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review 2019-08-17 03:51
Winding Until It Breaks
The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

Some science fiction authors have fantastic ideas but are not great storytellers. Some are gifted storytellers but their is nothing particularly original about their ideas. Bacigalupi is one of the few SF authors who excels at both. The windup Girl is filled with brilliant ideas, but it also an absorbing political thriller that could have worked even without the SF elements.


The novel is set in Thailand in the near future. Environmental catastrophes have decimated the human population and most modern technology is gone. This world is post-oil and most mechanical devices are powered by springs that are compressed using animal power such as genetically engineered over-sized elephants called megodonts. New agricultural blights have destroyed most of the world's food supply, and nearly all fruits and vegetables have gone extinct. Most global power is in the hands of the "calorie companies" that control the remaining food supplying with grains genetically engineered to resist the plagues. Thailand is one of the last holdouts free of the calorie companies' control.


We follow four main characters with very different backgrounds. Anderson Lake is an American businessman in Bangkok posing as the manager of a kink-spring factory, but actually a front for AngriGen looking for the secrets of Thailand's food supply. Hock Seng is an ethnic Chinese Malaysian refugee who was once a prosperous business man but is now reduced to working for Lake who he despises and actively plots against. Jaidee is a Captain in the powerful Environment Ministry that enforces Thailand's harsh environmental protection laws. He is also the only honest man in an extremely corrupt ministry, which makes him loved by the people and hated by the government. Finally we have Emiko, the windup girl of the title. She is a Japanese made "new person," genetically designed to be beautiful and strong, but also obedient. Abandoned on the streets of Bangkok by her Japanese owner, she is reduced to working in a live sex show.


The plot of The Windup Girl moves so fast that whatever you think is going to be the main plot in one chapter gets swept away by the press of events in the next chapter. There is a plot about mysterious engineered fruit, which is replaced by a criminal conspiracy, that is replaced by political plots and counter-plots, then an epidemic, a revolution, a deviant scientist, assassinations, and on it goes. Everyone hates everyone else, everyone betrays everyone, and the only sympathetic character is Emiko who is so abused it is heartbreaking. She is actually superior to everyone else, but has been trained to believe she is garbage.


While the novel is named for Emiko, she gets less than a quarter of the narrative. Windup is an insulting term for genetically engineered humans, but they are not mechanical, only biologically enhanced. The title may be a play on the idea of the kink-springs that power all the machines in the city. If you wind a spring too tightly it will eventually break and shatter in all directions. The entire story is about pushing a situation until it explodes, and nothing is pushed harder or explodes more destructively than Emiko.

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review 2019-01-03 02:39
Epic Snoozefest, An Emperor in Need of Clothes...
The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

I gave up circa p100. I don't care about any of the characters and there is no discernable plot after 1/5th of the book. The writing is repetative and the ideas not nearly as original as many seem to think. My faith in winning awards as an indicator of quality is further eroded; it's down to bedrock, now.

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text 2019-01-01 22:41
Reading progress update: I've read 82 out of 508 pages.
The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

Struggling with this; so far I haven't latched on to any of the (too many) protagonists and can't see why it's such a celebrated multi-award winner.

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text 2018-12-28 23:15
Reading progress update: I've read 18 out of 508 pages.
The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

Really early days but heavy going so far.

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review 2017-03-01 13:01
Cyber World: Tales of Humanity's Tomorrow
Cyber World: Tales of Humanity's Tomorrow - Paolo Bacigalupi,Stephen Graham Jones,Alyssa Wong,Saladin Ahmed,Cat Rambo,Nisi Shawl,E. Lily Yu,Madeline Ashby,Joshua Viola,Jason Heller

[I received an e-copy of this book through NetGalley.]

A collection of short stories with virtual reality, AI and technology themes in general. Despite the 'cyberpunk' flair, I agree with the curators: it's not so much cyberpunk in its original meaning, as dealing with various ideas that fit our current societies more than the 'old cyberpunk' feeling.

* "Serenade:" 3/5

A hacker decrypting data on an old USB sticks realises that said data is not about future useful information, but memories.

* "The Mighty Phin:" 3/5

In a prison ship controlled by an AI, not everything is as it looks, and truth may be more difficult to stomach than the characters think at first. Bit of an abrupt ending, though, when I think about how it could've been more developed.

* "Reactions:" 3/5

What a drone pilot pumped up on battle drugs goes through when the operation he's on is suddenly cancelled... but not what's still lingering in his organism. I found it interesting, although, like the story before it, I'd have liked some more development (especially regarding the soldier's decision to break his family).

* "The Bees of Kiribati:" 5/5

Chilling because even though this doesn't exist (yet), the principles behind the murders in this story could very well be applied in other ways. It also raises the old but still accurate ethical question: would you kill a few people, even babies, if it meant being able to save many more?

* "The Rest Between Two Notes:" 2/3

Promising theme (a teenager killing her mother repeatedly in virtual reality), but I found the plot too muddled in places. The resolution brought at the end wasn't too clear--I wouldn't mind in a novel, but in short stories it's another matter.

* "The Singularity is In Your Hair:" 5/5

Touching and horrible. A girl suffering from a degenerative disease, who can only experience living through virtual reality, performs jobs and meets people thanks to an AI who may or may not be so benevolent. The promise of one day being fully uploaded to virtual space, and leaving the meat behind instead of facing the prospect of her impending death, keep her going. And she desperately hopes this will come true sooner than later.

* "Panic City:" 5/5

In an underground city that is both a refuge and a prison, people have been living for generations following models and using technology that are gradually failing. When something threatens to break an opening into this 'homeostatic' environment, the AI controlling the city has to make a decision: is their original programming really ideal in this case?

* "The Faithful Soldier, Prompted:" 4/5

A veteran from corporate wars receives prompts on his augmented reality system, even though the war is over. While such defective prompts are known to be useless, and should be discarded, these seem different... and so he follows them, desperate in his hopes that the rewards will save the woman he loves. I liked the writing here--even the prompts sounded poetic.

* "Your Bones Will Not Be Unknown:" 4/5

An assassin is sent to kill a rival boss, knowing full well there are little chances of success here. But what the boss has in mind for them is not necessarily death, and could even actually be a gift.

* "Staunch:" 2/5

A group of kids-hackers-rebels, led by a doctor who used to be part of a legendary team, travel through what's left of the UK to save the life of one of their own. Though the plot itself was a bit weak, I liked the technological problems used in it (replacement organs shutting down if the firmware's outdated or the copyright has changed hands, etc.)—definitely freaky.

* "Other People's Thoughts:" 2/5

About empathy, telepathic powers and gender fluidity. Good themes, and I would've loved actually liking the story, but it was more descriptive than actual plot, and I found it too weak to hold my interest.

* "WISYOMG:" 1/5

Almost skipped that one. The style and character weren't appealing, and I'm still not sure what was the idea. Warning people against body mods and fads? It was hard to follow, so I'm really not sure.

* "We Will Take Care of Our Own:" 2/5

Of corrupt politicians and corporations trying to make money by officially solving problems, and officiously sweeping them under the carpet. Again, good theme, especially since the politician has a skeleton of her own in the closet, but in terms of plot and development, it wasn't strong nor long enough.

* "A Song Transmuted:" 3/5

A young musician comes up with a new concept to be music, rather than simply playing it—spurred by her relationship with her grandfather, his way of encouraging her to meet other people and play music with her, and this in spite of a dishonest colleague stealing her idea. Good, though not groundbreaking.

* "It's Only Words:" 2/5

A sort of neo-Luddite theme, of a boy writing his school project on paper when everybody else is constantly connected to the web and not doing anything in an "analogue" way anymore. I'm not sure where this story was going, though: I felt that something was missing, that the point wasn't strongly made enough at the end, because nothing really changes, and the people targetted may not even have understood what was happening?

* "Small Offerings:" 5/5

Horrific but fascinating. A story about the means that may be necessary, in a future and over-polluted world, for people to carry healthy children to term, by sacrificing others.

* "Darkout:" 2/5

Good build-up to something bigger, in a society where everybody's living under the camera's eye... but the end just fell flat, and nothing really happened.

* "Visible Damage:" 3/5

A hacker goes on the trail of a nascent AI, in the hopes of finding it before everyone else obliterates it. Interesting, but a bit confusing.

* "The Ibex on the Day of Extinction:" 4/5

A man far from his family comes home to find everybody and everything gone—no GPS, no radio, no internet, and only empty clothes left behind.
I kind of suspected what had happened early on. Still, I liked this story. Sometimes all I need is for the conclusion to vindicate what I'm already thinking.

* "How Nothing Happens:" 1/5

Kind of what it says on the tin? I get the basic idea, but the way it was developed didn't grab my attention.

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