This week’s book is of the Sci-Fi genre. The Windup Girl (ISBN 978-0-356-50053-9, Orbit Publishing 2010) by Paulo Bacigalupi came to my attention in the Big C Extra Bookazine, in the section for young adults. Thinking that this might be an interesting exercise to see what is available for teenagers I made the selection. “Children 13-15 years” indicated the Bookazine shelf, but the back cover admits that the book contains “sordid sex”, which is not what I want my 13-15 year old children reading! (Having pointed this out, I am sure Bookazine has changed their records!)
This is a tale set in Bangkok, 100 years from now, following the reign of King Rama XII, and after the world ran out of oil. The transport system is back to bicycles, power generation is done by genetically resurrected mastodons and air circulation in buildings is carried out by re-inventing the skills of Indian Punkah Wallahs. Even radios are powered by handle winders. Not much to look forward to.
DNA mutations rule the times, with genetically modified fruits and genetically modified ‘humans’ called “Windups” the lowest caste in the societal ladder. Built by the Japanese to be servants and slaves.
Some parts of Thai society remains the same. The bribes for all in authority, patronage and face and the xenophobia. But there are changes, the soi dog problem has morphed into a Cheshire cat epidemic, with detailed patrols to bring them to somewhat manageable numbers.
At one stage in the book, the “White Shirts” wreak havoc on the city of Bangkok, because they have lost their leader, who was ousted and then killed. This might in some ways be history repeating itself, but the color of the shirt has changed, and the leader is still very much alive.
Woven into the story is a Chinese refugee from Malaya, driven out by green headband Malay extremists and just tolerated by the Thais, though he must carry a yellow card everywhere, to show his refugee status, only slightly above that of the Windups.
The pace picks up as two agencies begin to attack each other, leading to an attempted coup, and finally a bloody battle with the army on one side. Embroiled in all this is the sanctity of the Thai monarchy, reputedly in danger and attempting to give both sides some credibility, even though much is merely propaganda.
The final pages reveal a Bangkok at the mercy of the elements, as well as the ideologies. An excellent read, even if not a Sci-Fi fan.
At B. 430 it is more than a weekend’s read, and those who like Sci-Fi thrillers will enjoy Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl. Perhaps it was exerting some influence upon me as well, because at the weekend I went to see the latest Spider Man film, another Sci-Fi thriller.
Finally, does nobody proof-read any more? Orbit publishers should have picked up upon the name of the splatter artist. It is Jackson Pollock, not Pollack. If it were a surname like the author’s Bacigalupi I could understand, but Jackson Pollock is well known. Inexcusable. Though perhaps they were just being extra cautious?