Our book club selection this month was Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, a post-apocalyptic style romp through a futuristic Bangkok. This book doesn’t come with one main character, it comes with a slew of characters we follow through different paths of the story that sort of come together to tell the whole tale from multiple angles. The reason for this becomes obvious when you realize that this was a debut novel for Mr. Bacigalupi, who at the time publishing The Windup Girl had previously released only short stories and the like.
Let’s talk a little about the description you’re given from the publisher. “Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko…” Okay, except for a few things here, it may sound a little Undercover Boss here but I can assure you that isn’t what it is, he’s supposed to be some master of corporate espionage or something. Also, he doesn’t comb Bangkok’s street markets, he simply happens to be looking through one at the very beginning of the book and spots a fruit he hasn’t seen before. He also doesn’t encounter Emiko on the streets, he finds her in a super seedy brothel with every night specials on raping the mechanical girl.
I really didn’t like this book, even though I really wanted to. It has promise, it’s an idea that’s relevant to current events with food shortages and global warming and whatnot. The use of a windup person to replace the AI/robot genre wasn’t much of a stretch but again we all pretty much believe this is coming in a very near future. I also really like the post-apocalyptic scene for the basis of books, movies, cosplay, whatever. This book, however, just really didn’t do it for me. It could be the politics, being an American we’re a little overwhelmed with politics and the shit storm they bring, and this book is full of political back and forth and a war between two factions.
(image from Goodreads.com)
I was also pretty put off by the introduction of several words used that I presume were Thai(?) throughout the book. It makes sense in some situations, little knowledge bombs here and there but in dialog, it really doesn’t make sense. To me, it makes it seem as if we’re to believe the native people are all speaking English with the occasional Thai word thrown in, but why would that make sense? This isn’t an American or English run country in the future and to me, it just made it confusing. Especially when different characters used different words for the same things.
There was also the issue of repetition of the story premise throughout the book as if Bacigalupi thought maybe since you’d gone 20 pages since he last explained how the economy works, that maybe he should spell it all out for you again. Wouldn’t want you to get confused…just bored. Like the fact that he has to bring up kink-springs, something I’m still not even sure about, but apparently, they run everything by… holding energy…maybe? He can tell us 500 times that there are kink-springs in the world or he could have spent a paragraph or two describing them and what they do, he chose the former. It reminded me of a trick we use sometimes in NaNoWriMo in order to get word count up by adding extra descriptors to a word as much as possible, word count is king, content is not. The Tiger of Bangkok is a pretty solid nickname for someone, I probably don’t need to be reminded practically every time someone brings up Jaidee or says his name that he was also called The Tiger of Bangkok, I can probably remember that.
Then there were the rape scenes. One really would have been more than enough to describe the mistreatment of Emiko at the hands of her new patron (read pimp and also owner), but we’re reminded several times about the treatment, how it makes her feel, how humiliating it is, and how absolutely disgusting humanity really is deep down. We only had to deal with one scene of megadont death (thankfully) but when it comes to rape scenes, Bacigalupi really wanted to make sure you were understanding the full depth of depravity he was describing here. Which, I could understand if it moved the story into a new direction or was some aid to the plot, but really I think Bacigalupi just enjoyed literarily raping Emiko. After all that, he gives us no real closure on that deal either, completely neglecting to tell us what happens to the one actually doing the abusing and leaving us only with a quick “oh yeah she killed him” type of outcome for the pimp/brothel owner.
It’s not that the book is the worst thing I’ve ever read, but when one of the main characters found himself or herself in a tight situation, I kept really hoping they’d just die already and let the book end. I really think it would have benefitted by a few more drafts of the book and a good deal more editing. There’s a story under all that rubbish, and I think it could have been an interesting and good story. Instead, we’re left scratching our heads and not really certain of what just happened, if we’re happy about the outcome, or if anyone in the story really changed over the course of the book.