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
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
Most Helpful First | Newest First
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a book that will be become a classic,
The Windup Girl reminds me of the classic Philip Dick novels, since they deal with the "universal" theme of what defines a human being. If you like Blade runner, you will enjoy it too . The tensions between religions ( all of them are mentioned in the book) , family values as perceived in different cultures )economy and ecology and the appliance of moral principles in everyday life is the most interesting part of the book.
I especially liked the hopeful end of the book .
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Wind Up Girl,
If you haven't already heard of this book, you may be interested to know that it won a whole host of awards and accolades when it came out in 2009. It was that years No. 9 novel in 'Time''s top fiction and it was also (in an almost unprecedented move) made joint-winner of the 2009 Hugo Award (the other winner was China Mieville's 'The City & The City' - evidently 2009 was a vintage year for authors with hard-to-spell Romance language surnames).
But is it any good? Books and authors can win prizes and awards for all sorts of reasons quite separate from the quality of what they have written. Sometimes a book or author will win for political reasons and other times they win because the author's personality or life is more interesting than their own fictions (a classic example of that is 'Vernon God Little' by DBC Pierre, which is poorly written twaddle by any measure and yet sold in large numbers because of it's glowing reviews and awards. The follow-up novel, 'Ludmilla's Broken English' sank without trace as have his two following novels). Sometimes, they simply win because they write or have written for the newspapers whose positive reviews can help shift books off the shelves. (The Catch-22 of publishing is that a publisher will rarely show interest in an author until he/she has already been published, but the debut writer can't get published precisely because he/she isn't published! Still, new forms of self-publishing are making changes to that situation even as I write - though not, I believe, to the extent that some of the more enthusiastic cheer leaders of the Internet believe, but anyway, that's another story ...)
Happily though, all that kind of nonsense seems to be far more of an issue in literary fiction than it is in SF and Fantasy. Literary fiction suffers from constantly trying to impress professors of literature in the academy. Quite a strange thing to do as it turns out, as since at least the late 1970s those self-same literature professors have given up on the idea of a book having a thing called a 'story' or the idea of the story being 'good' and only ever seem to be interested in what the 'text' as a 'product' has to say about the schizophrenic logos of Spivak's third stage of Jamesonian capitalism (or something like that, I may not have been paying full attention at the time!).
Luckily though, the latter kind of fiction, SF and Fantasy that is, still actually care about answers to questions such as: 'Is there a plot?', 'Are the characters believable and can I believe in the world they live in?' and, what must be incredibly revolutionary for the aforementioned literature professor-types, 'Is it well written and am I likely to actually enjoy reading this book?', 'Will I actually care what happens to these characters?'.
Luckier still that what Bacigalupi has written is a great story with strong, believable characters moving through a highly detailed and richly imagined world. But then that's science or speculative fiction for you - for most of the time it's more imaginative, enjoyable and, even, more experimental than some of the almost completely unreadable offerings by the likes of Ali Smith or Salman Rushdie.
'The Wind Up Girl' is a novel set in 23rd Century Thailand. Other reviewers have described the novel as dystopian and certainly the novel, which takes place in Thailand, gives us a nation that is riven with ethnic tensions, that has a poverty-stricken populace, and which is suspicious and fearful of foreigners. The Thais of the book despise Europeans, Americans and the Japanese even as they accept funding and investment from those other parts of the world, allowing them into the kingdom to set up businesses within the kingdom. In other words, this is a depiction of a country that (and apologies to any Thai readers) actually is very much like the Thailand of the world we live in today. In that sense, the novel is only dystopian insofar as Bangkok is now.
What the novel does do, however, is give us a fascinating portrait of a world the surface details of which have changed radically from the one we know in 2012, but where international trade routes. geopolitics and diplomatic relations have remained fundamentally unchanged. What Bacigalupi gives us is a post-oil world which, far from having collapsed in the absence of oil, has evolved and adapted to the realities of a post-combustion engine world. And humanity has done this brilliantly, for the search for alternative energy sources has resulted in an obsession with collecting and trapping heat, either as calories (food) or as joules (kinetic energy). Computers, for example, still exist, but they are kept powered by foot peddles operated by their users. When the user stops peddling, the screen shuts down.
Lacking heavy industry, first-world nations have turned to genetically-modified technologies to save it. But Bacigalupi's 23rd century is one where every solution to problem 'A' turns out to be the cause of problem 'B'. For example, GM crops have created mutant viruses that, in some parts of the world, have destroyed cereal crops and created famines. And one of the reasons for the Thai government's xenophobia in this novel is that we learn that, many years earlier, the King of Thailand sealed off the borders of the country and thus saved it from a terrible genetically-induced famine that has near destroyed neighbouring nations, such as Cambodia. In fact, one of the plot lines in the book hints strongly at the idea that the official fear of GM crops is actually the diplomatic excuse used to seal off the kingdom's borders from refugees.
The Windup girl of the title is Emiko, a genetically-engineered escort girl who has been abandoned by her Japanese 'sponsor' during a business trip. Thailand is a miserable and terrifying place for her. Her skin has been genetically-engineered to be almost perfectly smooth. While this makes her hypnotically beautiful to look at, it also means that the pores in her skin barely open, meaning that she swoons from physically overheating whenever she overexerts herself. Not only is she living in Thailand as an illegal immigrant without papers, but her very being is also outlawed - she is not recognised as human in Thai law because of her GE origins. For much of the novel, we see the extraordinary privations she has to face to survive in this hellish Bangkok of the depths, of seedy night clubs and even seedier clients.
But the core of the plot surrounds another foreigner, the American Anderson Lake. Lake appears in Bangkok as a businessman, fast losing money on a new method of creating and storing energy in the form of joules. In fact, we discover, Lake is in the country for an entirely different reason, which will soon bring him close to near disaster.
In the long run, there may in fact be stronger SF novels out there but there is a huge amount to recommend this book. For those who enjoy SF stories which throw its characters into a carefully considered and richly imagined world, this books is a must read.
5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Baffled,
I can't understand how this got the awards and reviews it did.
The world described is reasonably well realised. You'd think a post global warming GM run wild hellhole would offer good plot opportunities. But far from being "fast paced", next to nothing happens, at great and tedious length. What few things do happen make little sense and seem not to be connected to each other in any very rational way. Maybe, along with the almost universally dislikable characters, this is meant to be a deliberate reflection of the "real" world. (Why the characters are one dimensional is harder to understand.) But as a reading experience, it's a waste of time.
Other people seem to like it but for me this went straight to the charity shop.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing but a useful read,
When I heard via a friend that this book was set in a futuristic Thailand, I immediately purchased it to help me with Part Two of my own novel: Eye of an Artist. The novel is a good 500 pages, and was an effort to wade through the first 100 pages, but by the time I was halfway, I was enjoying Hock Seng's quest for survival, Jaidee's demise, and the progress of several other characters in this thickly interwoven plot with useful descriptions of place.
However, the book jacket refers to only one character: Anderson Lake, AgriGen's calorie representative in Thailand. For me this throws up the first flaw of the book, because the story swiftly switches points of view to numerous other characters, which was confusing. By the end of the book, the reader still does not know much about Andersen Lake, and in that sense, despite its detail and plot, it comes off as a superficial soul-less story, while 'The Windup Girl' is reminiscent of Blade Runners.
The other flaw for me is that calories are of paramount importance in this world, but we never share the difficulties of an average meal with any of the characters, or feel their desperation in day-to-day living in terms of eating.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Trouble in Thailand,
A science fiction novel that is set in near future Bangkok. And in a time where the oil has run out, the climate has changed, and the world has changed as a result.
It runs for just over five hundred pages. It's divided into fifty chapters plus an epilogue.
It features several main characters. Each chapter will use one of them as the viewpoint character, and all chapters are written in present tense.
One of them is Anderson Lake. A company man who searches for foodstuffs. Ones that are thought to have died out.
Another is Emiko. She's what's known as a windup girl. A genetically engineered being who isn't troubled by disease and has great looks. But can be troubled by certain climates and who can't reproduce. Windups can be made for military or adult entertainment purposes. She lives a joyless existence doing the latter. Having no control over her destiny.
These two aren't local. Other viewpoint characters are.
Anderson comes into contact with Emiko. Both influence the other in a surprising way.
Other characters also go about their business.
The near future world of the book is a fascinating creation well thought out and very believable. Back in the 1980's near future novels were all concerned with computer technology. Nowadays it's all about genetics. And this certainly shows us how that could go.
But it takes a while before anything much of consequence happens, and frankly the first one hundred and fifty pages of this are rather boring.
Somehow, after that, it does start to click. A new viewpoint character does come in who is a bit interesting. And events happen. Quite a few things, as various people plot to get what they want, and lots happens to the city and the people in it.
Although this is a believable near future story thanks to the aforementioned setting, it doesn't really feel like much in the way of science fiction, and it could easily be a story taking place in a present day third world country with a few alterations.
By the end there's been a lot of change for the city and all the characters. And everyone is left in a very different place and state than they were when the book started.
Some of the endings are quite surprising. And one character does get an ending that lingers in the mind for a while afterwards.
But as a whole, the journey isn't as interesting as the final destination. A lot of effort has clearly gone into this, and that is to be applauded. It was an interesting read and not one I will forget for a while. But it's one of those books to be read if you want something to be admired. Rather than enjoyed.
Do be aware that there's a small amount of strong language, some violence and a fair few scenes of a very adult nature.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better sculpted than most SF,
It's quite rare to see so much cultural research in one book. Bacigalupi's representation of Chinese, Japanese and Thai mindsets and the interaction of their mentalities and beliefs is thoroughly convincing, if perhaps a little caricatured. Pile on top of that the dystopian majesty of a city holding back the sea and a world on the bleeding edge of a fight against engineered plague and you have a world that feels like it is inevitably sliding into the abyss with every major character scrabbling to control this inexorable decline.
I think in order to get the most out of this book you should enjoy south east asian culture, dystopia and political intrigue. If these sound interesting, read it. If you don't like a scrap of reality in your SF, read something else.
10 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Biggest Windup,
What an absolute load of rubbish. Honestly I begin to question the sanity or literary understanding of people who have so highly rated this book. I was expecting atmosphere, creativity, imagination; a story that would capture me and hold my attention all the way through (which isn't unreasonable). What I got was a very dull book which in fails miserably in practically every respect. His discriptions are bland and his characters (some of whom he doesn't even bother to give an ending to) are forced, uninteresting and fall into the same old clichés that you might expect from an infant - certainly not the winner of so many awards. Which brings me to the next point, to win so many awards the judges must have been bribed handsomely or else the rest of the books The Windup Girl was up against must have been so terrible they had no choice but to award this toliet waste with a prize. This conclusion doesn't give me much hope for the rest of Steam Punk, a genre I so very much want to like.
I won't bang on about the authors appauling lack of understanding when it comes to the English language and how he utterly abuses it in his book. I feel I must make one final point though, delicate subjects such as rape are considered trivial in this book and are described with what I can only call a tasteles, lustful passion which offends almost every sensibility.
The thickness of this book has but one value, and that is that it will take much longer to burn.
3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Windup...,
This review is from: The Windup Girl (Kindle Edition)
On the plus side, it was easier to read than Embassytown, another critically acclaimed sci-fi masterwork we are told...but similar issue in where is the sci-fi? Is this no longer a necessary element for sci-fi work? It does touch on genetic engineering, a post apocalytpic type world where humans have gone backwards and then there are hairy megodonts, corrupt officials, racism, springs for batteries and a hooker designed to want to please more and all wrapped in a story that goes nowhere but does have some local thai research - did not find in here any new sci-fi angles or the kind of story quality that makes it worth reading, just too average on ideas and too uninspiring on the literary style. The critics have done it again!
2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Trying too hard to be someone else, and not just William Gibson,
This review is from: The Windup Girl (Kindle Edition)
I tried hard with this book, thanks mainly to the other reviews, even though the plot was very slow to build but eventually couldn't take any more and had to give up. It reeks of a desperation to be like Gibson but fails even to be a reasonable copy. The Bangkok obsession bored me to tears even though I worked there for a few years and knew at least some of what he was on about. Books should fundamentally tell a good story, Paolo seemed to be trying too hard to impress us with his coolness. Very disappointing, both in the book and in the reviews that convinced me to buy it...
4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars For real sci-fi lovers only........,
This is another book that I really wanted to like it, I am more a fantasy reader than a sci-fi reader, but I felt attracted from this book, fantastic art cover, and Bacigalupi seems to get a lot of good review everywhere in the web, unfortunatelly for me the book it didn't work, as soon you start reading the author tries to immerge you in his futuristic world and caracters at a vertiginous speed,bombarding you with an enormous amount of informations and asian words, leaving me after 50 pages completelly confused and bored. I think this book is just for real sci-fi lovers.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi