REVIEW: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi


Warning: This book contains graphic violence. In addition, there are graphic rape scenes that are performed in front of an audience as entertainment.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars, Genre: Apocalyptic Fiction/Dystopian Fiction, Pages: 300, Level: Intermediate

Winner of the 2009 Nebula Award for Best Novel

Winner of the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel

Book Description from Barnes & Noble:

What Happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits? And what happens when said bio-terrorism forces humanity to the cusp of post-human evolution?

“Don’t look so worried. You have the same sickness. Life is, after all, inevitably fatal.”

After a devastating world-wide event, food is controlled by three major corporations that modify plants to prevent fatal diseases as well as to make them impossible to grow from seeds outside of corporate control. The production of electricity has reverted back to man or animal powered methods. Japanese engineered humans called Windups were manufactured to live a life of servitude. And human life has little value as the survivors are forced to do whatever is necessary to survive. A fruit is discovered that was not grown by the corporations and one man tries to discover its source. At the same time, an immigrant looks to improve his situation by attempting to steal an improved technology from his employer. And a windup pleasure model desires to cast down her genetic shackles and escape the city to a community of new people. Part apocalyptic fiction, part science fiction and part mystery, this is an extremely dark and disturbing view of the future.

The beginning was a little confusing at first as I felt it presupposed certain details. In fact, this novel is a continuation of the world set up in the short stories The Calorie Man and Yellow Card Man; I recommend reading those first, although it is not necessary to understand and enjoy this book.

The Windup Girl is reminiscent of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick both in tone and theme. Bacigalupi’s world resembles that of Dick’s and the theme of whether or not artificial humanoids have souls is also a main topic in Windup. While Windup is similar in some aspects, the story is still unique and touches on many more political and societal issues that appear in Bacigalupi’s world.

The lack of value for human life is consistent throughout the story. This is a world where the death of one will likely ensure the life of another. Those who have the nerves required to set aside moral holdups and are willing to do anything that is necessary to survive will be more successful. And when death does occur, as it frequently does in this novel, it is quickly brushed aside as any other insignificant nuisance so work can continue. When someone dies, inevitably there is someone who is glad because it means their chance of survival just increased. This sense of disconnect and loss of empathy is truly terrifying.

The topics are heavy; I do not consider The Windup Girl a light read. For example, it feels like the author is making social statements regarding corporate greed, social inequalities, ethnic tension and moral depravity. Whether or not it is intentional, it provides good material for discussion. Either way, it is an intriguing world and if you are a hardcore dystopian/apocalyptic fiction fan, you will likely enjoy this book.

Reviewed by Christina

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