55 pages • 1 hour readPaolo Bacigalupi
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The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi, is a science-fiction novel published in 2009. The book has won the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, the Compton Crook Award, and the Campbell Memorial Award.
The novel opens in the very distant future in Bangkok, Thailand. Climate change has rendered the world a global oven, and high walls prevent the city from flooding after the polar caps have melted and the sea level has risen. Anderson Lake represents the interests of AgriGen in Bangkok. He is what’s called a “calorie man,” one who works to procure new foodstuffs to prevent the world population from starving. He has taken this position not out of a selfless desire to help his fellow humans, but out of greed. Given the ravaged food supply, he seeks access to the Thai seedbank. He heads SpringLife factory, which is a front for his real interests. The factory provides a valuable service, as it harnesses energy sources and packages devices for fuel.
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Anderson’s right-hand man, Hock Seng, is a Chinese refugee and a “yellow card,” which means his safety is not assured due to his designation as an unwelcome and impatiently-tolerated immigrant. He proves himself valuable to Anderson, however, and his uneasy position, his tolerance of Anderson’s moods and American ways, and his ultimate desire to reestablish himself as a prosperous merchant by stealing the factory’s blueprints motivate him to stay and put up with Anderson. Anderson allies himself with Richard Carlyle and other business associates who smuggle in illegal and valuable commodities. Captain Jaidee Rojjanasukchai, a white shirt from the Ministry of Environment who is opposed to the selfish business interests of the Ministry of Trade, confiscates and burns illegal shipments to show both the smugglers and Akkarat, the head of the Trade Ministry, that they need to know their place.
Meanwhile, Emiko, the windup girl of the title, suffers abuse at the hands of Raleigh, the owner of the Ploenchit, a gentleman’s club, where Kannika, a kind of female pimp, abuses her. As a windup, Emiko straddles the divide between human and robot. She is a Japanese invention discarded by her patron, whom Emiko accompanied to Bangkok as a translator, secretary, and sexual companion. She has fallen a long way once her patron refused to take her with him because of the cost of transport. She finds protection under Raleigh, who pays bribes to keep her safe as he exploits her to men who ridicule her, are fascinated by her, and who return stealthily to have sex with her. Anderson encounters Emiko and informs her of villages of New People, windups like herself, who have shorn their innate obedience to live on their own and have formed communities.
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After Jaidee threatens trade with the burning of illegal goods, Akkarat and his associates arrange for the kidnapping of Jaidee’s wife, Chaya, and they send him a photograph of Chaya bound and gagged. His superior, General Pracha, orders Jaidee to make amends. Jaidee publicly confesses, is stripped of his rank, and has his head and eyebrows shaved to serve his penance in a Buddhist monastery far from the city. Before he does so, however, he confronts Akkarat and his men and is pushed from the roof of a building to his death. His disturbed spirit remains earthbound, however, and he appears to Kanya, in order to finish what he started.
By Paolo Bacigalupi