The Wind-Up Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

This is not exactly an obscure book (except maybe to literary people). It won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 2010. It was a left-over from a sci-fi project from last year, mostly on the subject of androids.

Actually, I’m not there are technically any androids in The Wind-Up Girl. The wind-up girl herself has aspects of android-ness, but really seems to be some sort of genetic development of humanness (or a mash-up, maybe – as usual, the science is not fully explained). All of The Wind-Up Girl is about genetic meddling – in a usual science-will-lead-to-bad-things type way. In this case, this is mostly to do with genetic modification of crops. Bacugalupi presents an interesting world in which, due to human meddling, most crops have become overcome by disease (which somehow also affects humans), causing the collapse of global trade, and the isolation of individual societies. The book is set in Thailand, which has cut itself off from the world, and is interested in preserving its own pure strain of crops – but naturally, there are evil corporations which want to steal these, and open Thailand up again to trade, and there are enough human prepared to take bribes etc. In general, it is pervaded by the depressing, but not unrealistic, view that human greed will overcome any good intentions.

There’s a quote on the dust jacket that Bacigalupi’s book has more ideas than multiple other sci-fi books combined, but I’m not entirely convinced – it has a few ideas, and these are thankfully (unlike many sci-fi books) not entirely overwhelmed by the thriller plot. Perhaps though the issue is that, during the reading of this, I also read Lem’s Peace on Earth, which has more sci-fi ideas per chapter than this book has in its entirety. In fact, the Lem, which wasn’t even included among my android books, has far more to say on androids and AI than this book does.

Do we get the sense from this book that androids are going to rise up (against their programming) and destroy us? – Only in a sense. As I say, the wind-ups are not really androids (or it’s hard to see exactly how they’re conceived); but it is certainly stated that they are taught rather than programmed (though to what extent this is the case was never made clear), and all they are overcoming, when they rebel, is their teaching. – Rather, I suppose, they are seen as an alternative future for mankind, when true humans are likely to get wiped out eventually by their own continual meddling – which I find all fair enough.

The writing was ok, functional, not actively bad.