You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Windup Girl

Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl is set in a dystopian future where genetic engineers are constantly fighting to create foods resistant to diseases that have contaminated the food supply. The Thai refer to the Western peddlars of the latest gene-spliced disease-resistant products as the calorie men, a reference to what is the critical resource in civilization. It is a post-carbon world, where elevators work by groups of ballast men run up the stairs to provide counterweight. Large levees around Bangkok keep the rising sea at bay. The value of life is low.

Anderson Lake is the representative of a calorie company in Thailand. He has taken over a factory building kink springs, a sort of mechanical energy storage device. But that is just a cover: his long term goal is to gain access to the country's seed supply so they can duplicate it. Thailand is run by two competing factions: the Trade Ministry, which promotes imports and foriegn investment, and the Environment Ministry, which controls import to prevent the next disease from ruining all the local crops.

Lake is intrigued when he is at a friend's club and meets Emiko, the title character, who is a Japanese manufactured person. She is designed to have tiny pores for smooth skin, which means she is ill-suited to the hot Thai climate. She is also designed to be subservient and is the perfect servant or prostitute. Not only does she not have any rights, but if the Environment Ministry captures her they would seize her as illegal biological material and mulch her. Lake finds himself becoming attached to Emiko and promises to help her get to a safe haven for windup people.

Lake is helped by his Chinese assistant Hock Seng, but who is secretly plotting to steal the plans for the kink springs and sell them to the biggest gangster in town. Lake also has associates with whom he connives to bring about political instability to further their plans. One of the biggest wild cards is Jaidee, a fervent Environment Ministry officer known as the Tiger. When the Tiger oversteps his bounds and burns entire shipments, it starts a cascade of events that threatens to bring down the Environment Ministry and propel Lake and his associates to a grand success, if they can survive the violence and disease outbreak.

The story is captivating and the language is vivid. There are all sorts of fascinating things about the world that get let out in bits. Megodonts used to provide power, zeppelins used to travel. The characters are well drawn with definite pasts and conflicting goals. Each character has a different view of the strange world and affects the plot in his or her own way. This is a story of personal tragedy, sacrifice, intrigue, and biology, with a bit of violence and sex thrown in. I found it moderately entertaining. B

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