‘The windup girl’ is the first novel signed by Paolo Bacigalupi, but the mastery that the author had during the conceiving and developing the plot could make us believe that this debut was lingeringly and carefully prepared.
The novel have been countless awarded, through those awards being Hugo, Locus, Compton Crook, Seiun, John W. Campbell Memorial and Kurd-Labwitz. In other words, it ‘caught’ the most of the prizes that could for the genre that Bacigalupi and his readers like.
The action takes place in a world that has experienced the damages made by the ‘scientific’ recklessness that human activity had. A world in which the pestilences that attack the mankind are in competition with the ones that are destroying the species of plants and animals. This things are caused not just by the ecological cataclysm, but the bitterness of the greatest corporations want to gather the biggest profits, without compassion to the price that nature and humans must pay after too.
The blister rust and the ivory beetles, along the others pestilences, destroyed harvests and woods, killed countless people. The Cheshire cats conceived by the caprice of a rich guy that wants to pamper his descendant became a killing danger and the engines have been replaced by some modified elephants called megadonts. The climatic changes have dramatic consequences and the demographic pressure among the natural resources depletion are completing the nightmare.
We could say it’s an agonizing world, that should makes people live in to think about it. Unfortunately, even the awareness exists, the personal interests prevails the public ones. Everyone is more interested to catch more to self, to relaunch olds businesses, to put more money in the pockets or more calories in the body. That because calories become trade exchange. Some of the people are just waiting to hoard them; others are struggling to squash them from the decrepit bodies. The accumulation of energy has its price and its sense. The selfishness becomes a virtue and the altruism becomes predominant an issue.
In such world, Emiko, the windup girl, is struggling to survive; mobilizing her resources hoping that somewhere in that world there is a place for people like her. Obtained in Japanese laboratories and doomed from birth to be obedient, Emiko must fight not only against poor structure, that sacrificed her body’s functionality in behalf of look, but must guard herself against the attacks of those who believe is more comfortable to blame the ‘modified’ for the catastrophic present, than point the finger to the real culprits. Religious fanatics, frustrated, real crazies, even envious. Emiko has more enemies than she wants and can count only on a few people. The Anderson Gaijin seems to be a reliable support. Abandoned by her Japanese master on foreign realms because the plane ticket is more expensive than a obtaining a new toy, Emiko dream to the village she could lives in without look like a freak. She can afford a trip there? At least, she tries…
But the events evolve unpredictable.
Alongside Emiko – that is not absolutely central character in ‘The windup girl’ – other characters fight for their dreams. The apparently mild Anderson has his own plans. The sly Hock Seng waits for the right moment to start his own gainful plans. Gibson, “the spiritual father” of the modified people as Emiko, believes that he could still do something before his life go on. Jaidee “The Tiger of Bangkok” apparently disappears to soon from the plot. Kanya fights to catch the position of the ex-commander.
Every character has his own fight and everyone has the correct motivation, clever figured by the writer. Because the Bacigalupi’s characters are not positive or negative, but actuated by interests that direct their actions. They have weaknesses but also their aces in the hole. They have qualities clever and harmonious mixed with the flaws.
The action is sustained, ceaselessly evolving to a barely predictable denouement in the first pages. The details are carefully chosen and help building a depressing and unbelievable realistic environment. Nothing is left to chance: fight scenes, domestic scenes, stifling scrimmages, atmosphere of factories and plants, all are described with a particular skill, seldom met at authors with greater CV’s than Paolo’s. Everything shows a flawless documentation and suited style.
Actually, the thesis is not new for The windup girl’s author. `The calorie man`, featured in Twenty-Third Edition of Gardner Dozois’s ‘Year’s best SF’, is perfect for bringing the reader in the world that Emiko is part of. A story that made me reflect at that time.
Bacigalupi offers not just an excellent read, that no passionate of the genre should miss it, but a warning too. That we shouldn’t ignore.
You can find The Windup Girl on Amazon.