Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl is an important book because of its vision of global warming and of food insecurity arising from food being corporate-owned. The novel also ties together a number of interesting subplots, resulting in an explosive ending (spoiler alert: the ending will be discussed).
The novel is set in future Bangkok where dykes keep the rising oceans off the streets. "It's difficult not to always be aware of those high walls and the pressure of the water beyond. Difficult to think of the City of Divine Beings as anything other than a disaster waiting to happen" (7). Thus, the initial conflict is the setting itself and the difficulty of preserving life in that setting:
The main character, Anderson Lake, runs a factory making power sources called kink-springs that substitute for increasingly rare fossil fuels. The factory is a front for Anderson's efforts to locate new foods on which his company could capitalize. Most foods are corporate-owned, which comments on the current threat of seed patents leading to the inability of individuals to grow food for themselves.
Other key characters include Anderson's employee Hock Seng, who seeks to recapture his former wealth and status by stealing kink-spring blueprints; an android Emiko, the title character for whom Anderson conceives a passion, designed to pleasure Japanese businessmen and now working as a prostitute; the aggressive Environment Ministry Captain Jaidee Rojjanasukchai and his lieutenant Kanya Chirathivat, who plans to betray him in revenge for his destruction of her village; and businessman Richard Carlyle with government allies who wants to eliminate trade regulations such as pollution controls and quarantine.
As the conflicting interests of the characters converge, it seems as if the Thai government will be forced to give up its precious seedbank to corporate profiteers, but Kanya rebels, kills the foreign corporate leader, and initiates a diaspora of monks carrying seeds. Of course, the dykes fail, and the city floods. The novel ends with an Epilogue where the reclusive scientist Gibson promises Emiko that she will have genetic offspring and that they will be fertile.
These concluding images suggest hope but also the potential for future problems. The seeds and Emiko's fertility indicate that life will continue, despite humans' failings. The image of the deluge promises a new landscape and the potential to start again without the existing problems of corporate and government intrigue. But, the future is also clouded by the fact that Emiko is not human. The novel has taught readers to care for her, that she deserves respect and sympathy, as any other being, but the comparison between androids and cheshires, engineered cats that are fertile, suggests such fertility may be dangerous. The cheshires are a threatening presence in the cityscape, suriving off of carrion. But perhaps the key quality is survival. The seeds will survive, the cheshires will survive, and some form of quasi-human culture will survive at least through an android population.
Work Cited: Pacigalupi, Paolo. The Windup Girl. San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2011. Print.
Image source: The Windup Girl Cover. Amazon.com. n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2013. http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51CGcjNWkwL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU01_AA160_.jpg