Whatever else you might say about Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, you’ll have to admit you’ve never read anything quite like it.
You’ve read post-apocalyptic tales no doubt. You’ve read stories set in Thailand. You may even have read post-apocalyptic fantasies about the consequences of climate change and gene experiments. But I doubt you’ve read a novel whose protagonist is a genetically engineered product who turns out to be as human as she is product.
Bacigalupi has posited a world in which oceans have risen to the point where only pumps keep Bangkok from drowning, where vehicles and other machine run on “Kink Springs” (Never did quite figure out what those were) rather than fossil fuels, and where the major battles–both political and corporate–are over control of seeds which produce food. Amid all this, human nature remains pretty much the same. Struggles over power, sex, and money dominate. Bacigalupe’s characters are fascinating and appropriate, and the plot twists and turns its way in surprising manners.
Nothing, however, is as surprising as Emiko. A non-human (or is she?) sex slave to be both pitied and cheered on as she tries to fight her way out of her designed role as an obedient cipher into something approaching an independent actor in her own right. It’s a harrowing and fascinating road she travels as she pursues, or tries to change her pre-determined destiny. She becomes a metaphor for all of us as we attempt to determine and either follow or transform the grand plan that may or may not be (that’s the mystery, isn’t it?) laid out for us.
This is more than the standard science fiction. It’s a story of the universal human dilemma. Give it a go.