Every sci-fi nerd dreams at some point about owning a gorgeous, Japanese, android sex toy that is genetically engineered to satisfy their every whim. No!? Must be just me then. No wonder I enjoyed Paolo Bacigalupi’s biopunk, sci-fi thriller, The Windup Girl.
Paulo constructs a vividly real Bangkok in which biological power is king again. Post peak-oil, ‘expansion’ cities lie like vast graveyards to the carbon intensive industries that created them; methane lamps provide the light, cycle rickshaws run the streets and the twisted Dung Lord has a monopoly on the decomposing half of the economy. Nature has been massively contorted by the pressures of humankind and the species sits perched on the edge of an evolutionary precipice braced for famine, resource wars and worse.
Corporations have become more powerful and the world is now run by giant ‘Calorie Companies’ (AgriGen, PurCal and RedStar) who have seized control of most of the global energy flows used by humans and use aggressively engineered diseases to wipe out competing crop varieties (and people’s).
Thailand has somehow managed to hoard a reserve of genetic material out of the reach of the Calorie Companies who now come in sail boats, with shock troops, armed and ready to take this fresh slice of the global market. The Environment Ministry is ready to fight back but with Trade in ascendency political intrigue prevails and a showdown is inevitable.
Against this cataclysmic backdrop our central characters wrestle with each other as well as will the terrible unfolding disaster of human technology unleashed on an unsuspecting natural world. But as a sinister and powerful genehacker asserts; they are life, so what is unnatural about them taking control of evolution?Perhaps the engineered Blister Rust that’s eating away at his legs?
The Windup Girl (Emiko) is avoiding ‘mulching’ by providing a disturbingly humiliating sex routine in a Bangkok sex club with a vile tormentress who, like others, believes ‘new people’ are sub-human scum. As far as Emiko is concerned, she is as natural as everyone else, and she desperately longs for some kind of niche.
The Windup Girl is genetically engineered to get your rocks of but as the tension cranks up to the epic showdown she discovers her enhanced body is capable of much more. It seems artificially created life will cling to existence too, and at some point we all have to choose what side we are on. Environment or trade? Natural or artificial? Life or death?
Whether these engineered creations are natural or not, might they be they our evolutionary descendents? The way the Military Windups kick ass it certainly could be possible and they seem to be resistant to the swirling plagues that ravage the human population, but can they overcome their coded urge to obey?
I wouldn’t recommend this book to the idle armchair environmentalist but if you are a proper Eco Freako and like your armageddon rich in technical details unsettlingly, accurately extrapolated from today’s mega trends, then this one is for you. Savour the exploration of our biology as humans unravel their own composition at an imminent evolutionary cross roads.