the big sky library of asian speculative fiction

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z

authors featured in the Big Sky Library


The Windup Girl

Paolo Bacigalupi


Night Shade Books

Review by Peter Young in Big Sky #1 (2013).

Love it or hate it – and there are those that do, including the lame few who criticised it vociferously without even having read it – The Windup Girl is certainly one of the most talked about science fiction novels of the last few years. I wouldn’t say it’s a divisive book in the way that Ender’s Game has ended up being, with fandom falling into pro and anti factions, but perhaps it comes close with, as I see it, the majority falling into the pro camp. Your mileage may vary.

The  story is of Emiko, a Japanese ‘pleasure-model’ clone designed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman. Without warning Emiko is left to survive alone in a post-oil, future Bangkok. For her, scenes of rape and degradation ensue which controversially see her mostly not fighting back despite having enough ability to do so. This is where the novel seriously falters for some readers, however as Liz Williams once said, it’s one of the tenets of writing genre fiction to be able to put your characters through hell. Bacigalupi doesn’t hold back here, and while I never found such scenes to be voyeuristic or gratuitous they are certainly one of the things that remain with you about the novel. Two other story threads – about a Thai import inspector and his deputy, and a shady American neo-colonialist ‘Calorie Man’ on the lookout for gene-types thought to be extinct from which to capitalise – alternately play second and third string and provide most of the backgrounding and scene-setting before the three threads interconnect quite effectively.

The aspect that didn’t work so realistically for me was that of the turf war being fought by government departments against each other while both being loyal to the Monarch: an engaged King would have taken a lesson from history and banged a few heads together, although the young Monarch in this future seemed remote and ineffective in the extreme.

There’s an authenticity to the future of The Windup Girl, whether the setting is in Bangkok or anywhere else. Bacigalupi’s environmental obsessions are more than minor concerns for the planet, and now we have the eponymous term ‘Bacigalupian’ to describe ‘post-oil’ futures in a speculative fiction context. I’d like to see the Windup universe expanded further past ‘Yellow Card Man’ and ‘The Calorie Man’, although for the stories to become too much of a commonplace is probably the last thing Bacigalupi wants.