Review of The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

I always have a hard time buying dystopias. They just don’t mesh well with my optimistic outlook.

I still enjoyed The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. 

A generation or two before the story starts, as the oceans swelled from global warming and the oil ran out, western calorie companies created genetically altered plagues that attacked any foodstuffs not created, by them, to be resistant. The plagues spiralled out of control, and now the calorie companies are scrambling to stay ahead of the nightmare that they created. 

Thailand is one of the few places outside of calorie company control, mostly because they have their own seed bank and because their Environmental Ministry has been working to keep them isolated and protected. 

The calorie men want access to Thailand’s seed bank. The Ministry of Trade wants to let them in. The Environmental Ministry doesn’t. 

I had a hard time getting into the story at first because none of the characters seem very sympathetic at first glance. 

Anderson is a spy from a calorie company. He is in Bangkok to further their ends, and he’s using a power factory as his cover. 

Hock Seng works at Anderson’s factory. He is a refugee from China who lost his family and fortune to cultural purges and is frantic to get his sense of security back. 

Emiko, the titular windup girl, is a genetically modified woman from Japan, created to serve. She compulsively obeys any order and is essentially a living sex toy. She has been branded as an invasive species by the Environmental Ministry and they will kill her if they find her. Her every movement, with it’s implanted tell-tale jerking, threatens to give her away, and her tiny pores keep her in constant danger of overheating. 

Jaidee is a captain in the Environmental Ministry. He’s seen as a hero until he’s forced into disgrace by the Ministry of Trade. Kanya, his former second-in-command steps into his shoes and his memory haunts her.

The pacing is a little slow, especially in the opening, but once the story gets moving it’s very compelling. Emiko, Jaidee, and Kanya all eventually grew on me, and even Anderson had a likable side. I never did care much about Hock Seng, but at least interesting things did happen to him.

The best thing about the book was how immersed I became in the world. The language was very evocative, and the style would seep into my thought patterns for a while after I put the book down.

Despite the book’s dark outlook, the ending was surprisingly hopeful. Overall, I’d give it a 4/5.

About Jamie

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cats. She has over 160 short fiction credits, and has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Escape Pod. She has a novella and two short story collections available from Air and Nothingness Press. In addition to writing, she spends her time reading, playing tabletop RPGs, baking, and hiking. You can find her online at

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