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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My new number one author
I am one of the `Malayan Chinese' as depicted in this novel, and I am simply astonished at how real and accurate Bacigalala's grasp and hold of the socio-political undertones of Thailand and the Malaysian Chinese are in this novel. Many times I find myself flipping to the front to check the author's name to see if he really isn't Asian and then to the tiny write-up of...
Published on 24 July 2010 by clyxylc

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Ideas, Let Down by Poor Plotting and Characterisation
Chekov once observed that, `If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.' In The Windup Girl, an entire armoury is carefully hung on the wall in the first half of the book. In the second half, much of the tension derives not from wondering whether tragedy will befall 22nd century Bangkok, but how this will come...
Published on 14 Jun 2012 by Richard Bagshaw


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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My new number one author, 24 July 2010
This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
I am one of the `Malayan Chinese' as depicted in this novel, and I am simply astonished at how real and accurate Bacigalala's grasp and hold of the socio-political undertones of Thailand and the Malaysian Chinese are in this novel. Many times I find myself flipping to the front to check the author's name to see if he really isn't Asian and then to the tiny write-up of himself to see if he lived in Asia for decades. Iowa born. Hmmm.....
Lot's of great dystopian lit out there, but this one really hit home for me simply because of its Asian setting. Could actually picture dystopian Bangkok all around me as I read this book.
Ok constructive rascist views aside, this book is one of the best pieces of dystopic science fiction I have ever read, my other favorite being Dune (by the original Frank Herbert). I'm usually not one to pounce on new unheard of authors, but I came onto this having just finished Bagicalalala's YA novel Ship Breaker which blew me away (and is not in an Asian setting but in the Gulf of Mexico). I started the book with the presumption that this was no way going to be better than Ship Breaker. But the book proved me wrong 15 minutes in. An exciting, thrilling, dystopic romp to the finish. I am hungry for more Bacgialala now.
Why the hell is it taking till December for paperbacks of Pump Six (his short story collection) to be released?!??!!!! I simply can't afford the hardcover versions going for $400 over at the moment!!!!
Congratulations for being my new number one author farang Paolo. Hurry up and show us what else is in your imagination.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complex and wonderfully satisfying novel., 9 Feb 2012
By 
E. W. Collier "tobyfin" (Cheltenham, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
Most science fiction falls into one of two camps. The first consists of poorly-written, plot-driven page turners that are like McDonalds Happy Meals - satisfying to eat but you feel cheated afterwards. The second is aiming rather higher, aspiring to be literary fiction, but normally falling short and failing to deliver much of a story either - a bit like "nouvelle cuisine", with its dainty portions that hardly add up to a decent mouthful.

Here we have a book that manages to fall into both camps with resounding success. First, it's incredibly well-written. The prose is evocative without being florid, the register is infallible, and structurally it's like a Breuget timepiece. Politically it's very interesting - the relationships between the various tribal and ethnic factions in the book are entirely credible and persuasive. Although it's set in Thailand, where all but three or four of the main characters have non-Anglicised names, I never once struggled to remember who was who. But it's the story that is the main thing - part love affair, part political thriller, part dystopian nightmare, part pure speculative fiction. I really couldn't put it down, and I'm sure that Bacigalupi will go on to write even better, more intense books than this. I, for one, can't wait. For me, his only rival is Iain M Banks, and that's very high praise from me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nothing to do with a female who likes practical jokes, 15 Jan 2011
This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
For a debut novel this is an amazingly confident story. Bacigalupi has succeeded where so many new authors fail and has managed to create a wholly believable future world. Climate change and genetic engineering have wreaked havoc across the globe and the Kingdom of Thailand is a bleak, sweltering place. The story follows a number characters as years of political and cultural machinations come to a head. One of these is Emiko, the windup girl. A genetically engineered "new person" whose built-in enhancements are off-set by the imperfections designed to please her creators. As she strives to overcome her programming her life intersects with the other protagonists as the Kingdom goes into meltdown.

The science is clever and engaging and supports the plot and moves the story forward without getting in the way. Comparisons with William Gibson are justified although I found Bacigalupi probably a little more accessible than Neuromancer etc. The dialogue crackles and sizzles with the rising tempo of events and Bacigalupi captures the different personalities and perspectives of his main characters brilliantly. I wasn't sure that one of the leads - Hock Seng - was that crucial to the plot and his segments are probably the weakest. But the book moves along at a slick pace and only seems to drag in a few places.

All the nominations and awards are well deserved. Read it and wait in anticipation for the seque.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Ideas, Let Down by Poor Plotting and Characterisation, 14 Jun 2012
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This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
Chekov once observed that, `If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.' In The Windup Girl, an entire armoury is carefully hung on the wall in the first half of the book. In the second half, much of the tension derives not from wondering whether tragedy will befall 22nd century Bangkok, but how this will come about. It says much about The Windup Girl that the onrushing apocalypse - not the fate of its characters - provides the main narrative drive.

The Windup Girl's world is one devastated by overpopulation, environmental damage and resource depletion; readers familiar with the 'biopunk' subgenre of science fiction will recognise elements of the book's premise. Early in the 22nd century, fossil fuels are all but exhausted, genetically-modified plagues and catastrophic climate change have destroyed much of the world's farmland, and calories are the new currency in this climate of scarcity. Mid-Western `calorie companies' control much of the supply, locked in an arms race with the plagues unleashed by their competitors. The protagonist, Anderson, is a company man, undercover as a venture capitalist, attempting to exploit the Thai elite's scheming and power struggles to lay his hands on the country's seedbank. He encounters the titular windup girl near the start of the book, a genetically-modified geisha kept captive in a brothel. Their affair goes on to precipitate chaos in Bangkok.

Bacigalupi deserves credit for creating a vivid, well-realised setting. Every turn of the page reveals a thought-provoking new detail of his unhappy world. By confining the action to Bangkok he creates an atmosphere of claustrophobia and of being buffeted by external events which perfectly suit the book. It is clearly a city he is familiar with; the asides on Thai culture and several characters' matter-of-fact Buddhism add further interest. Unfortunately, The Windup Girl's foreground does not do justice to its fascinating background. The dialogue can be heavy-handed, with many of the scenes of passion, politicking and confrontation falling flat. Anderson, the protagonist, in particular is a cipher for the plot rather than a believable character. Why would a hardened company man fall so sentimentally for a geisha? Why would a seasoned negotiator prove so clumsy at navigating Bangkok's poisonous politics? The narrative becomes bogged down in the middle third of the book, and whilst the climax is suitably spectacular, many previous plot strands appear forgotten or irrelevant. The denouement may leave readers scratching their heads rather than gaping in awe.

The Windup Girl is still an entertaining read and fine example of the biopunk subgenre. It could have been even better, had less attention been paid to Chekov's guns on the wall and focused instead on the characters who would shortly be duelling with them.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Distopian and dark, excellent read, 16 Oct 2011
By 
A. J. Trickett "ajt" (Hampshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
I really enjoyed this book. I was a bit worried in the past I've found highly rated books very disappointing. However I read this book late into the night and have lost sleep over it working my way through it.

There are two ways to look at this book. One level it's a violent and disturbing near future SciFi book. A second way to look at is the corruption and greed of western capitalism.

In the near future the oil has run out, global warming has run riot and multiple genetic experiments have gone horribly wrong or been used as deliberate weapons of war on a global scale. A corrupt worker from a "Calorie" company has been sent to Thailand to find out what is going on there - they are fiercely independent and not dependent of imported sterile seeds from the big western Calorie companies.

The story follows the lives of a number of interlinked individuals as events take over and change the lives of all the characters beyond their wildest imagination. The narrative flips from character to character's view point which takes a bit of time to get use to but seems to work well.

The book is very dark in places, violent and disturbing. However it really is just a mirror to our own greed and selfish nature. Like many fantastic books being set "elsewhere" allows the author to disuse very real and serious issues that affect us today.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thai resident reads for proofreading and for pleasure, 11 Oct 2011
By 
M-I-K-E 2theD "2theD" (The Big Mango, Thailand) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
As a long-term resident of Thailand and as an avid science fiction reader, I knew I HAD to read this book not because of its odd premise but to proofread for cultural, geographic or linguistic errors... so my initial interest in Windup Girl was one of cynicism.

If you're interested in the more intricate details of what Bacigalupi was talking about when he mentions Thai places, language and customs then read further below. If you want to know if I liked to the book or not, then read this: Yes, though I don't think it's good enough for a Hugo award. And yes, I do hope he writes a sequel, albeit with my humble assistance.

The first half of the book immerses the reader in Bangkok geography with prominent locations such as Rama 9 Road, Ploen Chit, Yaowarat and the Chao Phraya River. Bacigalupi places the future windup spring factory on Rama 9 Road, when currently the area serves as a residential/commercial area, unsuitable for industrial use. Given that the Bangkok in Windup Girl is of the future, this can be looked past. Yaowarat is described as a slum suitable for the `yellow card' immigrants who are of Chinese-Malay origin. Modern day Yaowarat has some of the highest land values in Thailand so it seems unlikely for it to become a home to poor immigrants but at the same time, Yaowarat is also known as Chinatown where most of the shopkeepers are of Thai-Chinese origin. Having the Chinese-Malay immigrants housed on the same land of the Thai-Chinese paints a picture of sympathetic existence in a new country. So, the locations in Bangkok aren't glaringly incorrect, just a little skewed in favor of the future plot of Bacigalupi. My only problems with are the occasional cobbled roads (there are none), the supposedly `long walk' from Rama 9 Road Yaowarat would actually be quite the overland trek by foot and Rama 12 Road, which will most likely never come into existence (touchy subject, honestly).

There is a mixture of Thai, Chinese and Japanese in Windup Girl and the language depends on which narrative path is followed. Hong Seng uses some Chinese words which I don't understand, Jaidee and the other Thai characters use Thai which though the Romanization is bad I can still understand it, while Emiko is Japanese and speaks all three languages which is confusing because the italicized could be Thai, Chinese of Japanese. I had a big problem with the Romanization as it wasn't standardized. I didn't know what `heeya' meant because of the bad spelling, which should have been more properly spelt `hia' or `hee-a' which means a villain (or a person who brings bad luck, also the name of the monitor lizard). More Romanization which made me flinch were `kothorh' (kau tote), `padh seeu' (phat si-ew) and the province of Kanchanaburi was misspelled as `Katchanaburi.' When characters drink alcohol, Bacigalupi calls it `laolao' but I've never heard it called that before though `lao' means alcohol. Perhaps he meant `laokhao' which would be rice wine but it's a forgivable mistake.

Culturally, I found just one or two flaws as I did with language and location. All the Thai characters go by their full first name when in reality Thai's will use a nickname, only using their given name in formal circumstances. One would often find modern nicknames in Thailand like Pear, Apple, Pepsi, Ice, Soda instead of the traditional names Chaya, Kanya, Ratana and Jaidee. And the biggest no-no came when Bacigalupi changed the feudal/social hierarchy of Thailand with `the king places the environment ministry above even monks.' I had to shake my head at his and strongly disagree as even the monks are above the king in the hierarchy as they are the sole vehicles for the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

The last quarter of the book made me smile as Bacigalupi started to include some in-the-know humor which would fly over the heads of the average reader. It started to feel like he kept an eye out for the science fiction readers in Thailand... namely, me. Bacigalupi includes the name Chart Korbjitti as significant to Thai folklore on page 213 when in reality Chart is an award-winning Thai novelist and columnist (I've actually read two of his novels before). There is a scene on pages 215-218 when the female characters Kanya and Ratana confront each other when Kanya is of lower rank and has to `play the part of the dee' while Ratana has to `play the part of the tom.' This is a tongue-in-cheek reference to a lesbian relationship (lady and tomboy) which I won't go on about, but it's still quite funny how he slipped that in there. Bacigalupi even manages to swear in Thai with `kot rai' which means `damn evil' or another word stronger than `damn.'

Windup Girl is also somewhat timely as some of the conflict is between the white shirts and the yellow cards, which in the past four years in Thailand the conflict has been between yellow shirts and red shirts... both equally destroying the image of a peaceful kingdom. Also included is a militant religious group called the Green Headbands, though the militant Islamists in the south of Thailand have yet to foil like in the capitol of Bangkok.

All in all, it was a good solid novel even with its sometimes flighty characters, annoying conversations with a ghost and vivid descriptions of a jade phallus in action. If Bacigalupi pens a sequel to Windup Girl, you can expect me to be waiting in line for it if it even reaches the shelves on the poorly stocked bookstores of Kinokuniya here. I'm a fan.

*** Maybe it was simply an oversight that Bacigalupi included the word `Chapter' only in front of chapters 19, 26 and 28 but he had me conspiring for a while flipping through the pages trying to find a common theme in the chapters, yet to no avail.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lots of Good Elements Fail to Add Up to an Engaging Read, 5 Aug 2010
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
I don't read a lot of science-fiction (maybe five or so novels a year), but when I do, I tend to prefer works set in the relatively near-future, where the action mainly takes place on Earth. Having spent six weeks in Thailand a few years ago, this much-ballyhooed work set in Bangkok caught my attention and I thought I'd give it a whirl. The story takes place after "the Contraction", an era of global economic and ecological meltdown following the end of the petroleum-based economic system we currently are immersed in. In addition to rising sea levels (presumably due to global warming) which threaten to flood Bangkok, various killer viruses have spread across the global food supply chain, leaving giant GMO-based agribusinesses with virus-resistant grain product lines in positions of huge power. It's no longer Washington's shadow that falls heavily across the world, it's Des Moines'!

The main characters include Anderson (an industrial spy for an American agribusiness) Hock Seng (the manager of Anderson's front kinkspring manufacturing factory and a Chinese refugee from ethnic cleansing in Malaysia), Jaidee (a zealous and incorruptible Thai officer in the Ministry of Environment's enforcement army), and Emiko (the titular Japanese "windup girl" -- a genetically customized "new person" who is kept as a sex slave). The main thrust of the story is a contest for power between the Thai Ministry of the Environment, who is tasked with keeping the kingdom free of biological viruses, and the Thai Ministry of Trade, who naturally seeks to promote trade. The goals of the two ministries are at odds with each other, and the whole book is a long buildup to an inevitable showdown (and by extension, a rather transparent critique of capitalism).

Amidst this brewing conflict, Anderson is trying to scheme his way into getting access to the Thai kingdom's ultra-secure seed bank. Hock Seng is trying to scheme his way into long-term financial and personal security by stealing potentially breakthrough technology from the factory he managers. Jaidee is trying to live up to the oath he swore to protect the kingdom. And Emiko is trying to find a way out of her perpetual abuse. The psychology, backstories, and motivations of these, and all the other characters, is rich and convincing. Similarly, many of the details of the post-Contraction Bangkok are quite vivid and well-done, and it's easy to get immersed in the city (although some aspects doesn't make a ton of sense, like the lack of wind or solar energy). There's a strong element of the thriller that runs throughout it, along with some pretty good action sequences (and several exceedingly graphic scenes of sexual debasement and rape that are not for the faint of heart, but are very relevant to the plot).

And yet, despite all these positives, the book never really engaged me that much. It has a certain pacing problem that I can't quite put my finger on, but it often felt like it was taking too long to advance the story. The real kicker is that near the very end it starts to become very obvious that this is just the first installment of a series. That's particularly annoying because it would have been possible to end it in a way that would make it a satisfying stand-alone book, but there's more stuff tacked on as kind of a tease. I wish science-fiction and fantasy writers could take a page from mystery writers and learn how to write series where individual books can stand alone and not feel like incomplete segments of a trilogy.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new classic, 21 Jun 2010
By 
A. J. Poulter "AP" (Edinburgh) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
It is rare to find an advertising blurb on a book that exactly captures your feelings about it. For this book the blurb compares it to William Gibson's 'Neuromancer' which is spot on, as this book could be the first of a new science fiction sub-genre. Like Neuromancer, it is set in the nearish future, but this future is very different from Gibson's.

It is set after the Contraction, which occured when the previous era, the Expansion (which is us), ran out of energy and resources. Rather then a new limitless virtual world, what we see here is the opposite: a resource-limited physical world, powered by muscle fed on staple foods, which have to be gene-hardened against a range of mutatated blights. Most live hand to mouth. All the old racial, national and religious fault lines have blown wide open again. Global warming still continues. The novel is set in Bangkok which is now below sea level and protected both by a ring of dams and the prayers of Buddhist monks.

Since the power infrastructure has gone, energy from muscle-power is stored in compressed springs. The novel opens in a factory making springs, and one sub-plot is the secret plan of its 'yellow card' immigrant Chinese manager to steal the blueprints for a revolutionary new type of spring. The factory is owned by an American food company. It, and a few other large companies, now 'own' the genotypes for staple foods. These companies are powerful enough to threaten nation states: Thailand preserves its independence by having a secret genetic seed bank and an ex-company gene hacker who can exploit it. Another sub-plot concerns a 'calorie man', an executive/spy working for a big American food company, whose cover is manager of the spring factory, but whose real assignment is to uncover the seed bank and its rogue hacker. The final sub-plot concerns the in-fighting between the Environment Ministry, who police energy and genetic misuse and the traditional security forces. The former are known as 'white shirts' and check for suspected genetic mutations, misuse of resources etc. Finally, the 'Windup Girl' of the title is a bar girl/prostitute. She is a product of Japanese genetic engineeering and not considered a real person at all. She moves in a jerky manner, hence her nickname. Through her all the main characters and sub-plots converge. It all ends badly.

This is not a cheerful novel (and neither was Neuromancer). But it brings the concerns of science fiction into sharp focus in a near(ish) dystopian future that looks all too likely. Unlike Gibson's vision, which was unrealistic, but poetic, this novel tries hard to be both realistic in style and in technology (the spring 'batteries' notwithstanding). The only thing lacking is a name for this novel's style - 'gene noir' maybe? For free tasters see the online stories 'The Yellow Card man' and 'The calorie man', which segue into this novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Glimpses of quality but flawed, 24 Oct 2012
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This review is from: The Windup Girl (Kindle Edition)
Starts off strong, with evocative descriptions of a dilapidated and rundown Bangkok of the future, embedded in the author's well-though out and slightly scary of "posy Expansion" future, and I settled in for a good read. Tragically, this promising start soon gives way to extremely repetitive writing and poorly sketched characters who you neither identify with or really get to know. It just seems flabby and poorly edited, which is a shame when the premise and some of the action scenes are above average for the genre. There's a good book fighting to get out of this one, but this one can't really be recommended when there's so much better out there.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars He searches through the bodies, trying to find Laughing Chan..., 31 May 2011
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
The world a few years into the future? Perhaps not seven, but maybe twenty-seven and post-oil, post-climate change, when agriculture is protected only by viral manipulation, gene-ripping and the careful harnessing of seed. Food companies spread viruses on each other's products to protect their monopolies and half the world is close to starving as a result. Not a happy future but the question is - is it convincing? I have to say that it is. Bacigalupi copes very well with the exposition necessary to give readers some grounding in a world very different from now. We are in Thailand, where Trade interests are very much opposed to Environmental interests. So much so that a revolution is about to take place. Lake Anderson is the Biotech representative for one of the big four food companies, but as with other farang (slang for foreign devils) his power comes at a cost. When Lake takes a fancy to the windup girl of the title (a Japanese import) and her role as victim of various kinds of sexual submission really does wind her up, everyone is in for a shock.

A clever, provokingly punk biotech novel, this hits all the right buttons, especially as the revolution hots up and the various sub-plots all begin to coalesce. Characterisation is very good, and though the plot takes a while to get started, it does have a satisfyingly complex set of sub-plots to get underway. There is a short hiatus in the middle then it quickly picks up pace again for the barn-storming ending. This won a Nebula and a Hugo award and earned them triumphantly in my opinion.
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The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Paperback - 2 Dec 2010)
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