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.