner of Hugo and Nebula awards for science fiction, The Windup Girl is certainly an impressive debut for Paolo Bacigalupi. And once you've read it you'll almost certainly be gripped by a desire to reduce your carbon footprint to zero and protest the genetic engineering of foodstuffs.

Bacigalupi's complex novel is set in a dystopian future, where oil has run out, massive "calorie" companies control the food supply, now so engineered it has spawned new, deadly diseases, and where global warming has meant many of the world's leading cities are submerged.

The action is set in Bangkok, now a feral merchant city barely able to keep its head above water, literally and metaphorically. There, a network of characters do whatever is required to survive, and possibly thrive, in a desperate environment. There is Anderson, a "calorie man" who secretly combs Thailand for fresh foodstuffs, Hock Seng, Anderson's Chinese refugee factory manager, Jaidee, leader of the government's White Shirt police force, Kanya, Jaidee's offsider, and Emiko the genetically engineered "windup girl".

The plot hops between the stories of all these characters as they try to survive and as all around them politicians and corporates stab each other for a slice of power.

Bacigalupi's skill is in painting a complicated, fully-realised futuristic world that we can very much identify with. This is the future of our nightmares, all the more chilling because he draws clear, if implicit, lines as to how our own generation got the world into this mess.

But he does not preach. He presents a time-honoured story of human beings' will and ability to survive. It is a complicated work that must have taken an immense commitment to produce and it requires a commitment from the reader in return.

It is not always a page turner or an easy read. It's sometimes hard to track who is doing what to whom and who's on whose side, but that also means you're never sure what's going to happen next.

It's an impressive, complicated and multi-layered book that takes some time to work your way into but which also manages to entertain and keep you gripped once you're there. There are perhaps too many distracting sideplots but Bacigalupi is definitely a writer to watch.

- NZ Herald

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