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REVIEW – The Windup Girl (2009) By Paolo Bacigalupi

April 12, 2010

THE ZONE have my review of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl.

The star rating is, perhaps, a little harsh given how much I enjoyed the novel.  I think that the book is filled with fascinating ideas and that, more than any work of SF I have read recently, it tries to engage with some of the big political issues that are affecting our time.  However, at the end of the day, I was not convinced that these ideas had been successfully knitted into a coherent narrative.  I think that the shift from short stories to novels has raised some serious issues over Bacigalupi’s approaches to characterisation and plot which, though perfectly understandable in a first-time novelist, are still somewhat disappointing.

  1. April 16, 2010 8:37 pm

    Hi. Just read over the review, which naturally offers a lot to think about.

    I haven’t read this book myself, but I have read and enjoyed a fair amount of Bacigalupi’s short fiction, including “The Calorie Man.”

    There’s a lot of interest here about cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk-the shift to a more global take on things, the movement beyond noir (though frankly I see less of noir when I look away from Gibson to other, contemporaneous writers like Sterling, Shirley and Rucker), the dimensions of class and alienation, and also the aspirational aspect.

    As far as the strategic literature goes, though, I’d actually say the concerns you describe (feral cities, etc.) are far from novel, and very well-established-indeed, were already well-established by the mid-1990s. (The big moment for the image of global South-as-dystopia was probably Robert Kaplan’s 1994 essay “The Coming Anarchy.” Three years before that, Thomas Homer-Dixon wrote a paper that influenced Kaplan about the impact of environmental problems on international security, “On The Threshold.” And of course there were Benjamin Barber and Samuel Huntington in there too.)

    I’d add that there is a related strand of thought on the political right which is optimistic if not utopian, epitomized by writers like Thomas Friedman, Fareed Zakaria and Paul Barnett. Additionally, the dark views are hardly exclusive to the neoconservatives-urban studies specialist Mike Davis, for instance, writing extensively in this vein-and also a writer often accused of being “apocalyptic,” if in quite different ways, and from quite a different perspective, than for instance, a Robert Kaplan or a Ralph Peters. Writers like Davis represent a strand of thought that I would guess to be more relevant to understanding Bacigalupi’s take here than anything out of the strategic think tanks.


  2. April 20, 2010 12:52 pm

    A minor correction: I should have said Thomas Barnett, not Paul Barnett.



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