In the publishing landscape that we live in, we are being constantly barraged by Sci-Fi dystopias that are a dime a dozen. Knowing that, it’s hard to imagine a book like The Windup Girl distinguishing itself amongst its competitors. However, if there’s anything I can say about The Windup Girl, it’s certainly different.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is set in a distant futuristic Thailand, where the world has run out of Petroleum, so energy is primarily obtained by human labor. Energy has become the largest industry do to its commoditization, so the energy companies now rule the world, also having taken control of the world’s food supply. Genetically engineering the only food that’s on the market. The book follows Anderson Lake who owns one of the factories where people are made to wind massive springs in order to generate energy. He is trying to find illegal food sources to turn a profit, and along the way he falls for a Windup Girl (people genetically engineered for a specific purpose) named Emiko. The book goes on to expose the corruption of the powers that be and to end the monopolization of food.
While I didn’t necessarily love reading the book, I do think it holds up a very poignant mirror to our present day society, just by taking it to extremes. I very much appreciated it’s commentary on corporations and monopolies and oligarchies, and why that is such a problem for any given society. Bacigalupi knows that when one or even just a few corporations have a hold over every corner of industry, there is nothing to stop them from basically holding the people hostage for whatever goods or services they want. “You want food, well we have all the food so we can charge whatever we want.” This is happening today, the most relevant example being that of cable providers and how they fought net neutrality. Bacigalupi presented us a world where the bad guys ultimately won, as far as the beginning of the novel is concerned at least, and it could be said that in doing so, along with other writers like him, helped make people aware of the problem and contributed to working to stop it today.
That’s part of what is so interesting about this book for me. Yes, it is a Cli-Fi book, but despite its setting, and its ending, I primarily see it as a book warning of the dangers of lack of corporate oversight. The Global Warming aspect is there, but I find it to be slightly inconsequential as far as the rest of the book is concerned, especially as compared to the other works we’ve read. Even though I personally didn’t love reading the book, I definitely recommend it. It has a lot of great ideas, and is incredibly relevant to what’s happening today.