There, he encounters Emiko...Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.
What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism's genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? In The Windup Girl, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi returns to the world of The Calorie Man (Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winner, Hugo Award nominee, 2006) and Yellow Card Man (Hugo Award nominee, 2007) in order to address these poignant questions.
BONUS AUDIO: In an exclusive introduction, author Paolo Bacigalupi explains how a horrible trip to Thailand led to the idea for The Windup Girl.
©2009 Paolo Bacigalupi; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
"This complex, literate and intensely felt tale, which recalls both William Gibson and Ian McDonald at their very best, will garner Bacigalupi significant critical attention and is clearly one of the finest science fiction novels of the year." (Publishers Weekly)
"The Windup Girl will almost certainly be the most important SF novel of the year for its willingness to confront the most cherished notions of the genre, namely that our future is bright and we will overcome our selfish, cruel nature." (Book Page)
"A classic dystopian novel likely to be short listed for the Nebula and Hugo Awards" (SF Signal)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bacigalupi is very imaginative in The Windup Girl. Imagining a future where the growing of crops has been dominated by genetic engineers in the Midwestern US that release terrible plagues to ensure the viability of their own goods, he gives a chilling view of what might happen after petroleum reserves run out and global warming has flooded major cities. Very well written, from a variety of different viewpoints. I loved Jonathan Davis' narration--he did a very good job creating a unique voice for all characters and mimicking accents characters from various locales in Asia. The Windup Girl herself is very empathetic. As a warning, there are very graphic parts in the book, especially in regards to the profession the Windup Girl is forced into after she is abandoned by her original owner. Still, I highly recommend it. I gave it 4 stars because there were a few times when it seemed to drag a bit and was a little repetitive. But it's a great listen if you've got the time.
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.
This is like a Graham Greene novel, set in a future world in which bioengineering and energy shortages have altered everyday life a lot. The Kingdom of Thailand is a self-isolated nation whose independence from the "calorie companies" that supply the world's food (engineered so that customers can't grow it themselves and are stuck paying the calorie companies through the nose) is made possible by rigorous environmental regulations and prohibitions against imports like the title character.
There's scheming, double-crosses, conspiracies, corruption, spying and everyone is motivated by a desperate self-interest. Because there are so many characters, many of whom don't come together until the end, it takes this book a while to build up momentum. Once it does, though, it's quite exciting, and even when you're not sure where it's going, the narrator's superb performance, subtly modifying his tone of voice with each character's point of view, and adding lots of small touches (he'll narrated the description of someone going through a bag looking for something exactly as the person himself would speak while doing it, for example), make it all very vivid.
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.
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!
I'm two thirds the way through this novel, but I feel sufficiently confident thus far to post some comments. It's easy to appreciate why it has won significant awards.
Whereas I did not enjoy other works by the author, I may have to re-read and give them a second chance after this book.
It's hard not to use superlatives to describe 'Wind-up Girl'. From the start, this book is, in my subjective opinion, fascinating, stunning and visionary. I think some significant credit is also due to the excellent narration of Jonathan Davis (who, I'm noting, does a good job on several other books)
A twenty second century Bangkok is richly described and experienced through the lives of the central characters.
By moving between several characters whose lives intersect the novel keeps a freshness going between chapters.
It's not a hard science SF novel, in that the author does not get bogged down in the science of genomics, but neither does he commit any major howlers in his inferences and extrapolations. The characters are well fleshed and the story has a realistic progression. An entirely original work, though with perhaps more than a nod toward the works of other great authors such as Phillip.K.Dick. I anticipate that this will see a major cinematic adaptation at some point.
"A wonderful, involving read"
This book just grabbed me from the beginning. Although I didn't have huge sympathy for any of the characters, the world created - in the not-too-distant-future - is all too horribly believable. The results of global warming, over use of fossil fuels and genetic modification in the hands of giant corporations (Monsanto anyone?) have left Thailand as one of the only Asian countries that still has some freedom, with rampantly mutating diseases being kept at bay by harsh methods and humans only just managing to get enough to eat. The American 'calorie man' is a kind of spy, seeking genetic information, whilst getting involved with a japanese windup girl - a genetically modified human designed to help the aging population of japan. The story escalates as characters lives interweave and crisis piles on crisis for the people of Bankok. A satisfying, well plotted and beautifully narrated story, I was sorry when it finished.
"An excellent book to take a chance on"
A beautifully write and intriguing story. Twists and developments to keep your attention. Narration is brilliant.
After investing 5 hours I have given up with this audiobook. There is way too much time dedicated to slow exposition as back stories are built. A simple activity such as hiding some cash in a hidey hole inside a bamboo wall takes about 15 minutes to achieve. For some reason I am stuck with the impression that most character conversations have to involve someone shrugging. It's a shame because the Asian post-civ setting is interesting but yes, I get it: Malaysian, Thai and Chinese people are deep thinkers whose complex cultural rules need to be navigated carefully. The trouble is that Bacigalupi hammers this home page after page after page (i.e. minute after minute after minute), at the expense of actual plot development. I perked up a bit at the introduction of the Windup Girl character, but she's barely in the first five hours of this story.
All the characters appear to be mired in their own personal misery, in a society that offers little joy. Fair enough if you like the semi-apocalyptic, post-civilisation genre, but there are other authors (Alistair Reynolds leaps to mind) who could convey the same mood but in a fraction of the time, and without sacrificing the depth that Bacigalupi seems to prioritise over action.
If there's an annotated version of this audiobook, I suggest you try that instead, unless you have infinite patience.
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