by Paolo Bacigalupi
Children playing at war. Children who don’t deserve to die, but are too foolish to live.
Our futures have been ravaged, partially by war, partially by disease, but mostly by megalithic corporations. Food cannot grow, and what little can actually be produced is seized in the vice grip of a few mega-corporations that control the intellectual property of disease resistant, sterile grains (ahem! Monsanto ahemahemahem).
The plot sprouts from the world itself, with a starving population trying to survive until they can successfully ‘hack’ the latest strains, because anything but the latest couple of generations either kills you when eaten or dies before harvest.
The Windup Girl herself, Emiko, is an engineered creature, part of a race of slaves called New Humans who serve at the pleasure of the rich. Horrifically abused, she’s the marginalized symptom of the planet’s rot. Perhaps also some of its hope.
A clever device is used throughout this Hugo and Nebula winner. The story is told from shifting third-person-limited perspectives. We may already be familiar with Character X, but if Character Y who’s controlling the scene isn’t, then Character X is introduced as a stranger to us, complete with Character Y’s unique descriptive methods. It means the same character may be introduced multiple times with radically different descriptions each time, based on the knowledge of the current scene perspective.
The novel is dystopian noir. You won’t fall in love with its characters or its world. You probably won’t forget them, either. The Windup Girl isn’t going to make you feel good, but this is an excellent read.
“Life is, after all, inevitably fatal.”