There’s nothing quite like reading a story about a scary future that isn’t out of the realm of possibility to keep me up at night worrying. I have already read The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi in which water is power and power is scarce. Now, I’ve finally gotten around to reading The Windup Girl, in which calories are the power of the day and, of course, they’re not exactly abundant. It was worrisome enough that I spent a lot of my time reading it stress eating. Which, given the scarcity of calories in the book, I felt at turns guilty and grateful for my stress snacks.
The Windup Girl is set in Bangkok, Thailand and gives us the perspectives of several characters. One, Anderson Lake, is a a calorie man running a factory as a cover for his mission to find seed stock that AgriGen could utilize. Emiko is a windup girl which is in this futuristic hungry world what they call a engineered human being. She is a human but modified so she can be easily recognized as a windup, infertile, and with instincts to serve. There’s also Hock Seng who is a refugee from China and works in Lake’s factory, and Jaidee who works for the Thai government in protecting the seed stock. There is a lot to keep track of in this book. The world is so fully developed, intricate, and complex that reading, especially with the varied perspectives, sometimes felt a bit overwhelming. It was certainly a ride the wave read. The first few chapters I really had to trust that Bacigalupi would take to me to a point where things made sense if I just kept reading.
I would love to say that eventually everything made sense that the book tied up all the loose ends and with a complex little knot, but I don’t think that’s true and I don’t think, with this book, that that’s even the purpose. By the end of the book I understood the world a little bit better but, more importantly, understood the characters. Bacigalupi gives us the perspective of somebody on every side of the battle in this book. The corporations, the creations, the people, and the government all get their say and that many perspectives never leaves anyone with a feeling of finality. Luckily, I don’t think that was the point of the story. The point was to show each of the perspectives and the complexities of the calorie crisis this future world (*cough maybe not too far in the future cough cough*) is experiencing. Each of the characters was beautifully developed and when I was reading their perspective it made sense for me that they should get their way…until I read the next perspective.
This book ended up being a sort of character study when characters are in crisis. Which is when most good character studies take place, anyway. The story never feels preachy, and given the subject matter it would be very easy to tend towards that. Instead, Bacigalupi built a world around his characters that is as complex and full as they are, which makes this a beautiful and slightly scary read.
Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.