Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl is a bleak and depressing story set in a future run by calorie monopolies, where genetically modified products and manufactured foodborn plagues have wiped out the food chains, wars are waged for precious seeds, and quarantines for food-borne diseases are a necessity.
Now, some writers—Margaret Atwood and Ursla LeGuin immediately come to mind—can immerse the reader in a strange world while giving us enough to hold onto as we make our way through the unfamiliar. Take Oryx and Crake, for example; the dystopian future gene-splice/biopunk bleakness I encountered was wholly unfamiliar, but within a few pages I was at home there. I had no such experience reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl despite the fact that a world destroyed by climate change, the depletion of natural resources, and uncontrolled spread of GMO spread is familiar enough because it’s the world we’re living in at this very moment. Still I trudged through page after page of the novel and finished by skimming the second half just because I was determined to get through it.
I read Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife last summer and enjoyed it., so I was looking forward to this book. It won a Nebula and the Locus for Best First Novel, as well as the Compton Crook award, so perhaps I missed something, but I found the plot tedious, the dialogue clumsy, and the central character–”a windup”, or artificial being, who yearns to be human–a sci-fi cliché. The narration was slow, and I had absolutely no emotional investment in any of the characters.