September 26, 2010

The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl
Paolo Bacigalupi


(September 26, 2010)

Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, this is a remarkable first novel. In the 22nd century, the Kingdom of Thailand is an island of resistance in a world dominated by Calorie Companies and their plagues, carefully engineered to increase demand for their products and to punish their enemies. Oil is long gone, coal is a preciously-hoarded military resource, and the Bangkok methane monopoly, overseen by the Dung Lord, is a source of untold wealth.

The novel is a superbly observed reflection on business and power and their ramifications for Asian societies. This wonderful books is slightly marred by lapses in taste, Two or three scenes or torture and degradation go too far for too long. This would be unobjectionable if the book were truly interested in suffering (in the way, for example, that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is interested in men who hate women), but here torment merely provides extra motivation for characters whose behavior would be justified without it.

But there is much to admire in this book that embraces the tumult and complexity of business, rejecting the simplistic master narratives that animate so much business writing and almost all of the (remarkably scarce) current fiction about the world of work. People plan carefully here, and their planning goes up in flames or is discarded by a capricious government regulator or an inattentive assembly-line worker, and tomorrow we try again.