Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

This book by Colorado author Paolo Bacigalupi was recommended to me by one of the staff members at the Boulder Bookstore, and I'm intensely glad he told me about. The Windup Girl is one of the best science fiction stories I've read in years; in fact, I'd say it's the best science fiction story to come out in the last five to ten years.

Oil is a thing of the past and the genetic engineering companies have won. Set in Southeast Asia in the not-very-distant future, calories are the new fuel and corporate espionage is linked to finding and creating variant strains of food, animals, and even people. Bacigalupi expertly weaves seemingly disparate threads into a rich tapestry that crackles with a tension and electricity that surfaces with whip-crack intensity before its end.

Emiko is one of the New People, a genetically engineered creature designed and intended to serve and pleasure "real" humans at a whim. Anderson Lake is a "calorie man," an employee of one of the major genetic engineering corporations with machinations and plans that will bring him out of the spring factory he currently runs and into the upper echelons of his employer. Emiko finds herself drawn into Lake's world and at the center of warring political factions in Thai society that threaten to rip apart the Thai Kingdom forever. Racism, abuse, corruption, loyalty, and the question of what defines humanity all play central roles in this tale that echoes the tone of some of the best works in science fiction, including William Gibson's Neuromancer and Frank Herbert's Dune with elements of Blade Runner tossed in for good measure.

Bacigalupi's writing and vision possess a potency that has been lacking in science fiction of late. The Windup Girl is a story that pulls you in from the start and completely envelops the reader in its world until the last word on the last page. From Night Shade Books and available from your local, independent bookseller (shop local, shop makes a difference!)

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