Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

I don't know if I've ever read a book quite like The Windup Girl. Normally, I try to situate a book I've just read in relation to other books, no matter how tenuous and personal the connections may be (I can't explain why I always think of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a more interesting version of On the Road, for instance.)

But this, I'm at a loss. Nothing springs to mind. It so rarely happens, but The Windup Girl stands alone in my mind

And it has snuck up on me. I ended up reading this book over a long period of time, and while I never felt deeply affected by it noticeably, it ended up changing how I look at the world around me. I don't know how long it will last, but I've started to become hyperaware of waste, of packaging, of the calories that went into creating anything I use, particularly anything disposable. This wasn't a bolt from the blue, it was a slow creeping up of awareness. I make no claims that it's going to stick with me in the long-term, but it was interesting feeling how it snuck up and insinuated itself into my perceptions.

The world Bacigalupi creates is utterly unlike any I've seen, and convincing. He puts forward a post-Collapse civilization that has not fallen utterly to pieces (although it has disintegrated quite a bit), but which struggles to keep some technology going, while others campaign to limit how things can change, fearful of setting off another cataclysm. (The treadle-pump computer was mentioned only once, but illustrated so well to me the world.)

In this world, the city of Bangkok struggles to keep back the rising seas, and to do so, closes its borders in most ways to outsiders of any sort, refugees, or companies. But by the time the book has started, enough time has passed that inroads are starting to be made. Will they change the way the city exists, the politics that surround it? Yes, but probably not in the way you expect. Certainly not in any way I expected. 

In the centre of the struggles between the Environment Ministry and the Trade Ministry, which a representative of the "calorie companies' tries to exploit, there stands Emiko, the eponymous Windup Girl, a genetically modified human being, marked arbitrarily with a jerky, wind-up motion to single her out as other-than-human. Deserted in Bangkok, regarded as soulless by most of the world, subject to being composted if she is discovered without the proper bribes, Emiko suffers immense degradation, and yet, persists. Struggles. Despairs. Survives. 

I enjoyed The Windup Girl thoroughly, and it often took me by surprise. As I said, I've never read a book with quite the same feel. It's nice to be surprised.

Booklinks:

I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

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