Monday, June 18, 2012

The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

This book has gotten some awesome reviews, but what made me really really want to read it was the Big Idea piece written by the author himself. The review over on BoingBoing didn't hurt either.

The thing which fascinated me most, and made the book a little hard to read, was the absence of a 'good-guy'. Anderson Lake is a calorie man living undercover in Thailand, and he wants to get his hands on Thailand's seed bank - purely for his own profit. Hock Seng is a Malaysian Chinese whose entire family was killed during the uprisings in Malaysia and is now scraping an existence in Thailand, where the 'yellow-card' Chinese are not allowed to take most jobs. He is lucky and happens to be employed by Lake, but he doesn't actually like Lake and is actively trying to steal the plans for the factory, as well as skimming as much cash off the top as he can. So he's sort of sympathetic, but he's been hurt so badly that he really is just out for himself. Then there is Emiko, the wind-up girl. She is a genetically engineered 'New Person' who has been abandoned by her Japanese owner in Thailand where the temperature is causing her physical problems, and the permits which keep her from being mulched are so expensive that she is basically being tortured by her employer and has absolutely no recourse or even hope for the future. She initially seems sympathetic, but is driven by her situation into actions which are not 'good'. Then there's Jaidee - the Tiger of Bangkok - who is definitely a good-guy, he's on the side of Thailand and against the calorie monopolies, but he is a fighter and his actions often seem terrible to the people he is ultimately defending, and then he winds up dead and it becomes clear that his second-in-command isn't quite on the right side.

So it is hard to find a character to sympathize with. By the time I got fairly close to the end there wasn't anyone I was rooting for - they were all fighting so hard for their own survival, but it was really hard to see how anything good could possibly come out of the whole mess. Honestly the only 'character' you can possibly be rooting for is Thailand itself. It has managed to keep itself afloat thus far, but destruction looms. There was no 'right' ending looming on the horizon. Everything seemed like a potential disaster, but somehow Bacigalupi pulled out a very reasonable ending which actually left a decent amount of hope for the future, both of the country and of some of the more sympathetic characters.

Overall I'm really glad I finally got around to reading this and I would highly recommend it to anyone - but it isn't a feel-good book. It is a fascinating book full of interesting ideas and a fairly terrifying view of the future.

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