2009 Nebula Award Winner
2010 ALA The Reading List
2010 Compton Crook Award Winner
2010 Hugo Award Nominee
Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, besides being chosen for the io9 book club, has garnered quite a bit of attention on its own. It has made several "Best of 2009" book lists, including those from TIME, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal. It is also the science fiction winner for the American Library Associations 2010 The Reading List, and a finalist for both the 2009 Nebula Award for best novel and the 2010 Compton Crook Award. But I learned all that after the fact; I picked up the book because of io9. Technically, Santa Olivia was the next book to read for the club after The Quiet War, but I had already read and loved it, so I happily proceeded to read The Windup Girl. Up until now, Bacigalupi has only published short fiction, gaining an impressive number of awards, nominations, and accolades along the way. Even though The Windup Girl was his first novel, many people expected great things from his book and most were not disappointed.
Bangkok is a desperate city on the brink of disaster. Somehow Thailand has managed to survive the worldwide plagues, crop failures, and environmental catastrophes that have destroyed so many other countries. In addition to struggling against threats from the outside--invasive man-made species, opportunistic and quickly evolving diseases, foreign calorie companies--the people of Thailand must cope with a highly corrupt and harsh government. However, they also maintain one of the last remaining untainted seedbanks in the world, this being one of the only things that can help ensure their independence. The Thais have their secrets and will do what they can to keep them but people are dying fighting against nature, their own creations, and each other; compromises must be made. The opportunity to find a peaceful solution is long past and Bangkok is about to undergo a violent upheaval. All that remains is to find the excuse.
I will admit that I wasn't entirely convinced by the dominance of kink spring technology but I'm willing to suspend my belief and go with it because hard science, while it plays a crucial role, is really not what The Windup Girl is about. I've seen Bacigalupi refer to his work as "aesthetic SF" which I think is a fantastic and very fitting term--the atmosphere and feel that Bacigalupi creates in The Windup Girl is marvelous. (I've also heard the book called biopunk which is certainly appropriate as well.) But as wonderful as the world building is, many of the very cool ideas introduced are never fully explored but seem only to be mentioned in passing or briefly alluded to. There is so much potential depth to his setting that I really wish we would have gotten some more concrete details to make it feel more complete. That being said, you do need to pay attention while reading The Windup Girl, otherwise you might end up missing a critical connection or something else that's revealed later to be important.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Windup Girl. The book does tend to be rather bleak and gritty, and a fair number of terrible things happen; it's certainly not for the faint of heart. However, I was captivated by the New People--genetically manipulated not-quite-humans--and particularly by Emiko, the titular windup girl. To me she was by far the most interesting and complex of all the characters. The ending comes very quickly but without a strong sense of closure, easily leaving the story open for a sequel (although Bacigalupi doesn't currently intend to write one). There are at least two novelettes that I know of, but haven't yet read, that take place in the same setting as The Windup Girl. "The Calorie Man" and "Yellow Card Man" are both included in the award winning collection Pump Six and Other Stories and are both award winners in their own right. You know? I happen to have a copy of Pump Six and Other Stories lying around. I should probably read it.