First blog of the new year! And my first book review of the year… All the cool science-fiction literary fads seem to get a “-punk” suffix of one form or another, and THE WINDUP GIRL — set in the universe of Bacigalupi’s amazing short stories “Calorie Man” and “Yellow-Card Man” — earns a couple of these designations. It’s very much “culturepunk,” like Ian McDonald’, it really gets under the skin of the novel’s setting (in this case, future Bangkok), and it’s also what could be termed “springpunk,” because with fossil fuels at the most scarce, the bulk of machinery is driven by laborers or elephants driving energy into huge springs.
Energy is measured in calories in THE WINDUP GIRL, and waves of virulent,
crop-destroying blights have eliminated so many food crops that it’s up to huge,
Monsanto-variant seed companies to provide the world with the genetically
engineered and trademarked food that it needs, which, of course, creates an
immense amount of cash and power for the corporations.
These ideas, as Bacigalupi presents them, would make a great book alone, but
the author takes the additional step of immersing the plot in Southeast Asia,
home to cultures that can seem as alien to Westerners as any civilization on
Mars. Bacigalupi triumphs in his interpretation of the cultural attitudes and
biases of his diverse cast of characters, including a scheming refugee from
genocide; a scheming U.S. agricultural Quiet America type; a scheming, but heroic Thai patriot
policeman; a scheming genetically constructed woman engineered only to serve and
is designed to be the ultimate human, save for her telltale, jerky, “clockwork”
movement — you get the idea. Having lived in Southeast Asia for four years, I
can attest that the cultural side rings true.