Book Review- The Windup Girl: 934333

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is a critically acclaimed science fiction novel. The book, published in the year 2009, September 1, garnered a lot of appreciation and has won many awards since then. The novel is about the food distribution and production that is controlled through the major corporations. Bacigalupi unravels his story in Bangkok in the late 22nd century. The story is set in a dystopian future. The setting has the perfect balance of flavours of tropical exoticism using the environment as a metaphor for the conditions of human beings.  The novel establishes an ensemble cast and explores the world created by Bacigalupi through the different characters with different narratives of their own that interweave with the characters that accelerates towards the ending. The main protagonist of the novel is Anderson Lake, an American calorie man and the other character is Gibbons, a character that loves artificial humans. Both these characters Gibbons and Anderson have a different point of view on science and nature. The aim of the paper is to review the book and how the characters Anderson and Gibbons look at science and nature from their perspectives.

The novel is based on the dystopian future in Thailand created by Bacigalupi that shows that groups with power like calorie men, white shirts and people belonging in ministries were running Thailand.  The novel also shows Thailand after the corporate warfare between the agricultural firms that went biological. Trying to taint crops of other people, most of the food supply of the world was perpetually at a risk of becoming overwhelmed by genetic modification. The effects of Global Warming has restricted the output of Carbon and there is a dearth of fuels. Energy now comes from muscle power due to the limited use of methane and coal. Limited food and muscle power in demand, calories become the new currency. When there is limited food it is the role of the government in ensuring there is adequate food supply but here it seen that the groups in power control the situation.

Anderson Lake is calorie man who works for the company AgriGen. He can also be called a cornucopian because of his association to the company that are futurists having the thought there are required energy and matter to suffice the needs of people.  Lake is an undercover who is trying to find secret seed banks that are rumoured to exist. These seeds are worth a lot of money because the bioengineered food plants have destroyed crops biodiversity and led to losses because of the diseases that have wiped out the vegetable strains. Anderson’s character shows us the scenario of the world that how capitalists are empowered by science that they feel they are entitled to do whatever they want. The character of Anderson Lake gives a picture of the social structure. Anderson feels that the rich are always dominant and they can do anything. According to him the rich possesses the right to control the poor to make profits resulting from their sufferings. He supports the inhuman behaviours of the people in power on the unprivileged class.

The main aim of Anderson is to acquire the origin of the fruit name Ngaw. The search of this fruit land him in difficult situations like the local and political battle between the Environment ministry and the Trade ministry. He also faces the dangerous slumlords and faction militant leaders. Biogenesis, known as the production of new organisms that help in the future of inventions. This can be used in many positive ways for the upliftment of the country and the world. Anderson here searches for the Ngaw in order to prevent starvation. Here it is seen that Anderson does not do it for other people but for his own benefits making him selfish. Anderson states that “with access to the Thai seedbank, [the AgriGen labs in] Des Moines could mine genetic code for generations, beat back plague mutations” (Bacigalupi).

Minister Akkarat, head of Trade Ministry, rejected the proposition made by Anderson saying that “seedbank has kept us independent of your kind” (Bacigalupi). This gives the reader a clear insight of how big corporations have a huge influence on Biogenesis. From the book there is a clear idea that a powerful corporation will always take undue advantage of the existing situation that arises due to nature to exploit the poor people.

The centre character of this story is Emiko. An artificial human being, illegal in majority of the countries. Emiko here is treated like a property who works in a club in Thailand. Her owner abandoned her. Emiko possesses qualities similar to that of human beings. Being an artificial creation, Emiko is emotional. She is very obedient, as a person she wants to be free. Her characters portrays her to be the person who is hopeful, “There is a place for windups. The knowledge tingles within her a reason to live”. Emiko has all types of feelings that human beings have. She feels sad, helpless, and angry and pain. In the book, she has been described as a person who shows willingness to please everyone. “She is an animal. Servile as a dog. And yet if he is careful to make no demands, to leave the air between them open, another version of the windup girl emerges. As precious and rare as a living tree. Her soul, emerging from within the strangling strands of her engineered DNA.” (Bacigalupi). Emiko experiences different emotions here just like human beings. Here the character of Emiko proves her obedience in terms of her training and also how unwillingly she does this, “She holds the bills between her fingers. Her training tells her to be polite, but his self-satisfied largesse irritates her” this explains her state of mind.

New people or Windups are people like Emiko who are artificial people. They are treated exactly how poor people are treated. They are made to be slaves and dehumanized. This book uses the ideology propagated by the Buddhist that Windups or New People will be dehumanized as they are artificial and has been created in some Lab. Gibbons says this with a grin  “And we all know windups have no souls.”  Further adding to the statement with a wider grin  “No rebirth for them. They will have to find their own gods to protect them. Their own gods to pray for their dead” (Bacigalupi). The ideology placed here contradicts with the description of a human’s soul This grin shows that he is astonished but stating the facts of the cruel reality, that he wants should not exist anymore. It has been said that the New People are a part of nature but their capability and their feelings are not taken into account as they are treated like a slave.

The representation of Emiko contradicts with the science and nature that has been read in textbooks. Emiko is one of a kind, as it has always been believed that artificial beings or things do not show or process any feelings. According to Gibbons Emiko may be an artificial person but she is natural when it comes to humanity. The irony of the novel is that Biogenesis has been negatively portrayed however; Emiko is the only artificial person who has been portrayed positively without any grey shade to her character. The primary question that arises is that whether it is necessary ethically and morally to make artificial people for the enhancement of the survival of the human race. Gibbons thinks, “We should all be windups now. It’s easier to build a person impervious to blister rust than to protect an earlier version of the human creature” (Bacigalupi). Science should always be used to benefit everyone. Science should not be used to create artificial people to oppress them and treat them like slaves. This contradicts with the narrative as the artificial person here as has been treated like a slave.

Gibbons is another character in the book that has not been portrayed with the amount of negativity others possess. Gibbons also creates windups but not for his own benefit. Hid ideology behind making windups is for the extension of human race. Gibbons feels that science is a study that was meant to innovate for the benefits of the society. People should not misuse science for individual benefits and for the oppression of people. Gibbons was interested to do good rather than anything wrong. In this book, the Thai Kingdom kept him in prison because he wanted Gibbons to deal with foodborne diseases.

This essay concludes with the fact that there are no such similarities between Anderson and Gibbons. They both have a relationship with science which is the only similarity hey bare. They bare complete different ideologies.  Anderson is selfish when compared to Gibbons. Anderson uses science for his own benefits and does not consider the effects it is going to have on others. He does not care if science destroys nature unless it harms him. Gibbons on the other hand wants to use science for the betterment of the people. He wants to enhance the survival of human beings. Gibbons wants to do good when compared to Anderson, this shows the techno-optimism that the same thing can be viewed in a optimistic and an pessimistic way. It can be understood when Emiko confronts Gibbons angrily about her sterility as Gibbons also created windups his reply to her was he may not be able to change her but he will try his best to create another Windup from Emiko’s genetic material stating that  “a strand of your hair will do. You cannot be changed, but your children—in genetic terms, if not physical ones—they can be made fertile, a part of the natural world” (Bacigalupi). Here by this it shows how Gibbons cares and is concerned about the survival of humans. He wants to create a natural world for the people that will help in survival. According to Gibbons, the natural world is the kind of world where people like Emiko can coexist with her kid freely without any exploitation in her own rights and terms. He wants to remove the programming codes from their body to make sure they are like humans. They can only acquire freedom when they are not slaves to anymore. Anderson on the other hand does not think about other’s freedom, he is concerned about himself stating, “We are nature” (Bacigalupi). This shows the kind of person he is that is self-centred whereas Gibbons says, “We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.” 

Work Cited

Bacigalupi, Paolo. The windup girl. Hachette UK, 2010.