The Wind Up Girl is one of the better dystopian post-ap novels I’ve read, in terms of style och flow.
This book tears me straight down in to the swarm of people that is Bangkok two hundred years into the future, where the sea constantly threatens to flood the city and the sweltering heat is eating you up. The city is abuzz with stubborn businessmen who will do anything to win the battle for the resources that are left – seeds and genes. It’s a world where the sterile gene modified crops have killed off most of the earth’s own creations and where the cats had to make way for Cheschires that like their namesake in Alice in Wonderland are sliding in and out of existence, a world where people navigate through a mess of old folklore and new science.
It begins in the middle of a sweaty market, as we stand bent over the goods pointing at some hairy, strange fruit and saying this one, please. What are their names? Ngaw. It could be a scene set at any time. It could be from yesterday or last week.
Except for one thing, the questions about whether they are new or not. Contaminated? Resistant? Infected?
Do they have blister rust? That sounds pretty damn creepy.
Bacigalupi is quick to get the reader to understand that here we are if not in a different time, so in a different world. Without explaining in anyway else than showing with small details, he quickly makes you understand how the city looks and functions , and makes you feel the pores open up to the sweat pushing itself out of your body in the tropical heat.
He does use the classical manoeuvre of creating a future by looking at the past. A common tactic for those creating something that has to feel new to the reader but still safe enough for them to easily inhabit and navigate the story. It’s an easy way out if you don’t want to have to explain too much but let the reader fill in the details.
It’s a very colonial amosphere here and there, with the whites sitting around getting drunk and trying to forget where they are, treating the local and colored poputlation like lesser beings.
It is unfortunately also the technique he uses that becomes the most annoying in the book. One example is Emiko, Bacigalupi only visible female character who is a Windup Girl, or New Person which she calls herself (while the locals scream Heechy Keechy after her). She is a modified human, which is built solely to please. Her role is to be raped and abused, and yet due to her modification like it. With some reflection on women’s roles in general, I could have taken it, but instead it just becomes a very old-fashioned and worn out description of the female heroine, who must be hurt in order to perform great deeds. Bacigalupi seems to think that two hundred years into the future, we will have gone back so far in social evolution that it would be something unavoidable that women and people of color again would be more openly exposed to sexual and other violence. Since this isn’t mentioned or worked with as a factor in the story landscape but just given, it bothers me quite a lot. We get explanations for more or less everything, but never the social changes.
The fact that he completely unconcerned thinks that the New People who would be manufactured would be either submissive women with Labrador genes or eight-armed farm workers and ninjas… It feels a bt too simple, and quite prejudiced about Asia as a continent and Japan in particular ( where these New People were created). I’m not the one who has any extensive knowledge about neither Japan , Bangkok or Asia in general -but even for me with my limited insight it tastes a bit bad in terms of prejudice, even if he hands out some bad qualities for the Americans and English appearing too. Just giving everyone a stereotypical bad thing each, doesn’t really help.
It doesn’t help either that there are clear parallels to older societal structures, since it is mirroring so much of today’s underlying racism and sexism without comment, amplifying them seemingly unintentionally.
However, how he writes about the rest – the environment, the implications of a world where the oceans are rising- that we get glimpses and pieces of in between, is so good that I can forgive him for pretty much everything. This really is an incredibly exciting book .
I was honestly pissed off when it was over and I would never get to experience it for the first time.
So all in all, it’s an awesome book. Read it, but stay away from it if you happen to you know, care about privileges and oppression. I’m glad I could put that away while reading it, but the book does end up being a bit of an embarrassment because of that.