Paolo Bacigalupi: “The Windup Girl” (c) 2009.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s sci fi novel “The Windup Girl” is a complex, intense, compelling, thought-provoking story about biotechnology and genetic engineering  in the 23rd century.

The novel received multiple awards:

Hugo Award for Best Novel (2010); tied with “The City & the City” by China Miéville.
Nebula Award for Best Novel (2010)
John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
Locus Award and Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel (2010)
Seiun Award & Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis Awards (2012)


“The Windup Girl”

The 23rd century:  Many countries have been devastated by rising sea levels, depleted carbon fuel sources and deadly bio-engineered plagues. Food production is controlled by giant corporations that have developed genetically modified crops and sterile seeds, replacing the original genetic seed stocks of the world’s plants.

Thailand is in a desperate fight for survival.  Bangkok, which is below sea level, is protected by levees and pumps. Thailand still has its own reserve of original and genetically viable seeds.

Thailand is a monarchy but the real political power is in the hands of three men:
Somdet Chaopraya, regent for the child queen; General Pracha, head of the Environment Ministry; and Minister Akkarat, head of the Trade Ministry.  The Environment Ministry’s mission is to protect Thailand from illegal bio-engineered products.  The Trade Ministry’s mission is to open up Thailand to more trade with the outside world.  An uneasy and fragile relationship exists between them.  Violent conflicts and civil wars are a real and constant threat.

Anderson Lake is the AgriGen representative in Thailand.  He owns a factory to manufacture energy-storage kink-springs from gene-engineered algae.  However his real mission is to find the original seed banks hidden somewhere in Thailand.

The “Windup People” or “New People” are gene-engineered humans, designed by the Japanese to create a young work force for an aging Japanese population.  Windups are designed and trained to work in many areas of Japanese society.  They are trained to obey and to value order and discipline.  However, under extreme circumstances, Windups can overcome their training and turn into “rogue” Windups: able to move very fast, with enough momentum and energy and force to kill a person very quickly.

Emiko is a Windup Girl who is designed and trained to be a modern-day courtesan.  She accompanies her Japanese master to Bangkok but he abandons her in Bangkok when he returns to Japan.  She survives working for a bar owner.  As a bio-engineered human, she is illegal and would be killed instantly in Thailand.  The bar owner pays the necessary bribes because she has become a very lucrative part of his business.

Then she meets Anderson Lake.  He tells her of an enclave, a refuge for Windups in northern Thailand.  Emiko becomes determined to escape to the enclave.  She discovers, quite accidentally, her ability to walk and run very fast, and an unsuspected physical strength when she faces threatening situations on the streets of the city.

One evening, two of the most powerful men in Thailand, regent Somdet Chaopraya and Trade Minister Akkarat are at the bar.  The bar owner puts Emiko through a humiliating and degrading performance.  Emiko is pushed beyond her limits, she kills Somdet Chaopraya and escapes.

The Trade Minister Akkarat accuses the Environment Minister General Pracha of a plot to assassinate Chaopraya.  Violence between the political factions turns into civil war.  Pracha is killed.  Akkarat emerges as the most powerful man in Thailand but more upheavals follow.  Bangkok is flooded as its pumps and levees are sabotaged.

Emiko survives in the flooded city.  Among the other survivors is a former Agrigen scientist, Gibbons, a brilliant geneticist.  Emiko is sterile, but Gibbons gives her hope when he tells her that he can re-engineer her DNA to create fertile New People.