The Windup Girl
by Paolo Bacigalupi is a science-fiction or steampunk novel following the story of Anderson Lake, a "Calorie Man." The planet is in a state of disarray, where food we take for granted today, have gone extinct. This is a result of genetically engineered diseases, which mutate faster than vaccinations are created, infecting crops (and people). The value of calories are equivalent to currency and corporations have a hand in mostly genetics (reminds me of Repo! The Genetic Opera
), especially to manipulate them into a food capable of resisting diseases. Lake is a genetic engineer who works for one of these Midwestern calorie companies, and his research has landed him in Thailand, which seems even more chaotic than the rest of the planet due to the staggering caste system and dissatisfaction with society.
The windups are a lower-level caste group, because they are genetically engineered with superior traits to humans (hearing, eyesight, beauty, etc.)—basically treated like trash. Lake is intrigued by Emiko, a windup from Japan who is rather resistant to authority and smart-mouthed, despite her precarious situation (sex slave). And their adventure takes off from there.
This story is great because it manages to take different points of view and shape the story with ease. The build up is intense and full of action, easily keeping the reader at the edge of their seat. The story itself seems incredible and yet so familiar and possible, especially with a near wipe-out of an entire species of banana (see Panama disease and Gros Michel). The idea of a planet torn by science is also not a new idea, but definitely one people like to read and talk about. It's also a very easy world to picture, especially because of the effortless way Bacigalupi sets the scene.
Unfortunately, while this story is fascinating, it is also lacking. There was a lot of build up and potential, but things were never properly fleshed out, such as the fate of the New People, and a proper idea of the Green Headbands (he mentions really enticing tidbits and then cuts himself off). And honestly, the story doesn't quite pick up steam until almost halfway through, and even then the ending is a little deflated (unless this will have a sequel).The Windup Girl
is on its way to predicting the future of agricultural profit and genetic manipulation/biotech today (see Monsanto monocultures and patent rights).