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Old 05-11-2010, 02:17 PM   #1
GlenBarrington
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Wind-up Girl

by Paolo Bacigalupi

A great read! (SO Far!) I bought it from Baen, published by Nightshade. This isn't a review, I'm not done with it yet so I don't feel right -'Reviewing' it. But I've read enough to know I'm reading something special.

Ever notice how lame so many post apocalyptic, environmental disaster stories are? Yeah! me too!

Well this one is truly different. Here the story isn't how civilization falls apart, but how civilization stays together, and how it just gets uglier and uglier. There is no oil, but there is animal power, and energy can be stored in giant clockworks springs. There is genetic modification of food, people, and animals. There is an odd commingling of genes (hence the name of the book)

Corruption is everywhere, and in third (fourth?) world countries, just about anything is available and life, human and otherwise is VERY cheap. Think of Ripley on the Nostromo, but the Nostromo is a planet and both the victims and the monsters are us.

It isn't a world I would want to live in, but it is a believable world and so far at least, logically consistent. Plus, it is very well written.

Last edited by GlenBarrington; 05-11-2010 at 11:40 PM. Reason: I had more brilliance to add. . .
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Old 05-11-2010, 03:09 PM   #2
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I got this when Nightshade was giving it away through i09, for their bookclub, but never got around to reading it. Thanks for reminding me it's now on my soon to be read list.
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Old 05-11-2010, 05:10 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GlenBarrington View Post
but it is a believable world and so far at least, logically consistent.
No, actually, it isn't. It is an interesting world, and an entertaining read. Bacigalupi is one of my favorite contemporary writers. But it isn't believable. Here's why:

The setting is a world where all the oil (and, necessarily, coal, since that can be processed into oil) has been used up and all power is provided by springs coiled up by human or animal labor, and energy needs are sold and budgeted in the unit of food calories.

Where's the solar power? The geothermal? The nuclear (fission or fusion)? The hydroelectric? The windmills? The wave power? The ocean thermal gradient energy? Where are the satellites?

We use fossil fuels right now because they are cheaper and easier to use than most alternatives-- plus we already have a huge infrastructure built around them. But when they start to run out (and it'll be centuries before coal runs out, if we resort to that) there are many more options for producing usable energy than muscle power.
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Old 05-11-2010, 07:16 PM   #4
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Where's the solar power? The geothermal? The nuclear (fission or fusion)? The hydroelectric? The windmills? The wave power? The ocean thermal gradient energy? Where are the satellites?

We use fossil fuels right now because they are cheaper and easier to use than most alternatives-- plus we already have a huge infrastructure built around them. But when they start to run out (and it'll be centuries before coal runs out, if we resort to that) there are many more options for producing usable energy than muscle power.
There is a difference between logical and logically consistent within the universe created by the author.

For instance, you can't have a fairy God mother in a police procedural unless you set up the universe of your book to allow for fairy God mothers. Tossing one in there to solve a plot problem is cheating and logically inconsistent. (And drives me up the freakin' wall!)

And so far, the author has remained logically consistent to the universe he has created.
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Old 05-20-2010, 07:31 PM   #5
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Well, I finished it. . (NO Spoilers!)

Fantastic read. I'm sorry it's over, but I do NOT want a sequel, that would just ruin the thing, and I know I won't have the self control not to read it.

It's set 200 - 300 years or so in the future, in Bangkok, Thailand. You have to sort of figure out the pre history of the story. Like us, the people of that time only tangentally refer to their history, especially the really bad stuff because everyone just knows it, so there is no running commentary on historical exposition. This is what I"ve figured out, you may come to some different conclusions:

At some point, the oil disappeared. I THINK it must have been some sort of 'runaway' bacteria or something that ate it (not sure) and there was a great global economic and cultural contraction. People were starving because the global food supply couldn't move to the places that need it.

North America and China seemed to do OK and are the global leaders, because of Biotech research and alternate energy supplies and North America's incredible agricultural capacity. I'm not sure I fully understand why China seems to be thriving. Japan is doing well but is not the world power North America and China is. (I don't recall Canada, Mexico, and the US being mentioned as separate entities.) Apparently, India is in a state of starving collapse, as is much of Europe.

Bangkok is below sea level (global warming? it never says) and remains viable as a city only through the constant efforts of VERY expensive giant pumps and the thai determination to keep it as the seat of their monarchy and of their child queen.

There may have been a second failure and contraction, but eventually, nations went to war over things like coal. Coal seems to be the only carbon based fuel left, and that seems to be disappearing as well. The book doesn't say much about the rest of the world but Thailand is dark damp and relatively windless. Energy is generated by genetically modified elephants who spend their days on treadmills either generating power that is used immediately or winding giant clockworks springs. Even weapons are powered by springs shooting sharpened disks.

The problem is, genetic tinkering has caused a variety of diseases that are either mutated from or released by the Calorie companies. Companies working in bio-engineering mostly in North America and China, seem to control the world food supply and are not above releasing diseases that not only kill competitor's food stocks but that can mutate and cross over to humans as well.

The Thailand of this book is very proud of its status of never having been colonized, and the Thais have come to the conclusion that they will not allow the Calorie companies to get a foothold in Thailand. As a result, The Thai government has the only pre contraction seedbank not under control of the Calorie companies. They also have a ministry that does nothing but seek out and destroy any non authorized genetic material. The price of this independence is pretty high. Thailand is poor, corrupt, politically volatile, and has various government agencies sort of making war on each other. Only their commitment to independence and their Child Queen seems to keep the country together.

The story is really about 2 women, One is the assistant to the 'Tiger of Bangkok' a famous White shirt.(The nickname of the people employed by the agency that destroys unauthorized genetic material). In spite of his fame and how he seems universally loved by the people, the Whiteshirts are feared and hated by the people. After all, much unauthorized genetic material is food, and people are hungry. This woman has secrets, deadly secrets and after the "Tiger of Bangkok" dies, she takes over his Whiteshirt unit which is the source of much conflict for her.

The other woman is a Windup girl. A biological construct of Japanese origin. Wind-ups are created in the labs of Japan because robots are no longer technologically feasible. These 'wind-ups' can be constructed to a variety of shapes and functions from combining animal, human, and vegetable genetic material, they are bred to be obedient and to be aware of a constant need for full human supervision. In other words, happy slaves.

But the saddest of the all are the ones that look human. They are beautiful, obedient, genetically programmed to desire to please, intelligent and quite self aware. I don't think I have to explain what some of the duties pretty wind up girls are expected to perform, not that they mind all that much, that sort of resentment has been engineered out of them.

This wind-up girl was brought to Thailand illegally by a Japanese businessman to be a secretary and companion. When his assignment in Thailand was over, he abandoned her there in Bangkok and she was forced to survive in an environment where whiteshirts would consider her nothing more than unauthorized genetic material and the average Thai citizen considers her an abomination.

Although the two women's story lines converge, they never meet. I can't tell you any more without giving away the story line, but it IS consistently well written and no gaps in logic that I noticed. A great read!

Last edited by GlenBarrington; 05-20-2010 at 07:48 PM.
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Old 05-20-2010, 08:25 PM   #6
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Now buy this:

http://www.webscription.net/p-1176-p...r-stories.aspx
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Old 05-20-2010, 08:48 PM   #7
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The publisher, Nightshade Books, offers two short stories (Windup Stories) in the Windup Girl universe free on their website in case you're interested...

http://www.nightshadebooks.com/downloads
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Old 05-21-2010, 09:31 AM   #8
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He's a great author, all right, and The Wind-up Girl is a great book. Definitely read his short-story collection "Pump Six and Other Stories".
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Old 05-21-2010, 04:07 PM   #9
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I just finished reading the book, many thanks to GlenBarrington for the recommendation. The writing is enjoyable, the POV characters are very realistic and I really had hard time deciding where I like them or not. The story is there, it's consistent and has it's twists that bring it forward.
What I didn't like was some excessive use of Thai words that got me confused. There are some that I eventually remembered, others were lost. But overall it helps to get you in the world of the book.
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Old 05-22-2010, 05:52 PM   #10
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I just finished reading the book, many thanks to GlenBarrington for the recommendation. The writing is enjoyable, the POV characters are very realistic and I really had hard time deciding where I like them or not. The story is there, it's consistent and has it's twists that bring it forward.
What I didn't like was some excessive use of Thai words that got me confused. There are some that I eventually remembered, others were lost. But overall it helps to get you in the world of the book.
Yes, I had many of the same reactions as you. I have no idea if the Thai culture in the book relates in any way modern Thai culture, but it sure FELT real.
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Old 05-27-2010, 11:50 PM   #11
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I picked it up after it won its award. I read the first chapter and rushed it to my to be bought pile. its coming into my house next round. Glen, that's an excellent writeup. K for you!
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Old 05-27-2010, 11:51 PM   #12
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I'd also put Julian Comstock into the same category as Windup Girl. It's just as engaging.
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Old 07-12-2010, 11:41 PM   #13
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I've just started Bacigalupi's new book Ship Breaker. Based in the same "world" as Windup Girl (and some of his short stories) but located in the US. About-- as one might expect-- ship breakers in the post-oil impoverished US. (Happens to be a video about ship breaking on the front page of CNN.com as I write this, but don't have a direct link.)

Available on the Kindle and at the Sony store (and possibly other places) for $9.99.
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Old 07-13-2010, 05:27 PM   #14
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Thanks for the "heads up"! It looks like my credit card is going to get a little exercise in the near future.
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