Paolo Bacigalupi: The Windup Girl

Paolo Bacigalupi: The Windup Girl (Nigh Shade Books, 2009).

I like long books. I like diving into a thick book and staying there for days, getting to know the characters and the world they live in. I like to spend some time with them – which is why I don’t read that many short stories and why I often prefer watching TV series rather than movies. This book is only 329 pages so it’s a rather quick read. Too quick. And not just because I got through it rather a few days. Mostly because it could have used more pages to really introduce and explain the world, it’s set in. I felt confused for quite a large part of the book and that’s a shame.
It takes place in Bangkok, but not the Bangkok we know. This Bangkok is in a world where the foodstuff have been largely ruined. The scientific advances have been great but have unfortunately cost the world a very high price. One example is a father who wanted to please his daughter and therefore, he has a Cheshire cat made for her since she loves Alice in Wonderland. But this cat is superior to regular cats so it mates with a lot of other cats and their genes are suppressed so quickly, there’s nothing but Cheshire cats. Food companies are desperately trying to find some kind of food thought to be extinct – or even better, seeds. Good ol’ fashioned seeds you can actually sow and grow something real from.
In Bangkok, the Environmental Ministry have their White Shirts to try to protect the Kingdom from all the infections of the natural world. A line of work, that’s not exactly popular with the Trade Ministry who of course wants to trade with the world outside Thailand.
This is also a world where war has become more commonplace, and ethnic cleanings ditto. There’s a huge population of Chinese refugees living in Bangkok. Most of these are living in absolutely horrendous conditions.
Japan is on the forefront of things and have managed to create artificial people. Unfortunately – or so some think – these people came after the Cheshire cats so they are not able to reproduce and are not able to move fluidly but move kind of joltingly. Therefore, they’re called Windups. Windups are not common in Thailand but some have managed to slip in, accompanying their masters but they are looked down upon.
In this confusing world, we follow several characters. An American, Anderson Lake, trying to find seeds and new foodstuffs in the streets of Bangkok. A Chinese refugee desperately trying to carve out a new life for himself after having lost everything. A Japanese Windup Girl left on the streets in Bangkok, horribly unsuited for the heat and only able to survive as a prostitute. A White Shirt, the Tiger of Bangkok, Captain Jaidee and his second in command, Kanya.
The story is being told from the point of view of all these characters, and while it add a bit to the confusion, it’s also an incredible way of telling this story. So much is going on all the time. The political scene changes constantly, Trade and Environment is in a constant battle, the city of Bangkok is constantly fighting to avoid being overtaken by the ocean surrounding it.
This also means, that this is not a gentle book. Not only have people had very tough lives with devastating losses before we even meet them, they also have those lives in this book. Particularly Emiko, the Windup Girl, the book’s title character. Emiko has a harder life than most. Just because she’s a Windup, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel. She feels a lot – mostly hot, but also other feelings. She’s being abused daily in the worst way by someone who despises her and has no one to lean on.
Everything changes of course, as these person’s lives interfere more and more. And as the world blows up in their faces.
I had a hard time writing this review. When I finished reading it, I thought it was a 4 stars read. But now it’s been a little while and although I really liked it when reading it but afterwards, it hasn’t left much of an impression on me. And I’ve had the hardest time writing this review. And not just because I accidentally closed down the window I was writing in it, so it all disappeared. I’m not sure why this is since I got really caught up in this while reading it and it was so exciting when things really started happening. I think a lot of my issues with this book are connected to the confusion I felt and then we’re back with the length of this one. This would have benefitted from maybe 100 pages more.

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