Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

Windup Girl is a multi-award winning steampunk novel of a near future where the disastrous unintended consequences of bio-engineering and genetic hacking have rendered the global food supply so tenuous that nations guard their unaffected crops as ferociously as if they nuclear secrets. Meanwhile, calorie-men, representatives of large multi-national food corporations, hunt for these fresh food sources using any means necessary. As if plagues ravaging crops wasn't bad enough, the carbon-based economy has also collapsed and everything is powered by winding springs, some small, some so large that genetically mutated elephants, megodonts, have to turn them. And wandering in the background are freakish creations like Chesires--genetically mutated cats--and the windup girls from Japan--robotic girls bred to serve as sex dolls.

The novel is set in a Thailand which the king has heroically managed to seal off from most of the problems of the surrounding world. Anderson Lake, a calorie man for AgriGen is in search of new, untainted, foodstuffs, like the ngaw fruit and the legendary gene-ripper Gibbons. In exchange for information about Thailand's secret seedbank, he tells The Windup Girl of the title, Emiko, about a hiding place for New People like her in the North. As the two pursue their separate dreams, a cast of other characters get caught up in the action as the Thai haven collapses around them.

Personally, I ended up liking this book less than I expected to. It is often the case that when we read a Sci-Fi or Fantasy novel we get the sense that the author has imagined just enough of the setting to frame the story. One of the things that makes Tolkien a touchstone for such fiction is that he had so thoroughly imagined Middle Earth, its languages, its geography, its history and its myths that the stories seemed organic, rather than constructed. But he was also a master of myth and story-telling. Mr. Bacigalupi has imagined a world where the texture extends well beyond the frame of his story, but the story itself isn't especially strong. We don't really have much stake in who wins or whether no one does. To the degree the novel has a hero, it is Emiko, but she is a pretty thin reed to hang a tale upon. She wants to survive, but what more than that? She does not love, does no create, does not even have much imagination. What is the point of her story other than survival for survival sake?

Indeed, the Epilogue that is tacked on seems an attempt to retroactively interest us in her story, but we're 500 pages in at that point and it comes as an after-thought. One suspects the author will return to this world at some point and he can probably craft a better story to fit the richly imagined setting.


Grade: (C+)


Paolo Bacigalupi Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Paolo Bacigalupi
    -WIKIPEDIA : The Windup Girl
    -SHORT STORIES: "The Calorie Man" and "Yellow Card Man" Stories from the World of The Windup Girl (SF Center)
    -SHORT STORY: The Gambler (Paolo Bacigalupi, June 1, 2010, Shareable)
-ESSAY: Craving Truth-telling (Paolo Bacigalupi, December 17, 2012, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW: Paolo Bacigalupi: This is What It Takes to Write a Novel: Paolo Bacigalupi, in case you don't know, is one of the most exciting SF writers working right now. His first novel The Windup Girl won both the Hugo and Nebula awards this year. It's radical and amazing. It would be a good idea for you to read it. (Lev Grossman, Sept. 27, 2010, TIME)
    -INTERVIEW: With His New Novel, Paolo Bacigalupi Imagines an Arid Future (Adam Rogers, 05.26.15, Wired)
    -INTERVIEW: War, Killer Children, and More: An Interview with Paolo Bacigalupi (Brit Mandelo, May 23, 2012, Tor Books)
    -INTERVIEW: Paolo Bacigalupi Looks Back on THE WINDUP Girl and Discusses His New Novel THE WATER KNIFE (Andrew Liptak, 5/21/15, SF Signal)
    -Interview: Paolo Bacigalupi talks about The Windup Girl (ARAFAT KAZI, August 6, 2010, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW: of The Verge Book Club Podcast: 'Ship Breaker' with Paolo Bacigalupi (Adi Robertson, 10/25/13, Verge)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview: The Redemption of Paolo Bacigalupi (Christie Yant, Jan. 2011, Lightspeed)
    -INTERVIEW: The Author with the Unpronounceable Name: an Interview with Paolo Bacigalupi (Allan Vorda, Rain Taxi)
    -INTERVIEW: What If The Drought Doesn't End? 'The Water Knife' Is One Possibility (NPR, May 23, 2015)
    -INTERVIEW: Q & A with Paolo Bacigalupi (Carolyn Juris, Apr 26, 2012 , Publishers Weekly)
    -INTERVIEW: Can fiction make people care about climate? Paolo Bacigalupi thinks so (Amelia Urry on 9 Jul 2015, Grist)
    -INTERVIEW: 2010 National Book Award Finalist : Paolo Bacigalupi: Ship Breaker (Interview by Eisa Ulen,
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Paolo Bacigalupi interview - looking at morality through science fiction (Fast Forward: Contemporary Science Fiction, 12/12/14)
    -INTERVIEW: Author Paolo Bacigalupi Shares Thoughts On Optimistic Science Fiction (Andrew Liptak, 5/31/15, i09)
    -INTERVIEW: Paolo Bacigalupi On Writing a Life-Changing Book, and What Comes After (Joel Cunningham, April 29, 2015, B&N SciFi Blog)
    -INTERVIEW: Earning the Future: A Q&A with Paolo Bacigalupi (Jeremy Adam Smith, Shareable)
    -INTERVIEW: Scarcity and survival reign in ‘The Water Knife’: A conversation with Paolo Bacigalupi about climate fiction, the power of water and his new novel. (Brian Calvert Interview June 4, 2015, High Country News)
    -INTERVIEW: "The Water Knife" - An Interview with Author Paolo Bacigalupi (Chris Schluep on June 16, 2015 , Omnivoracious)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview: Paolo Bacigalupi on “A Hot Day’s Night” (stephen, November 6, 2015, SF Site)
    -INTERVIEW: Paolo Bacigalupi interview (Aaron Hughes, February 2008, Fantastic Reviews)
    -PROFILE: Sci-fi phenom Paolo Bacigalupi has seen the future -- and it's scary as hell (Alan Prendergast, May 6, 2010, westword)
    -PROFILE: The rise of climate fiction: When literature takes on global warming and devastating droughts "The more you pay attention, the more horrifying the world is," says writer Paolo Bacigalupi (Michael Berry, 10/26/14, Salon)
    -PROFILE: This Sci-Fi Novel’s Post-Apocalyptic Future Could Become Reality All Too Soon (Ari Phillips Jun 25, 2015, Climate Progress)
    -ESSAY: Climate Fiction: Can Books Save the Planet?: A new literary genre that focuses on the consequences of environmental issues is striking a chord with younger generations—and engaging them in thinking about the Earth’s sustainability. (J.K. Ullrich Aug 14, 2015, The Atlantic)
    -AWARD : China Miéville and Paolo Bacigalupi tie for Hugo award : The City and the City and The Windup Girl draw equal numbers of votes for prestigious science fiction prize (Alison Flood, 6 September 2010, The Guardian)
-REVIEW: of The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Lev Grossman, TIME)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Lev Grossman, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Michael Dirda, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Adam Roberts, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (David Evans, The Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Cory Doctrow, Boing Boing)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (John Scalzi, Whatever)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Tara Holste, Book Punks)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl ( Andrew Hageman, Science Fiction Studies )
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Ilana Masad, New Orleans Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Dan Shade, SF Site)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Niall Harison, Strange Horizons)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Raphael Lacoste, SF Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Abigail Nussbaum , Asking the Wrong Questions)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Annalee Newitz, i09)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Christopher Cokinos, Orion)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl ( james m. toburen, The James Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Fantasy Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Mike Perschon, Steampunk Scholar)
    -REVIEW: of The Windup Girl (Darren Jones, The Herald-Dispatch)
    -REVIEW: of Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Common Sense Media)
    -REVIEW: of Ship Breaker (Andrew Liptak, i09)
    -REVIEW: of The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi ()
    -REVIEW: of The Drowned Cities (, AV Club)
    -REVIEW: of The Drowned Cities (Adi Robertson, Verge)
    -REVIEW: of The Drowned Cities (Paul Kirsch, Sparknotes)
    -REVIEW: of Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi (Matthew Cheney, Quarterly Conversation)
    -REVIEW: of Pump Six (Andrew Liptak, SF Signal)
    -REVIEW: of Pump Six (Gary K. Wolfe, Locus)
    -REVIEW: of The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi (ROBIN WASSERMAN, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Doubt Factory (Cory Doctrow, Boing Boing)
    -REVIEW: of The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (Hector Tobar, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Water Knife (Denise Hamilton, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Water Knife (Dave Burdick, The Denver Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Water Knife (Jeremy Szal, Grimdark)
    -REVIEW: of The Water Knife (Bradley Campbell, PRI)
    -REVIEW: of The Water Knife (Jason Heller, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of The Water Knife (Kirkus Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of The Water Knife (Adam Morgan, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of The Water Knife (Sherryl Vint, LA Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Water Knife (Mahvesh Murad, Tor Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Water Knife (Paul Di Filippo , B&N Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Water Knife (Scott Dickensheets, Nevada Public Radio)
    -REVIEW: of The Water Knife (Luke Brown, SF World)
    -REVIEW: of The Water Knife (Publishers Weekly)

Book-related and General Links: