The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl

Even if you’re not a fan of science fiction—it’s certainly not a genre we usually pick up—if you’re interested in Thailand and in particular the craziness of Bangkok and where it might be headed as we hurtle into the decades ahead, The Windup Girl makes for a good dystopian read.

Browse titles by subject matter
Subscribe to the Mekong Review
Travelfish.org are big fans of the Mekong Review. If you’d like to read intelligent and thoughtful material about the region, please consider subscribing. We do.

In this 2009-published biopunk book, which scooped various sci-fi awards for its author Paolo Bacigalupi, Thailand is under the reign of Her Royal Majesty the Child Queen, who has followed the 12th Chakri dynasty king (in real life the current, recently crowned king is Rama X). Sea levels have risen as the climate changed, but Bangkok survives thanks to a system of pumps and levees put in place under the king’s paternal guidance (some things never change). The world’s crops have been largely wiped out thanks to mutating plagues that stay one step ahead of genetically modified plants. Fossil fuels have been almost totally depleted. Neighbouring countries, or what's left of them, are embroiled in war as people starve. Somehow Thailand has survived this “Contraction”, and seems to be sitting on a seed bank that allows it to feed its people.

But Thailand too suffers internecine rivalries. The Trade Ministry wants to open up the country to the world again as it slowly claws its way back to an “Expansion” era, but the Environment Ministry and its white shirts are intent on protecting the kingdom's crops. Smuggling and corruption is rife.

Cue the arrival of Anderson Lake, a so-called calorie man from one of the large agricultural companies, posing as a factory manager as he tries to work out where Thailand’s crop seeds are coming from so they can steal them for profit. Naturally, he falls for the windup girl of the title, Emiko, a genetically modified human created in Japan. Left behind by her Japanese owner, she’s now an abused slave desperate to find a colony of windups said to be in the north of the country.

Occasionally we found The Windup Girl a little laboured on the plot front, straying into cliche and being a touch over-written. The transliterations of Thai are a bit odd, and it seemed strange that Thais were calling each other “Khun” rather than “Phii” or “Nong”, as this is not the aftermath of a class revolution. Mispronounced “Gi Bu Sen” should be Gibson, not Gibbons (we reckon). The City of Angels is instead known as the City of Divine Beings, and refugees are Malayan rather than Malaysian—but perhaps Malaysia has reverted to Malaya over the past few decades? (Interestingly, there’s a brief discussion about the difference between Chinese immigrants to Malaya versus Thailand, that covers similar ground to Asian Godfathers.)

Historical research seems solid and woven into the narrative, such as some Thais’ obsession with the Burmese razing Ayutthaya and Bang Rajan. And now and again a striking description pops up: “Across the soi a Chaozhou bicycle factory mirrors it, and between them, the barnacle accretion of jumbled street carts…” or “They speed like pale tigers across the landing field, leaving the carcasses of Japanese freight containers littered behind them like so much debris after a typhoon.”

The strength of The Windup Girl is its incredibly believable and detailed future world, along with the clip-pace of the plot. Massive genetically modified elephants—megadonts—that power the city? Why not? (Actually, we loved this.) Dirigibles and clippers as transport? Almost romantic, if it wasn’t for the all the death. Abandoned skyscrapers, some packed with slums? Makes sense.

The Windup Girl is a realistic plunge into a plausible future, with a dystopian Bangkok as its backdrop. Read it to find a Bangkok you’ll recognise underneath a frightening veneer of futuristic imagination.

Buy online: Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble |



108 results found

Burma (Myanmar)

Burmese Days
Burmese Days

By George Orwell

Finding George Orwell
Finding George Orwell

By Emma Larkin

Miss Burma
Miss Burma

By Charmaine Craig

The Glass Palace
The Glass Palace

By Amitav Ghosh

The Trouser People
The Trouser People

By Andrew Marshall

Cambodia

Dogs at the Perimeter
Dogs at the Perimeter

By Madeleine Thien

Holiday in Cambodia
Holiday in Cambodia

By Laura Jean McKay

Hun Sen’s Cambodia
Hun Sen’s Cambodia

By Sebastian Strangio

Hunters in the Dark
Hunters in the Dark

By Lawrence Osborne

King Norodom's Head
King Norodom's Head

By Steven W. Boswell

River of Time
River of Time

By Jon Swain

The Gate
The Gate

By Francoise Bizot

Indonesia

A House in Bali
A House in Bali

By Colin McPhee

Beauty is a Wound
Beauty is a Wound

By Eka Kurniawan

Black Water
Black Water

By Louise Doughty

Home
Home

By Leila S. Chudori

In the Time of Madness
In the Time of Madness

By Richard Lloyd Parry

Indonesia Etc.
Indonesia Etc.

By Elizabeth Pisani

On the Java Ridge
On the Java Ridge

By Jock Serong

Ring of Fire
Ring of Fire

By Lawrence Blair

The Malay Archipelago
The Malay Archipelago

By Alfred Russel Wallace

The Rainbow Troops
The Rainbow Troops

By Andrea Hirata

The Year of Living Dangerously
The Year of Living Dangerously

By Christopher J. Koch

This Earth of Mankind
This Earth of Mankind

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Under the Volcano
Under the Volcano

By Cameron Forbes

Laos

Malaysia

Singapore

Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians

By Kevin Kwan

From Third World to First
From Third World to First

By Lee Kuan Yew

If I Could Tell You
If I Could Tell You

By Jing-Jing Lee

In Transit: An Anthology
In Transit: An Anthology

By Zhang Ruihe and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow

Sarong Party Girls
Sarong Party Girls

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Singapore Noir
Singapore Noir

By Cheryl Lu-Tien Tan

State of Emergency
State of Emergency

By Jeremy Tiang

Sugarbread
Sugarbread

By Balli Kaur Jaswal

The Tower
The Tower

By Isa Kamari (translated by Alfian Sa'at)

Thailand

Vietnam

Bright Shining Lie
Bright Shining Lie

By Neil Sheehan

Destination Saigon
Destination Saigon

By Walter Mason

Dragon Apparent
Dragon Apparent

By Norman Lewis

Fishing for Tigers
Fishing for Tigers

By Emily Maguire

The Lover
The Lover

By Marguerite Duras

The Quiet American
The Quiet American

By Graham Greene

The Refugees
The Refugees

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sorrow of War
The Sorrow of War

By Bao Ninh

The Sympathizer
The Sympathizer

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried

By Tim O’Brien

When the War Was Over
When the War Was Over

By Elizabeth Becker

General