By Shannon Bond
“She looks upward, praying to Mizuko Jizo the windup bodhisattva to give her mercy.”-Emiko’s prayer, The Windup Girl
Far in the future, genetic engineering has wrecked the food supply and food plagues decimate crops and kill millions across the globe. Written by Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl leads the reader through this tortured landscape full of political intrigue and genetic terror. Words like genehack and generip are common. Climate change has blasted the planet and fossil fuels are restricted and almost non-existent for commoners. In this world, goods are moved by dirigible and clipper ship.
The story takes place in Bangkok, Thailand, far in the future, and like all speculative fiction, asks, “what if?” What if humans take genetically modified food too far? What if humans create other humans as property? What if humans bring back prehistoric wooly mammoth type creatures to generate power after fossil fuels are gone? What would the world be like if people had to use spring generators and spring guns? And what if right-wing nationalism sweeps the globe as the food supply collapses?
These questions unfold for the reader through masterful world-building while the plot centers on an Anderson, an undercover “calorie man” working for a massive corporation; Emiko, a new person, also known as a “windup girl,” discarded by her master who is now forced to perform for customers at a strip club; and Jaidee and Kanya, two “white shirts,” serving the Environment Ministry.
The author’s narration is minimal, if not entirely invisible. Never once does it stop to explain a phenomenon in the world or Buddhist references. Instead, the reader is left to fend for themselves and learn through the characters (and Google unfamiliar terms). The prose is often figurative in presentation, language, and craft. And the tone pulls the reader in, inviting them to spend time with these people in a rich culture full of history, danger, and futuristic bodhisattvas.
If you are in the market for speculative fiction, that takes a little effort, this is one to try.
Shannon Bond is a writer and visual artist living in middle America who believes that “the stories we carry create us.” He retired from the U.S. Air National Guard as a photojournalist in 2016. He enjoys flawed characters and tough predicaments. It doesn’t matter if stories are fiction or non-fiction as long as they are full of truth. He earned his undergraduate degree in technical management in 2012 and an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University in 2019. He has written for many organizations and publications including the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Air Force, Air National Guard, and The Regular Joe. His first novel will be published in June 2020 and the second is coming in 2021.