A major benefit of a reading a short story collection is being introduced to new authors, randomly browsing a bookstore later that week, and coming across a novel by said author. Throw in a Hugo and Nebula award and you’re damn skippy I picked it up.
The Windup Girl is a very unique kind of post-apocalypse fiction. It wasn’t plague, death, or pestilence that ended society. It was famine. A drought of natural resources (due to human meddling) and a drought of food (due to intentional human meddling) has altered civilization. Crops grow for a couple of seasons before horrible diseases infect them and ruin the genetic strain. The world subsists off new (and patented) strains from food conglomerates in Des Moines. Monsanto but on steroids. Wealth is measured in calories and the corporations control the world since they control the food supply.
But not the entire world. The Thai Kingdom stubbornly persists. Perhaps they are hiding a seed bank, perhaps they have a genius generipping scientist working for them, creating new foods untouched by rot. Either way, it must be stopped.
Internally, the Thai Kingdom faces different challenges. A delicate balance of power exists at the top. A self righteous Captain, a Chinese refugee, a white Calorie Man, and a windup girl may just set Thailand’s fate on a new path. I’ll let you find out just what exactly a windup girl is.
The Windup Girl is incredibly unique. From it’s Southeast Asian setting to a society built off non-oil technology, the world is brilliantly filled with the new and familiar. Bacigalupi has populated his novel with a diverse set of characters. This is no white savior novel. This is a no-savior novel. Some might take different things out of this book. I know I had to wrestle with it for a while But if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that we are all victims. Victims of circumstance, victims of our own hubris, victims of others – the world doesn’t bend to our will. Our choices can only clash with other choices. A hero is hard to find here. Besides the title character, everyone wants their own outcome, and it matches no one else’s.
This novel is just a slice of life. A life we will never experience. But one with all it’s faults and warts laid bare. Which is odd when you feel oddly hopeful at the end. Perhaps karma does exist. If so, it takes a long time for it to show itself.
TRIGGER WARNING: There are (I think) two detailed rape sequences, and several more implied. If that makes you uncomfortable, avoid the novel. The author does his best to justify his choice and tone the language down, but that doesn’t mean you want to read it.
3.5 out of 4 stars.