REVIEW: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Updated: Mar 2, 2018

In the dystopian future we still ride awesome elephants. Maybe things won't be so bad.

Where to begin. The Windup Girl has won nearly every science fiction award under the sun and considering the number of talented entries, that's no easy feat. Not to mention this is the author's debut novel (say what?) and it gathered a plethora of praise from the world's major literary media outlets.

So why am I writing a review about an eight year old book?

Because I just got around to reading it that's why. I don't imagine too many of you have even heard of this novel let alone read it so that's where average Joe's like me come in. First, let me start by providing the intrepid reader a brief overview of what The Windup Girl brings to the table.

The story follows Anderson Lake in a world that has been ravaged by the environment. Rising sea levels, droughts, blight and disease have the left the Earth in shambles. Crops are regularly destroyed, governments are collapsing and the worlds animal population is pretty much zilch. Western corporations rule nearly every aspect of society save for the isolationist government of Thailand.

Anderson Lake is an American in Bangkok posing as a machine company owner, but is really a secret agent scouting for blight resistant food stuffs. His missions leads him to a bio-engineered woman named Emiko. Emiko was created in Japan is known as a...get this...a wind-up girl. Unsurprisingly wind-up girls are used for human pleasure because it what science fiction world aren't they used for that?

Ahhhh squalor and overpopulation. What can be more Bangkok than that? Artist: Julien Gauthier

I guess the next question is how does the book hold up?

Well, you'd think that with all the awards it won (Hugo Award, Nebula Award, Compton Crook Award & Locus Award) that I'd be tripping over myself to tell how amazing this book is. I can't though. I struggled to read it. World creation is paramount for any science fiction novel and while the author does an okay job at showing the reader how crappy the world is in the future, it felt rather generic to me at times. Bangkok is a commonly used backdrop for corruption and squalor. Wouldn't you know it that's exactly what you get here. Corrupt government, extreme poverty and violence? Yup, that's Bangkok according to fiction.

Bacigalupi does a good job of mixing action and narrative and I can see what people who vote on the awards saw. The plot is unique and the concept is nothing like we've seen, but the execution fell flat for me no matter how many times I reread chapters.

Another issue I took umbrage with was the length. At 544 pages it was about 150 pages too long and there was a lot of pointless lower key character interaction. It reminded me of something you might see in fan fiction for Starcraft or Halo or something and not a debut novel. I hope he gets a chance to flesh out the universe of Windup Girl in the future, but for now I can't say I was all that enthralled by it. I tried on numerous occasions to allow myself to get lost in futuristic Bangkok, but I couldn't.

I want to leave you with this thought. The story can be compelling, it can be though provoking and it can be action packed, but Windup Girl just didn't do it for me. But....and a major but here...if you like science fiction then you should absolutely give it a read. Give it the chance it deserves. After all, the trophy case is full. I akin it to something more along the lines of when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives an Oscar to a film no one has heard of. There's a reason it won the award, but that doesn't mean you're going to love it.

You can pick up the Windup Girl here.

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