I first encountered The Windup Girl, at last year’s Readercon, when Paolo Balcigalupi read the first chapter. It paints a vivid picture of a factory in a future Bangkok, where genetically modified elephants are used like mill donkeys to wind massive springs to store energy. It’s a world where generippers have destroyed food supplies and built new ones, a world where the rising oceans have drowned cities and pound against the seawalls protecting others, a world where the suffering is laid on thick. Not exactly a world I wanted to enter, but I had a feeling I was going to end up feeling obliged to read about it.
So far the book has won a Nebula, it’s on the Hugo list, and I read it. Slowly. I admire the dense descriptions, but sometimes I felt like I was wading through them. So much of what happens is so cruel, I had to put it down and come back the next day. Yes, I did keep coming back. It was an interesting world and I wanted to know what would happen.
We first meet the man running the factory, Anderson Lake, an employee of a MidWestern “calorie company”. He says he wants to find Thailand’s seed bank, but his quest feels hollow to me; he’s searching for his company’s sake, not for any personal stakes.
He falls for the title character, Emiko. She’s a New Person, an engineered woman from Japan who was abandoned by her master. She goes from helpless sex-slave to uncontrollable (even by herself) whirlwind to sadder-but-wiser woman. I had a lot of trouble believing in her transitions, even after a couple chapters of double-talk tried to explain how she happened to change in just the right way at just the right moment.
I found Jaidee, the captain of the environmental protection police, the most compelling character. He’s a former muay thai boxer who says he can’t be bribed, but his stiff necked righteousness ends up getting a lot of people killed.
Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of them. Reading about them was like watching a bottle fill up with soldier ants confronting fire ants, with a dash of laser-enhanced killer bees, just to make it interesting. About halfway through, the bottle gets shook up and they all start killing each other. In the end, there are no winners, only survivors.
A great book to read if you need to get wound up about preventing its world from coming into hot, violent, gene-rotted fruition.