This is an outstanding dystopian work with a strong environmental flavor. Following catastrophic disasters relating to both energy sources and food production, Thailand leads a precarious existence as a partially-sheltered enclave. Power struggles between internal political factions interact with the machinations of foreigners. At the same time, the life of the wind-up girl of the title mirrors these tensions, and she is not quite what she seems. The characters are well-drawn, the tone is dark, sometimes horrific, and the storyline strong and unpredictable. It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel, given the level of maturity it displays. Italian author Paolo Bacigalupi is definitely one to watch closely in the future. The audiobook is narrated by Jonathan Davis who is simply superb.
I really did want to like this book. With an interest in Asian language and culture, I found the post-apocalyptic Thailand backdrop to be quite compelling. I liked the author's writing and felt that, while the cast was indeed large, I did care what would happen to the characters. The reader gave a wonderful performance, impersonating a wide range of voices from that of a shrewd American businessman to a young Japanese woman.
What kept me from finishing the book was the intense and endless depiction of violence. I know that I am more sensitive to violence than many, but I was still surprised that this was not mentioned at all in any of the other reviews. The book began right from the start with a gruesome factory accident and brutal sexual assault and never subsided. While I can tolerate some violence, I felt that the explicit descriptions of pools of blood and mutilation were unnecessary and far too copious. At least with a printed book I could have glossed over those paragraphs and potentially continued to read, but I constantly felt nauseated while trying to read.
After struggling with over 1/3 of the book--compelled to read on because of the unique story--I finally couldn't take it any more. I would assume that for the average reader this book should be tolerable, but a word of caution for those more sensitive to explicit depictions of gory violence.
The good about this book: Jonathan Davis, who did a great job, as usual. The plot was intricate and fascinating, the characters were all very complex and multi-layered. It's a very scary and creepily possible sounding future, so this book was great, except for...
the bad: I could only listen to a little bit of this each day, and as result, it's taken forever to finish it. I know it's supposed to be dystopian, but good heavens...it was such a relentess bummer, I had to turn it off and go listen to some current news (war in Iraq, bank failures, rising foreclosures rates, jellyfish invasions, etc) just to lighten my mood. In addition, this novel is so crammed with repetitive exposition, it made me scream more than once in the car, "She's obedient and she doesn't like it...he's an incorruptible fighter and a hero to the people...he's afraid he'll get killed with a machete before he buys his clipper ship...I got it, I got it, I GOT IT!"
It took a lot of patience to finish this, so I can't exactly call it gripping--but it was a very fascinating trip.
No doubt, the first half of this book is paced more slowly than the last half. It was interesting, and very detailed, which sets a good stage for the latter half where things pick up exponentially. If you can be patient with an initially slow plot, you'll be ok. Coupled with this slower plot pace in the beginning, I also agree with the previous reviews that much of the content in the first half is unnecessary to the finish. It felt to me as if the last half of the book was written first, and the beginning of the book was added for context. I give the first half three stars, and the last half five stars.
The "prologue" by the author is great backstory, and you can really see the parallels and motivation behind his tale, based on his real life experiences.
The narration was good -- but some of the section breaks within chapters weren't noted by a long enough pause, or something. Two characters would be in a discussion one moment, and the next, it would be two totally different characters in a totally different place.... On a printed page, the section breaks are clear and anticipated, but this audiobook needed a little more of a pause in between to make it easier to transition from scene to scene. Aside from this nitpick, very very good narration.
Overall, it's a very interesting book comprised of a rich near-future world set in a compelling location, with love-hate characters. If you're patient with the first half, you'll be well rewarded.
W.B. Yeats wrote, "Whatever flames upon the night, man's own resinous heart has fed." Bacigalupi's imagined future Thailand, his characters, and his sure and economical prose bring weight and life to that assertion. The characters especially are memorable in a Dickensian way.
The dystopian future of the story is all too plausible. Coastal cities drowned by melting ice caps. Giant corporations supplanting governments and destroying human freedom in the name of ever growing profits. Warfare of the rich upon the poor, conducted with famine, and genetically engineered insects, parasites and viruses. Bacigalupi makes every challenge real and still leaves room for unexpected hope.
I was slow to warm to Jonathan Davis' performance, but once well underway, his clear and distinctive voicing, both for narration and for each character made the novel all the more engaging and memorable. In a way I seldom do, I felt I had missed nothing by listening to the book instead of reading it. Kudos to Davis, and brickbats for me who was so slow to notice his mastery.
Love epic sci fi and fantasy, but hate looking of really good books. So many duds out there. I am gamer too.
Very good hard core sci fi in the world it is set, with a message that is not preachy, but a very slow moving story. If you like story over action then this a good book for you. The story follows characters who seem to have very little interaction that leads to a chain of events that reach the book's conclusion. The world is gritty and grimy, set between the few haves and the all the rest of the have nots. The wind up girl is not electrical/mechanical but is genetically engineered. Which to me makes her still human, but how she is 'programmed' that makes her the way she is. It is the simple fact that she is made that is how others perceive her. The narrator is very good, he can jump from an American male to an Asian woman without a hitch. His voice is clean and clear. Over all the book has the feeling that is should be great, but in the end is somehow lacking.
Some have complained this is slow, or took a while to get into it, but I had no such issue. I was absorbed with the fascinating world Bacigalupi created and the wonderful detail. It's an ugly, harsh world, but it seemed realistic somehow, and written in such a way you can feel the sweat prickle at you and smell the fetid aromas of a world gone wrong. It's a world of dinosaurs resurrected from their genes as work animals, of dirigibles and the odd coal fired car because there remains no fuel. It's a future world ruined by greed and rampant technology, great climate shifts, rising oceans, and genetic engineering gone mad. There's a warning in this somewhere.
I read this going in and out of work for a month. I would sit in the train and peer out the window at the passing scenery while I felt a growing sympathy for the wind-up girl, and curiosity at Anderson's schemes, and how it would end up. I found myself appreciating the things we take for granted - fresh fruit and vegetables, so sensuously described here, and the energy we use so unthinkingly.
I felt it all beautifully written, and if I have any criticism it seems at odds with many here. I enjoyed the slow and inevitable build-up that pointed to some final resolution - which, when it came, seemed a little simplistic.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
The Wind Up Girl is a strong work of dystopia science fiction filled with imaginative, vivid, and provocative ideas, settings, and characters that cast a horrible light on our present world here and now. The novel takes place in the capital city of a future Thailand that is barely holding out against global warming, scarcity of fuels and foods (calories), and prevalence of mutating, genetically engineered plagues that attack flora and fauna. Powerful genetic-agricultural corporations who control the world food and gene supply are itching to get their hands on Thailand's secret, "natural" seed bank. Genetically engineered people (wind ups), elephants, and cats play their roles (or break free from them). In this situation Bacicalupi tells his story from the point of view of several compelling characters whose schemes and dreams and destinies become ever more intertwined as the novel progresses.
Some reviewers have complained that the novel is too slow, especially in the first half or so, but I found it completely engrossing. Some reviewers have said that there are no likable characters, but found all of them very human and increasingly compelling. I sympathize with the reviewer who said that he'd have preferred shorter or fewer of the movie-type action scenes that kick in as the novel surges through its climax, although the reader, Jonathan Davis, does such a splendid job that I found myself excited rather than repulsed by the action.
Jonathan Davis delivers a virtuoso performance, convincingly reading parts for a Japanese wind up girl, an aging Chinese refugee entrepreneur, a Thai double agent, an American corporation operative, and more, his voice becoming appropriately tender or intense, cynical or ominous, jaunty or morose, depending on what's going on in the story.
All in all a fine listen!
The narration was superb, the writing was fluid and detailed, character development was spot on, but I just couldn't get into the first half of this book. I wanted to like this book, and kept waiting for a hook to capture my attention, but it never came, instead it just trudged along.
The story very slowly and often painstakingly unraveled in the first half, introducing main characters who I didn't care about, and situations that didn't spark an interest. Even the hook of the book 'the new people', took most of the book before anything of interest happened.
It seems that when something interesting in this book did happen, it was dropped rapidly in replacement of something boring. I had hope when something unique happened with a 'new person' and the discovery of a great ability, but was let down once again when it was not explored.
Characters such as Yates and the scientist seemed to have great potential, but were never developed, and items such as the windup spring, and northern territories had great potential but were left in the dust. Exciting areas like Calorie companies and Gene Rippers were barely investigated, yet internal conflict between bland government agencies were written to near exhaustion.
The second half of the book does pick up, with unique and new concepts about survival, ethics, and commerce, and introduces more action, but it couldn't save the book for me.
At first I thought the book was a little slow, then as events unfolded, I found myself thinking back to the earlier chapters. The characters were engrossing and very real and the future presented was believable.
This listen was good enough that instead of listening only on my commute, I would keep it playing after I got home.