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3.8 out of 5 stars
The Windup Girl
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on 24 July 2010
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 October 2011
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 October 2011
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
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 May 2011
I started reading this with a high degree of expectation. The jacket includes a few pieces of praise from non sci-fi publications. I came away a little underwhelmed considering the hype.

The story revolves around Thailand in the future where oil has gone, calorie companies rule the rest of the world's economy through ruthless means and Thailand stands apart. With a weakened puppet leader and various factions pushing against each other. It is an interesting future here and its obvious a lot of thought has gone into it. And it starts off well. Characters are interesting and it really is promising. However, the writing doesn't quite match the concept. The story gets convoluted and its easy to lose interest in some of the sub-plots. It really can be a bit of a trawl to get through in the middle pages with the various strands being deliberately drawn out. It does pick up towards the end - not the most satisfying I have read.
Overall its not bad Sci-Fi. But it probably doesn't deserve the accolades its been given. The author is certainly one to watch on this showing, for his ideas at least. The execution needs a little more finesse.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 9 February 2012
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 May 2014
This was an interesting and for the most part, engrossing speculative read: a genre classic of "biopunk" and "genepunk", apparently.
From the opening page, it paints a vivid picture of a far future where oil has been exhausted, engineered diseases and insects make life difficult for animals and plants, and miserable for humans, and the giant agribusiness conglomerates are trying to stay one step ahead of the problems that decimate harvests, populations, and the valuable calories needed to power what industry remains.
Into the Thailand of this world, Anderson Lake is introduced; an industrial spy and secret agent for the US-based AgriGen, a firm desperate for new genetic material to research and produce new, disease-resistant GMO crops.
Posing as a factory manager producing motor-springs, the batteries of a world where human and animal muscles provide most of the power; he is seeking evidence that the Thai government has a seed bank of heirloom plants, and he'll do anything to get it, be that bribery, murder, espionage or backing a civil war in exchange for the untainted genetic material.
He's not a welcome visitor to the new Bangkok, which is very isolationist to keep out the corrupting influence of AgriGen, and their single-generation crops which have contributed to disease even as they stave off starvation. As hostile as the Thais are to foreigners, they are plentiful, from Anderson's deputy, a Chinese refugee from a pogrom in Malaysia and former shipping magnate, who is desperate to restore his fortunes, to curios like the title character, Emiko, the windup girl.
A genetically-enhanced Japanese creation, she lives a precarious existence in a country where she is illegal, and is the inadvertent key to the action which unfolds as the isolationist government wars with a free-trade faction, hoping to expose the country to the outside influences it has resisted for so long.

The book is a fantasy rather than a "scientific" sci-fi, but it wasn't half-bad as a novel. The opening chapter which sees Anderson hunting for unfamiliar fruit in the street market and overseeing the dangers of life in a power-spring factory read like a really twisted version of "The Quiet American", and the Bangkok backdrop is well-drawn enough to be credible (at least to me). Given the criticisms leveled against companies like Monsanto in real life, it wasn't hard to imagine that kind of crazy blockade either, given people's paranoia.
The odd vision of life in a post-oil world were amusing and detailed enough to see the imagination that went into the novel-for example, in a crimelord's broken down skyscraper, the lifts are kept working not by electricity, but counterweight teams of underlings who go down as you go up, which was a nice touch.

What was less arresting was the multiplicity of points of view-there are five principal characters, each leading alternating chapters. One of these dies early on, yet returns in a way which didn't really contribute to the storyline. Another was a plot point which seems major at the beginning, but has become a MacGuffin by the start of the final section.
Nonetheless, it's a very engaging read, thought-provoking at points and entertaining the rest of the way. I look forward to reading more of Paolo Bacigalupi's efforts-he's left more than enough room for a sequel, definitely.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 April 2011
Where to start?

I haven't read a lot of scifi in the last few years - used to go for it avidly as a teenager bt these days my tastes have been more factual. However I have begun to drift back to the genre and this book is, I suppose, on the leading edge of that movement. As so often happens, the cover artwork and blurb were what sold it and I hadn't picked up any of the deeper publicity or read many reviews, so I came to this a little cold.

The story is set in the near future, when many of the world's natural resources have been used up or destroyed by genetically engineered plagues. Civilization is controlled by companies touting GE alternatives to the foods that have been lost and civil wars and religious jihads have decimated the underclasses. The book is set in Thailand and follows the (mis)fortunes of a varied and motley cast of characters. I'll say now that I haven't finished the book, so I don't know where it's going, but I've read enough to know how it's getting there.

The book is written very much in the style of William Gibson and there are, as noted by other reviewers, strong undercurrents of The Difference Engine and Neuromancer. Indeed, I think that this particular sub-genre is known as "bio-punk". One of the problems with this sort of story is that the technology and politics carry a lot of baggage and require a lot of exposition. Many authors rightly avoid this exposition and choose (as has Bacigalupi) to reveal the details in small doses over the course of the novel. This leaves the reader at a disadvantage that diminishes slowly as the story progresses. Personally I dislike this sort of solution as it leaves me wondering whether I've missed something or perhaps I'm too stupid to understand what's going on. He does the same here with the characters' motives and personal histories which is, I think, less excusable. Consequently, I found the first third (or so) of the book quite hard to enjoy and I nearly put it down, but by half way, things have become much clearer, the story has hit its stride and things are becoming more enjoyable.

That niggle aside, it is very well written. I've picked up a few scifi novels over the years that were blessed with effusive blurbs and exciting cover art, only to find that the author, on his/her first novel, is less well accomplished a writer than one would have hoped. This book does not fall into that category. The characters are interesting and believable, the geopolitical stage is richly populated, self-consistent and well thought out and there are some cracking action sequences. Be warned, there are also a couple of pretty explicitly described rape sequences and they make uncomfortable reading - this is definitely not a book for the younger reader. All in all, I think this well deserves the plaudits it has received and having struggled through the earlier chapters, I am enjoying the tale as it unfolds.

Definitely recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 January 2011
This was the first book I read in 2011 and I can say that the year started on the right foot.

The book setting is Post-Apocalyptic Bangkok, living on time borrowed from both the raising sea levels and the latest versions of food oligopolies biowarfare vectors. The world is slowly shrinking again, the initial catastrophic expansion caused by the exhaustion of the oil reserves. Nevertheless, the main sources of power still are, once more, beasts of burden and the weather.

Collapse of the economies of entire continents, chronic malnourishment, religious cleansings and an endless string of resistant terminal infections have pushed humanity to the very edge of existence. And yet, human greed and blind ambition still offer the impetus for the endless power-games that care not how many lives get trampled under its threads.

An American investor/spy after Thailand's only remaining bio-treasure; a shrewd and ruthless refugee trying to rebuilt his empire lost to murderous fundamentalism; government factions locked in a power-struggle to the death; and a seductively-designed Japanese Windup Girl that will unwillingly serve as the catalyst for the brewing explosion.

The book losses its 5th star because of its ending - and I will say no more to avoid any spoilers.
Other than that, a potent mix of William Gibson and Pierre Ouellette.

RECOMMENDED!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 January 2013
It starts off perfectly. A really intriguing look at the future through an educated, caring lens. And if the plot was as fine as the setting then this would rate a 5.

The problem for me is that the book slightly loses focus about half way through. I think, and in his acknowledgements Paulo Bacigalupi says as much, that he wasn't sure where the story was going from the outset. This is not a massive problem because the writing is good enough for this to be a character driven piece rather than plot based, but I think it could have been slightly better if the story had been stronger. This is my very subjective opinion however and I am not in the least surprised that it won the Hugo and Nebula awards.

It's also interesting that this was Paolo's 5th novel and yet the first to be accepted. It just shows that hard work and persistence do pay off...
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