The Windup Girl Summary

Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl

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The Windup Girl Summary

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Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl was well received when it was published in 2009. It was the author’s debut novel and was included among Time magazine’s top ten fiction books of the year.  Among its other accolades were the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards. The book is considered part of the biopunk canon, a subgenre within science fiction that is related to and sometimes intermingled with cyberpunk. Biopunk is generally futuristic with respect to setting,and commonly has among its themes various forms of biotechnology, such as genetic manipulation, and fictional devastating diseases.

Bacigalupi’s novel takes place in the twenty-third century in Bangkok, Thailand. Global warming has taken its toll on the earth. Carbon fuels are no longer available and the ocean levels have risen. Giant corporations control the world’s food supply. The companies are called calorie companies and use what are known as “genehacked” seeds in the production process. The main objective of the corporations is to stay a step ahead of the always mutating diseases that attack crops worldwide. Various forms of warfare are used to create demands for the products, including the use of bioterrorism and traditional armies as well as individuals who utilize subversive techniques. The genetically modified crops typically lead to plagues. Natural seeds are rare, having been replaced by the genetically engineered versions. A child queen is the reigning monarch in Thailand.

AgriGen is one of the food-producing companies and Anderson Lake serves as it representative in Thailand. He is considered an economic hitman, involved with doing whatever is necessary to create markets. He owns a factory that makes kink-springs, a product that in the future is used as a method to store energy. A new version, that will render others obsolete, is to be mass produced.  The true mission of the factory, however, is locating the secret Thailand seedbank. Bangkok is a unique place in that it still uses its own seeds rather than depending on the monopolistic companies for its food staples. A black market also exists for foods and goods that are not readily available. Anderson has a manager, Hock Seng, running his company. Hock Seng plans to steal the kink-spring designs from Anderson and use them to recapture his previous success in the business world.

Emiko is a Japanese windup girl. A windup girl is a human, genetically modified and grown in a lab in Japan. A Japanese businessman once owned Emiko but at some point she was left in Bangkok by him, or possibly sold. She has become the property of a sex club owner named Raleigh and is used as a popular attraction at the club. The mistreatment of Emiko will play a role in power struggles and the fall of the Thai government. Emiko learns information about the hidden seedbank and shares it with Anderson. He in turn gives her information about a refuge in the northern regions of Thailand where her type of people live. She yearns to go there and dedicates herself to being able to one day pay off Raleigh and be free of the club. Political unrest and intrigue move the plot forward.The true goal of Anderson’s company leads him to have connections with officials in the Thai government. The main officials are the heads of the Department of Trade and the Environment Ministry. The Environment Ministry is charged with keeping foreign interests out their biosphere.

Corruption is rampant in Bangkok, allowing for Raleigh to own a windup, Emiko, illegally, and for Anderson to use bribes to enable his company to bring contraband into the country.  Ultimately, factions within the government develop conflicting interests and civil war breaks out.  A sequence of events leads to Emiko becoming a fugitive and Anderson being wrongly accused of a murder. Diseases continue to proliferate and eventually Anderson’s factory is burned down.  Anderson never does find the hidden seed bank, nor does Emiko find the talked-of village where windups supposedly lived together. Andersonironically dies from the plague that began at his own factory. There is a note of hope at the end of the novel as Emiko is promised by a scientist named Gibbons that he will develop a race of windups—or New People, as they are now called—from her DNA that will be able to reproduce and help her achieve her dream of a life with people like herself.

In 2010 The Washington Post praised The Windup Girl and Paolo Bacigalupi saying that, “Not since William Gibson’s pioneering cyberpunk classic, Neuromancer (1984), has a first novel excited science fiction readers as much as Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl.” Citing the Locus Award and the prestigious Nebula Award of the Science Fiction Writers of America as glowing validations of the book, the review adds, “But the third reason to pick up The Windup Girl is for its harrowing, on-the-ground portrait of power plays, destruction and civil insurrection in Bangkok.”