Book Review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Publication Date: 1st Sep 2009
Genre: Science Fiction / Dystopia

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories.

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?


When I first read about The Windup Girl I knew it was a book I wanted to get. The story starts off slow and confusing, but picks up in the middle. Once you learn the terminology, the history, the companies, and the people involved, it begins to make a lot more sense and the pieces of the puzzle click together.

The Windup Girl is set in a future where genetic engineering of crops and animals has led to the extinction of the majority of humanity’s food sources. This in turn led to diseases spreading across the globe and the disintegration of civilisation as we know it. Thailand has weathered the storm better than most by keeping a strong control of its borders through the environment ministry and it’s “white shirts”. But there are political tensions between those who want to keep these controls in place, and those who would like to profit from opening trade to the outside world as they did in the past. The world-building and created history is probably the strongest aspect of the book.

The author uses a variety of different viewpoints which allows the reader to become immersed in dystopic Bangkok and see both sides of the main conflict. Anderson Lake is an American who wants to know why Thailand has survived better than other countries, and to locate the source of their hidden seedbank. Re-opening the country for trade would be an additional benefit. In his search for the seedbank, he comes across Emiko, the titular character, and lets her in on a secret. This then gives Emiko purpose and a reason to escape her life as a sex slave. Other characters the story follows are Hock Seng, a Chinese-Malay man who works for Anderson in his kink spring factory, Jaidee, a notorious white shirt operating under the label of “Tiger of Bangkok” who wants to keep Bangkok isolated and free of trade, and Kanya, Jaidee’s sullen protégé. You may like some of the characters and not others, but none of them are boring.

From my perspective, one of the biggest problem The Windup Girl has is the lack of emotion felt or displayed by any of the characters. It is hinted at, but for the most part this element of the writing fell flat. Another problem I noticed was that important events were sometimes skipped over. A big problem may have existed at the end of one chapter, then it was hand-waved away in the next. There were times I would have like to see some of this played out a little more in “real time”.

The multiple plot lines and different characters kept me interested until the end. For me, the main takeaway from this novel was one of hope. In our current political, social, and environmental climates, that’s important.

If you like dystopic fiction / science fiction and intrigue, then you would probably enjoy the Windup Girl.

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