Paolo Bacigalupi has been touted as being a "next big thing" for a while now (I believe that he's already won awards for his short-stories?)
This, his debut novel, is the first thing of his that I've read. It's a post-oil, post climate-change novel (he talks about the "expansion" and the "contraction"). His imagined future sees a time where we, firstly, don't have access to cheap energy as we do now (instead they have to rely on that good old stand-by human and animal muscle-power) and secondly, our lifestyle now has led to devastation in low-lying areas.
The titular Wind-Up Girl is a woman genetically engineered to perform for the pleasure of rich men. She's been stranded by her Japanese owner in a fiercely independent Thailand simply because it's cheaper to leave her there. The novel deals with the consequences of multinational corporations indulging in genetic engineering without thought for the consequences. I think that it's handled well; I didn't feel that it was particularly hectoring or adopting a knee-jerk "GM=bad" view of things. Rather it was concerned with the potential human (and not scientific) consequences of unregulated engineering (Thailand remains independent because they don't allow corporations power there). The novel considers the potential for exploitation that comes with genetic engineering. For example: terminator genes that force farmers always to buy their seeds from the manufacturer; engineered diseases that will again force farmers to buy from them.
From this point of view I found the novel to be intelligent and thoughtful. It is also, in places, quite an exciting read. It kept me turning the pages and I finished it pretty quickly. I think he's a talented writer and look forward to what he'll do next.
It's a multi-layered novel too. There are a number of plots running through the story and, though it may not be immediately clear, they all feed into the main story. A big concern of the novel is how energy is obtained and used. The Thai government in the novel, as well as being concerned with what is being forced upon their people by multinationals (and to reiterate, the argument isn't that GM doesn't work; it does. The argument isn't that he science is bad, it is that the people that can afford to control it are) is concerned with energy use. They carefully regulate the supply of gas (gained from the decomposition of waste and coloured so that you know it's legit) as does everyone.
Occasionally, also, we get glances back at our own time; in times where a main character early on is trying to discover what an apparently new type of fruit is, considering how profligate we were (from his point of view). Looking back a photographs of what seemed like a different world (and indeed in many ways was.
The world that it's set in is interesting too. It's undoubtedly dystopian and yet hi-tech. And yet not in some ways that we may be used to. Things like computing power are rationed purely by dint of the fact that power computing has high energy costs. The biological technology displayed is also extremely hi-tech, and the reliance on human muscle and animal power seems entirely fitting.
So, my first impressions of Paolo Bacigalupi are good; I'd recommend this book to fans of the genre (hell, give it to non-fans too; it's as good a place to start as any).
However, I do feel that it's greatness has been somewhat overstated (actually, if I'm honest, I'd say it's a 3.5 star book, but felt it fairer to round up, because I did really enjoy it). It's up for a Hugo this year and there has been a great deal of "best thing evaaar" type chat amongst fandom. It's good, but jeez, allow the guy room to grow it *isn't* the greatest thing ever and I can think of several novels from last year that were better (Start with Adam Robert's "Yellow Blue Tibia: A Novel
" it's super, certainly his best). I'm not sure if all the spluh is because people are desperate to find "next big things" all the time?