Paolo Bacigalupi has a problem. Somewhere in his writing career he developed an inability to say no. Adjectives come up to him on the streets; they ask for some help, just a little something to get by. Paolo obliges. Paolo does not say no to adjectives. The result is a concept driven novel that stumbles through overly descriptive passages, and then falls back on overused phrases. One example that comes to mind is the use of “blossom” in any scene involving blood or pain. Pain blossoms. Blood blossoms. However, in The Windup Girl flowers rarely blossom.
Now, that I’m done with my minor gripes, I’ll return to the concept. The Windup Girl is set in the near future where the global economy has collapsed. Petroleum is a thing of the past, and global warming has caused major cities to flood. Energy is measured in its most basic form: the calorie. The twist is that the global food supply has also been devastated due to genetically modified seed stock and disease. The cause and savior are powerful agri-business. Think if Monsanto and Blackwater were part of the same company.
The novel takes place in Thailand, amidst factions all competing for a place of power within the Thai Kingdom. There are the farang business men looking to open new markets. The Environment Ministry, which looks to protect Thailand from all invasive’s, including foreigners. The rival to the Environment Ministry is the Trade Ministry, which hopes to open the borders to investment. For good measure, throw in some gangsters, Chinese refugees, genetically engineered Japanese workers, muai thai fighters, and royalty. What’s produced is a novel that is heavy on an idea, and weak on characters. The Windup Girl is a cool concept, and one which readers may relate to. However, it feels like Bacigalupi blended The Quiet American and Blade Runner, but without the inner turmoil of Graham Greene nor the electricity of Philip K. Dick.