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The Windup Girl

by Rob Friesel

“What took you so long to pick it up?”

I did not believe the hype.

Before The Windup Girl, my exposure to Bacigalupi’s work was through two short stories:

  1. “The People of Sand and Slag”—which seemed to pop-up everywhere1 for a while; and then
  2. “Yellow Card Man”—which was in the same milieu as this novel and which I liked but which I didn’t really “get” because I was expecting something more along the lines of “The People of Sand and Slag”.

This is not to say that I did not enjoy Bacigalupi’s work at least on some level—they were both good stories2 but neither of them was enough to send me out on a mission looking to read more of his work. Nevertheless, I recognized the name3 and had this strong flicker of recognition every time yet another review appeared in my RSS reader. The Windup Girl is amazing and a shoe-in for at least one of 2009’s big awards and so forth. But I kept thinking about “The People of Sand and Slag”.

Turns out that Bacigalupi has the same problem that I have4.

His ideas are big. Too big for some crummy 5,000 word short story or some 8,500 word novelette. Those ideas are big and they are important and they need room to breathe. Those ideas need a 350+ page apparatus to fully get themselves across. But these big ideas all seem so small and slow at first, and for the first 50-100 pages you find yourself thinking So what? So this is an interesting and immersive milieu but where’s the action? Why is everyone ready to have this book’s babies? But then it hits you hard and drags you through 250 more stunning pages5.

I loved this book the way that I loved Ian McDonald’s River of Gods6. There is something very special about the rich tapestry that these guys have created by putting these futuristic settings against the lush and visceral backdrops of these oriental locales with all their poverty and banalia. But whereas McDonald did it with AIs in India, Bacigalupi is doing it with genetically modified human not-quite-clones in Thailand.

But what makes this one so special is that everyone is under indictment and nothing is sacrosanct. None of the stories end the way you would want them to, but you cannot think of any other way that they could end. This is one that will haunt you, and makes a great companion read for Oryx and Crake.

  1. Previously reviewed here. []
  2. ”Yellow Card Man” was a particularly fine gem, though my re-read-to-really-get-it is still pending. []
  3. Perhaps it helps that “Bacigalupi” is an epic handle. []
  4. Alternatively: “Turns out that Bacigalupi has the same problem that I would like to think that I have.” []
  5. But now I’m just gushing? []
  6. Previously reviewed here. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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