A Review of The Wind-up Girl

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Science Fiction set in non-Western cultures can be very interesting, and lately I’ve been lucky to find two that are very immersive, The Wind-Up Girl and Three Body problem. This review will focus on the former.

The Wind-Up Girl (by Paolo Bacigalupi) take place in post-apocalyptic Bangkok. The story is about cultural and character clashes, even among those work towards the same goals. Ths story has been called eco-punk, as it looks at (among other things) the effects of genetically hacked plants, animals and people.

The story involves a power struggle between the Thai government and foreign interests as well as within the government as two ministries vie for power and influence. However, none of the point of view characters are powerful figures in the Thai government, giving that internal struggle less prominence until much later in the story.

A Chinese Malaysian refugee is a key point of view character, as is his boss, an American spy pretending to be an industrialist. The titular character is a genetically modified human (both superior and inferior to us) abandoned by her Japanese owner, and forced to live in degrading circumstances. Of all the characters she is the least predictable and often seems to work against her own self-interests. Other characters include enforcers for the government and shiftless ex-pats who seem to live in alcoholic stupors.

This is a very well-written piece, with immersive scenery playing at all of your senses, as a post-apocalyptic Bangkok tries to fight off rising sea levels, foreign interests, and degrading infrastructure.

An interesting aspect of this narrative is how one character rises from minor sidekick to a force to be reckoned with.

My one quibble with this story, and it is that, a small quibble, occurs late in the story. One of the characters needs to solve a puzzle or there might be dire consequences. She happens to come to the wrong answer, but in acting on it, stumbles upon one of only three people who could correct her. She realizes this opportunity and manages to get the correct information.

This feels unearned. There’s an old writer’s adage that coincidence should never benefit a protagonist, only make things worse. Coincidentally being in the same place a this person, and recognizing the opportunity, with no justification, breaks that guideline and feels like a cop-out (The writer needed it to happen but couldn’t figure out a better way to do it).

There is also a sense that the last quarter of the book is rushed, with too much happening after such a lazy start. Some details that feel like they should be key are washed away, and plot threads are left dangling as charcters complete their story arcs.

Overall, this is an interesting read for the patient reader. Be ready to wait for explanations, be ready to have to fill in missing pieces. It’s worth it.