Review: Windup Girl
In case you didn’t notice, the Hugo Award Finalists were announced just a bit ago. Among the contenders was listed WINDUP GIRL, by Paolo Bacigalupi. There has been all sorts of hype about this novel. People are heralding it as a masterpiece, or as a frightening look into our future. And it’s true, on the surface the ideas that make up the setting seem pretty outstanding.
WINDUP GIRL takes place in a future Bangkok in a post-oil era. Genehacking and generipping have helped create some deadly virus mutations that kill people, animals, and plants alike. It is in this future that the most valuable commodities to the masses are calories. Every action in this novel is weighed against its energy cost versus its energy output. One of the main PoVs, Anderson, is undercover in Bangkok to discover new food sources that his company can exploit. Emiko is the Windup Girl, an artificially engineered person whom people (and religion) in general despise. As we mentioned, the setting seems pretty interesting. Unfortunately we need more than setting to enjoy the novel.
WINDUP GIRL begins without a hook. The pacing is extremely slow. It took a good 100 pages for our interest to be pulled in–the novel is only 350 pages long. The most frustrating thing about it? At times we couldn’t put our finger on what we didn’t like. It wasn’t clear. You see, we like to discuss the books we are reading. What we like. What we hate. We soon realized that it was this very issue of clarity that was hurting the novel, and our ability to get sucked into the story.
Bacigalupi spends a lot of time talking about this future he has envisioned. Yet for all the pages dedicated to showing us the setting, none of it is clear. We get that the climate is hot, and the town is dirty. We are told about the animosity that different factions in the city hold for each other. But we don’t really FEEL what the city is like. There is a revolution brewing in Bacigalupi’s story, but we can’t seem to care much about it. It is emotionless.
The characters are much the same. Instead of focusing on how the Emiko (you know, the title character of the story supposedly) is unique, and showing her grow, we are treated to scene after scene of her being used and abused as a sex toy. And really, that is almost the entirety of her “screen time.” Anderson doesn’t seem to care about anything, and assumes everything will work itself out. If he doesn’t care, why should we? Jaidee is flat, and his lauded “never give up” and “fight on” attitude never really fully reaches maturity.
As mentioned before, the pacing is slow. People stand around and reminisce over a past that is never clearly realized for the reader. Yet, contrary to the pacing, the novel is actually a quick read. Maybe this was a result of hoping that something awesome would come in and completely change our view of the story. Bacigalupi writes well, but this particular story isn’t told well. There is a difference. We’ve also read around that people who actually understand the whole science thing (aka not us), will be put off by the science in this SF novel. But we can’t lend out opinions to this much. Some of it seemed hinky, but we aren’t engineers.
Does this novel deserve the Hugo? We don’t think so. Much like BONESHAKER, we feel like WINDUP GIRL had loads of potential, but fell far short of reaching it. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good either. All that being said, we were a bit reminded of Ian McDonald’s RIVER OF GODS and BRASYL, which we had a hard time getting in to. Perhaps we just aren’t the right crowd for these types of novels, but if you like one, you may like the other.
Lastly, we don’t speak Thai. At all. There quite a few times when even the context of the sentence couldn’t help us figure out what the heck people were saying. A simple three-page glossary would have done wonders.
Recommended Age: 18 and up.
Language: Tons. One character’s name is the F-word.
Violence: Quite a bit, but it isn’t ever very clear.
Sex: Uh, yeah. It is almost always violent, brutal, and shock-oriented. Hence the 18 and up recommendation.
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