Thursday, March 3, 2011

DNF Review - The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (2/5 stars)

The Windup GirlReading level: Adult
Genre: Science Fiction
Size: 300 pages
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Release Date: April 20, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-1597801584
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: Audio book from
Rating: 2/5 stars

I was very excited to read this book and had heard wonderful things about it.  It was a creative book but hard to get through.  I listened to this on audio book which probably didn't help any; the audio book was very deliberately read making the story move even slower.  I ended up stopping listening to this book about 2/3rds of the way through; it was just too tedious.

The story goes between four main characters.  The first is a genetic scientist, a calorie man, named Anderson who is scouring the city to find its mysterious Seed Bank; he is masquerading as a plant owner.  The second is Tan Hock Seng an aging Chinese Yellow Card who is trying to make a life for himself and gain back his former glory.  The third is a wind up girl named Emiko who has been forced to work in a brothel after being sold to it by her Japanese master.  The fourth is Jaidee, an officer of the Environmental Ministry and a revolutionist, who is determined to take back Thailand from the foreigners.  In this depressing version of Thailand, a land where calories are the greatest commodity, these four characters will eventually influence not only each other but the fate of the whole country.

First I will say there are some good things about this book.  The ideas present in the book are fabulous.  The idea of calories being more important than anything after viruses have wiped out most vegetation is unique and compelling.  The story is told with wonderful description; such that, as a reader, you can almost feel the heat and smell the smells of the city.  Those were the things that kept me reading this book as long as I did.

Now for the rest of the things.  The characters (if you can even say they have enough humanity to call them characters) are very dry, they apparently don't have many feelings and kind of just stumble through the story.  There are no good characters in this book, they are despicable for different reasons.  I did not enjoy a single one of them.  Emiko was my favorite, but the passivity she showed at letting herself being constantly raped and tortured was a real turn off.  Which I should mention there are multiple scenes where Emiko is explicitly raped and humiliated; again not my favorite thing to read about.

The pace is horribly slow.  For example let's say Anderson is going to walk from point A to point B, can he do that?  No, he must go on a 30 minute (remember I was listening to this) dissertation on his history, the history of other things possibly irrelevant to the story, etc etc.  Then finally many mind-boggling minutes later, when you have finally forgotten what the heck was even going on, he will make it to his destination.

I also have a quibble about the writing style; it is very dry.  At times this came across more as a biography of the characters than a story.  It was tough to stay engaged with either the story or the characters.  I am aware that all of these little random events were probably leading up to something fantastic or mind-boggling...unfortunately I ceased to care about any of it.  This audio book seriously put me to sleep while I was driving, it was becoming a hazard to my health (and other drivers) so I had to stop listening to it.

Something written in this type of analytical style would have made an intriguing short story, but as a full-length book it was just too tedious to get through. 

Overall I did not enjoy this.  The characters were depressing, the pace excruciating, and the world demoralizing.  I may read future short stories by Bacigalupi since I find his ideas intriguing, but I will not be picking up any more full-length books by him.

The Windup Girl 


  1. Aw what a bummer. I'll have to keep everything in mind when I read it. Thanks for the honest review!

  2. Yeah, I was super bummed. I have been looking forward to this book for a while. Some people did really like it though. I guess I would recommend reading the first few chapters and if you don't like it don't continue because the rest of the book is written in pretty much the same style.

    - Karissa

  3. The Windup Girl was not an easy book to read. I've read a number of negative reviews of this book and while I don't agree I understand how this happened. I couldn't read more than 3 or 4 chapters at a time without my ears starting to leak gray matter. But please, don't let that stop you. The Windup Girl is both terrifying and hopeful, devastating and beautiful. The dichotomy of humanity has never been captured as well as Bacigalupi did in here.

    I've talked a lot in the past about world building and how a quality book, especially sci-fi, doesn't stop at location. A quality book builds a world using history, anthropology, science, sociology, genetics, religion and politics. All of these factors exist in The Windup Girl and more. Bacigalupi tackles biology, evolution, family and the essential question of what it means to be human.