This is a book that I wish had been made into a series. The world of The Windup Girl is strange and serpentine and by the time I was fully immersed in it and was truly in the flow of the story things were heading toward the conclusion. There are other stories in the “windup universe” but no other full length novels. Nonetheless this biopunk environmental cautionary tale contains dynamic characters, political intrigue and lots of fascinating moving parts that lead the reader to a deeply satisfying conclusion.
The story is set in 23rd century Thailand. Globally, fossil fuels have been depleted, ocean levels have risen and gene hacked seeds have led to mutant pests and viruses that have leveled many nations. Thailand maintains a secret seed bank and keeps its borders tightly monitored and is in better shape than most of the world. Anderson Lake is a “calorie man” who is in Thailand hoping to gain access to the country’s non-modified seed supply for the AgriGen company. Anderson meets Emiko, a Japanese windup, genetically engineered to be servile and bound in a cruel servitude in a Thai sex club. She reveals that she knows information that could lead him to the seed bank and the two form an unlikely bond and become caught in the middle of a national power struggle between the Trade Ministry and the Environment Ministry. There are many other players in this story whose fates become intertwined as the book progresses.
The Windup Girl is a truly unique work of modern science fiction and deserves much of the praise it gets. I should add a brief trigger warning. Emiko’s life in the sex club contains several instances of rape and sexual humiliation. It’s absolutely a part of her character arc but it can be difficult to read on the page. You can skim through those parts or maybe avoid this book if that’s really not for you. But if you’re growing a little weary of space battles in your sci fi, pick this one up for a change of pace.