Crazy Hugo Project: The Windup Girl

Little Kitty thinks being a Cheshire would be pretty cool.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi takes place in a future beyond peak oil where the big agriculture companies have begun gene splicing fantastic yields into their product to feed the world’s starving populations. They also manufacture blights and bugs to attack anything that doesn’t have that company’s gene markers in order to corner the market. Naturally, there are many manufactured diseases out there from the competing agriculture companies which keeps the gene hackers incredibly busy. Of course none of the giant agriculture companies seem to care that their gene warfare has caused most of the natural vegetation to die off (except Kudzu. It’s either resistant or grows so fast that the blight can’t keep up). Natural vegetation does not raise the profit margin. Unfortunately, as these things are oft and wont to do, the diseases make the jump to humans which causes all sorts of issues. The story takes place in Thailand, a kingdom that has taken Draconian measures with regards to import/export regulations and thus has been able to resist the big agriculture companies.

The book follows several characters through the story as they deal with consequences and events. Emiko is the titular character and is an abandoned Japanese manufactured human (a Windup). She is property without a permit in the xenophobic and foreign technology phobic Thailand and lives by the grace of her pimp. He in turn keeps Emiko as long as she brings in money by being the object of humiliation in an S&M stage show. Hock Seng, is an immigrant Mandarin Chinese ex-businessman who fled his home when an Islamic jihad destroyed everything. He has plans and schemes to keep himself one step ahead of “yellow card” poverty. Hock Seng is the “gopher” for American Anderson Lake, a man incredibly interested in genes who is using his cover as a foreign businessman to poke about Thailand’s remarkable ability to keep ahead of the swiftly mutating blights and bugs. Lastly, there is Jaidee and Kanya, a midranking Ministry of Agriculture employee (sort of customs agents) and his second in command. They are responsible for enforcing the import regulations, although it may be that Jaidee is the only “White Shirt” on the Ministry payroll who doesn’t accept bribes to look the other way.

I find it amusing that this is the second book in a row that takes place after peak oil, a general fall of civilization and the slow rebuilding. The Windup Girl isn’t as far along, or didn’t fall as fast out of technology as Julian Comstock did but there are parallels. Instead of the dominant ‘bad guy’ force being religion gone crazy, The Windup Girl‘s big bad is Science! and business. It was Science! which caused most of the issues with diseases that destroy the world’s plants and business that held the remaining safe seed stock hostage for more money as countries starved and collapsed.

One of the things I really liked about the book was that each character was a different nationality with a different outlook on the events of the book. I’m not an expert on Thai, Japanese or Chinese outlooks but to my novice eye, Bacigalupi seemed to build his people well. They were all flawed in some way, all proud in others and all competent in some manner. That made them nicely real yet they were all flavored differently and well with their cultural trappings.

I think I started this book on Wednesday and was finished by Friday, including one raid night where I didn’t do any reading. This book went fast. This book was also very good…on par with Boneshaker, albeit a completely different read. Whereas Boneshaker was about the characters making the story, in The Windup Girl the story is the driving force that the characters shape. Both books are excellent, and I was torn about my top pick right up until the epilogue of The Windup Girl. That pushed it to the top spot because dayum! Boneshaker‘s last chapter reveal wasn’t as surprising as it was concluding (I think the reader already knew the reveal but not the exact mechanics of it) but the ending of the Windup Girl was pretty awesomely cool. Bacigalupi did an excellent job in seeding the story with little bits of information that eventually cumulated into neat reveals. The epilogue is like the grand daddy of these, cool enough to capture the top spot of my Hugo list.

Huzzah for my last Hugo Novel!


1. The Windup Girl
2. Boneshaker
3. Wake
4. Julian Comstock
4.5. The City & The City
6. Palimpsest

2009: JSFR: Mr. Squid Rollered Seasoned Squid

2008: My entry blended into the background.

2007: I’m also getting tired of ripping things out of the ground and I still have one stupid bush to go, a weed tree, some something-or-other hydrangea and/or snowball bush thing and another something bush whatsit.

2006: This is my very first ever home grown tomato. I am quite pleased at its tomato-y tomatoness and the fact that it is, indeed a tomato. That one can eat. From my garden. I grew a tomato!

2005: Hows come I had tomatoes already in ’06 but not in ’07? That’s it, I’m not updating.

2004: JSFR: Chelsea Butterscotch

2003: I lost track of who we were talking about. Oh right, Dirge and Shar.

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