Besides being dam good this is a book that solve the energy crisis with springs. They drive everything cars, appliances even weapons. The springs are loaded by gene-mutated elephants big as a three floor house. That amused my son and his girlfriend to no end when I told them. I’ll allow the author the benefit of changing reality so that batteries, hydro power and wind power won’t be feasible, all in the benefit of having a good story to read.
The world Paolo Bacigalupi paints is a gritty post-gasoline world where cheap energy is a thing of the past. World trade have more or less ceased, most things are done local due to the prohibiting costs of travel. The most important thing in the world is Calories. Calories have replaced money. Most of the food outside Thailand is produced and sold by ruthless international Calorie Companies with their own patented genetically altered brands. These companies helped world recession by releasing plagues that killed off competing brands and natural food stocks. Access to original genetic material is becoming more and more important as mutated viruses attacks plants, animals and humans. Thailand is rumored to have a cache of genetic material that helped the country survive.
Protecting ones borders against plagues and diseases have become of critical importance, outbreaks are ruthlessly fought down, villages and ship are burnt on a mere suspicion. The Environment Ministery is in charge of protecting Thailand. Their troops are called ‘White Coats’. The White Coats are involved in a power struggle with the Trade Ministery who wants to open trade with the rest of the world.
Bangkok is a city about to explode.
The story let us follow a handful of characters at the backdrop of a dystrophy cityscape who’s inhabitants does anything to survive.
Jaidee is a charistmatic, driven but not very bright ‘White Coat’. He is the hero of the people, the Tiger of Bangkok. He is a hothead and one day he will go to far. I rather liked his character, it has Elan.
Anderson (I know, agent Anderson from Matrix comes to mind) the Calorie man is in Bangkok on a secret mission involving the genetic material and an escaped geneticist named Gibbon (from the ape?) the Thai’s are supposed to hide. He is not a very nice guy.
Hock Seng is a Yellow card working as a manager for Anderson. He has his own agenda that involves him getting his fortune back by stealing blueprints from Mr Anderson’s Safe. His situation is that of refugees barely tolerated by the Thai’s. His people where run out of China by a revolution of some kind and now they exist here on a pittance.
The protagonist is Emiko and she is an artificial person, a windup as the Thais call New People. Originally created as a secretary, translator and sex toy for a japanese business man who dumped her in Bangkok after a visit. Taken in by a brothel owner she is in constant fear for her life from ‘white coats’, who would end her if they could. She lives a life of constant abasement and abuse. Until one day she meets a foreigner (Anderson) that tells her about villages up north where New People live free.
Everything is colored in shades of grey. Bangkok is a city of corruption and bribery where everyone looks out for themselves. None of the characters are especially likable. I do like Emiko even though she is inhumane at times, but she grows through the story, learns more about herself and the world and change. She goes through more than survival. She is the hope of the book.
Every chapter has a character telling their point of view. It worked well for me as they have very distinct voices that makes it easy to identify them.
There is a lot of complicated politics involved in the plot and I had to put the book down a few times to sort it all out. The one problem I had with the book is that it takes a while until you get to when the action starts. I put the book away for a day or two in the beginning because of that.
The Windup girl reminds me a lot of Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash in the beginning with the slow winding up of the story until it releases into frenetic action. It is a beautifully written gritty dystrophic bio-punk I would recommend to all readers of science fiction.