The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi: Book Review

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Cover of The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

2 Stars

Synopsis from GoodReads:

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Undercover 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…

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; she is an engineered being, crèche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism’s genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.

I didn’t love this one. I’m not really a fan of dystopian novels in general so that could be the problem. Mostly though, I didn’t like anybody. There was one guy that I kind of liked, really wanted to like, but his role turns out to be fairly small. The other characters were just jerks. And since everybody was a jerk, I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be rooting for. I don’t think there was really a good guy. There was just bad and less-bad.

Maybe this world felt a little too…possible. It’s set in a future where the big food companies basically control everything. We think the guys with the money control the world? Wait till the guys with the food decide to hold it back. Calories are some sort of commodity, energy is scarce, but at the same time, genetics has made huge leaps forward. How would you like some rice with only half the caloric content of “regular” rice so that you have to buy twice as much? You see how bad this place is?

I wanted to like Emiko, the windup girl, and I think I could have but all the scenes with her in them disturbed me. She’s been genetically engineered to give pleasure, no matter what her own thoughts are on what’s being done to her body. I almost gave up on the book completely in a couple of scenes where a woman was practically raping her for the pleasure of the crowd at the strip club they were both working at. She is different from most other windup people though (so called because they have been genetically engineered to have jerky body movements so that “normal” people know they’ve been genetically engineered); she wants a different life. She doesn’t accept where her life is leading and she starts trying to change her fate.

There was a whole lot more about revolutions and governments but I couldn’t follow it all very well on audio. With Jonathan Davis’s narration, I had a very hard time keeping up with which character was speaking. Emiko had a kind of breathless voice but all the men sounded basically the same. I would probably have done better with this in print but I still don’t think I would truly have enjoyed it.

This wasn’t my cup of tea but others who enjoy dystopian novels more than I do might want to give it a try.

Find author Paolo Bacigalupi on his website and Twitter.

Buy The Windup Girl at

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

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