The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi

Title: The Windup Girl6597651
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 361
Category: 35. Read a book labelled as dystopian
Format: Paper

Date Started: August 1st 2017
Date Finished: August 15th 2017

So this is the second book by this author I’ve read this year and the two books really couldn’t be much different if they tried. At least on the surface. This is actually the first novel he released way back in 2008. His novel Shipbreaker released in 2009 is kind of a companion book to this one aimed at a slightly younger audience. But it’s only when you consider these two in conjunction with his more recent novel The Doubt Factory that many similarities begin to emerge.

The Windup Girl (and Shipbreaker) are set in the not too distant future in a world that has suffered from both a rise in sea level leaving many major cities submerged, partially submerged or in the case on Bangkok (pictured above) surrounded by a huge sea wall. But this is only the start of the world’s problems. In bioengineering food horrible diseases have emerged killing many people and leaving many starving as well as many species of fruit and vegetables completely removed from the ecosystem.

The novel follows a white man in Bangkok trying to get access to the Thai seedbank under the guise of a factory owner. The novel switches between his story and that of his Chinese assistant, as well as government officials and a windup girl from Japan. A windup girl is essentially an engineered human who is highly prized in Japan but not so much in the streets of Bangkok where it is a struggle just to survive.

Slowly the stories of the characters converge leading to a huge climax. Though for me it was not the story that was a s compelling as the setting. Beyond the bioengineering and sea level rise there is also a huge step backwards in technology with the characters relying not on cars or fossil fuels but on the burning of calories. Though you’ll still see guns and ships as well as factories all of it is powered by people or animals rather than the traditional fossil fuels.

But to step back to the Doubt Factory and the similarities between the two. Doubt Factory took place in a society almost identical to our own but explored the dangers of huge companies telling lies to consumers and hiding behind ‘doubts’. For me, and I have to assume for Bacugalupi as well, this is like a precursor to the world we’re introduced to in the Windup Girl and Shipbreaker. What could happen if we don’t question companies and governments and engage with the world we live in as a whole. In essence, Bacigalupi’s works are a call for all of us to take responsibility for how we live and what our ambivalence could do to the world for our children and grandchildren.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

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The Doubt Factory – Paolo Bacigalupi

Title: The Doubt Factory9780349002569-us-300
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 496
Category: 25. Read an indie book, where the publisher is a small or niche house and not one of the top 6 publishers (Atom)
Format: Paper

Date Started: February 7th 2017
Date Finished: February 10th 2017

The perfect book for the amateur conspiracy theorist, The Doubt Factory explores the question of just how much we can trust the brands and products we’re using. Specifically the pharmaceuticals that many of us need just to stay alive. Are these same pharmaceuticals actually killing us?

Alix has lived a very sheltered and affluent life going to the best private school money can buy with a house that many of us would be envious of and a perfectly boring suburban family. Her dad works long hours, her mum keeps the house in order, she gets good grades and her younger brother is always getting himself into trouble. Perfectly normal. Her friends are also perfectly normal, their private school kids just like her, who’s parents work and earn enough money to also send them to private schools. Her afternoons are spent in Starbucks with friends, going to the mall or doing homework. At least until 2.0 shows up and things start getting weird for Alix.

A prank at school that she is told is all her fault, then her brother runs off and her dad starts freaking out. Why does 2.0 have it in for her family and why is she now stuck with Death Barbie following her around all the time to keep her safe?

As the plot begins to unfold so do the questions, like falling down a rabbit hole, one after another. And Alix does feel kind of like she’s falling down a rabbit hole as her perfectly regular life begins to unravel around her.

The book is a bit slow to get started, but once it does it’s a fascinating exploration of the way we embrace new products without really knowing the risks they pose to us. Is your asthma medication going to put you in a coma? Is aspirin going to kill your kid? Yes, this is a novel and as such slightly dramatised, but it does make you wonder just how much you know about the products you’re using and how they’re regulated.

Despite the subject matter this is a nice easy read, the language straightforward and the concepts well explained, after all it is a young adult book. Some of the twists I saw coming, some of them I didn’t which is always a plus from me. If you can handle a story that builds slowly and a somewhat dense main character (at least for the first half of the book) then you should give The Doubt Factory a chance.

Rating: 3.5/5