Monday, August 12, 2013

Biological Dystopia

The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl 
by Paolo Bacigalupi

“We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.”  ― Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl

I was most impressed by the author's rich imagination displayed in this dystopic science fiction novel. There is also fast-paced action and colorful characters. It is all set in twenty-third century Thailand. Global warming has raised the levels of world's oceans, carbon fuel sources have become depleted, and manually wound springs are used as energy storage devices. Biotechnology is dominant and mega corporations (called calorie companies) control food production through 'genehacked' seeds, and use bioterrorism, private armies and economic hit men to create markets for their products. Frequent catastrophes, such as deadly and widespread plagues and illness, caused by genetically modified crops and mutant pests, ravage entire populations. The natural genetic seed stock of the world's plants has been almost completely supplanted by those that are genetically engineered to be sterile.
The current monarch of Thailand is a child queen. The capital city is below sea level and is protected from flooding by levees and pumps. The three most powerful men in Thailand are the Somdet Chaopraya (regent for the child queen), the chief of the Environment Ministry General Pracha, and the chief of the Trade Ministry Akkarat. The story focuses on Emiko, a "windup girl," (they refer to themselves as "New People") a humanoid GM organism used as a slave, genetically programmed to seek and obey a master. Also of interest is Anderson Lake, an economic hit man and the AgriGen Representative in Thailand. He owns a kink-spring factory trying to mass-produce a revolutionary new model that will store gigajoules of energy. The factory is a cover for his real mission: discovering the location of the Thai seed bank. He leaves the running of the factory to his Chinese manager, Hock Seng, a refugee from the Malaysian purge of the ethnic Chinese. A businessman in his former life, Seng plots to regain his former glory even as he struggles to survive day to day as a refugee. He waits patiently for an opportunity to steal the kink-spring designs kept in Anderson's safe, and embezzles copiously. The plot includes political machinations that upset the plans of these three while providing not a few cliff-hanging moments among the twists and turns of the story.
While I was impressed with the imaginative verve of the author I was disappointed in the cliche-ridden view of business as the big bad guys. The ideas that the world will be devastated by global-warming and biotechnology will be almost out of control are not new no matter how well the author presents them. Nevertheless this is an entertaining novel and worthy of consideration at our monthly Science Fiction group discussion. This novel won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 2010.

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