Category Archives: Bacigalupi, Paolo

Biopunk genre, The Wind-Up Girl

Book:  The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

This book is part of a genre called “biopunk”.  Wikipedia describes it:

Biopunk (a combination of “biotechnology” and “punk”) is a technoprogressive movement advocating open access to genetic information.  Biopunk hobbyists or biohackers experiment with DNA and other aspects of genetics.  The related biopunk science fiction genre focuses on biotechnology and subversives.

The Wind-Up GirlThe Wind-Up Girl is about a genetically engineered human who wants to be an independent person despite her genetics and engineering.  She strives to go against the grain of her programming and succeeds to some degree.

Bacigalupi does not create a tale that is pro-eugenics, but more gives the argument that it is inevitable.  In this scary new world there is no oversight from some grand global federation that could prevent any given country from engaging in genetically modifying humans.

Who’s to say that someone somewhere has already accomplished this task anyway, in the here and now?  You can buy zebrafish that have been genetically modified to be fluorescent purple!

But arguments for or against GMOs aside, this is a terrific well thought out book with a serious ring of realism and it deserves a read.  Imagine a hot climate-changed world with civilization hanging on by a thread, no more oil so everyone travels by boat or animal or bike or dirigible, and with hardly a non-GMO crop or animal in sight.  The Wind-Up Girl will put you in the moment.

GM humans are people too (The Wind-up Girl)

Book:  The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

As I discussed in the last post, love and compassion in this book are hidden deep down in the psyches of those struggling to survive this ugly world, if they exist at all.

Large powerful corporations – one of the main characters works for “AgriGen” – rule the calorie market by whatever means necessary.  Negotiation, bioterrorism, hand-to-hand violence, whatever.   (AgriGen is this future’s natural extension of Monsanto, the comparison cannot not be made.)

Foods, animals, and humans have been genetically modified.  Barely a calorie exists that The Windup Girl cover artisn’t made with a genetically modified crop or animal.  All natural crops have been destroyed by some disease or another.

The people of the Thai Kingdom, where the story takes place, hold a deep disgust for genetically modified humans.  (I suppose this is a somewhat natural, since the very existence of humans as a species could be threatened by the very existence of genetically modified ones, in the long run.)  Eating GMO crops is a must but the Thai people are against GMO people.

The most fascinating thing about this book is that the author has played out how present and substantial the role of genetic alteration may become to our world.

Japan, as we learn, does not treat “wind-ups” (genetically modified humans) as soulless disgusting creatures, as the Thai do.  (A Japanese company based in Thailand creates – builds – wind-ups.)  Japan views them primarily as tools, though, and they are put to death when they’re no longer useful or if they commit an act that is not sanctioned by their education.  A Japanese wind-up, Emiko, is more or less the main character, and she is left in Thailand when her Japanese benefactor decides to upgrade to a newer model.

In our view as readers of this book, we know that genetically modified people are different than us, yes, but they are still humans with the equivalent of “souls”, no different than you or I in that department, but the Thais think they are practically demons.

Cloned creatures have all of the “personhood” attributes of any other member of their species.  Years ago when the first cloned animal was created (or at least the first to be publicized), Dolly, I asked myself, what is different about a cloned creature?  The answer is, there is no difference, except for whatever physiological differences such as being more prone to disease and whatever changes the designer put into them.  And that might be substantial, but their minds and bodies feel the same psychology and emotional pain that other members of their species do.  The same depth of being.

If scientists ever succeed in cloning a woolly mammoth, for example, would it not suffer terribly like any other animal, in a cage or enclosure, away from its natural habitat and any creatures like it?

Perhaps a cloned individual is different than a genetically modified one but to say that someone isn’t a real person because their DNA was tampered with, or because they were not born in the traditional way, is simply hogwash.  I wonder if someday this will be a The Wind-Up Girlbigger discussion because of cloning or GMO technology.  It’s exciting, but this book will remind you that it should also be quite disturbing to you too.

The people of Bacigalupi’s The Wind Up Girl seem to lack the sentiment that GM humans are people too.  And they lack much of that love and compassion that I spoke of earlier.  Even the Japanese who treat their genetically altered people with decency consider them little more than a means to an end, and nearly everyone will snuff out a life like they’re taking out the trash.

But it’s a great ride, and I will keep reading Bacigalupi, even if his books are based in a monstrous future that is haunting and frightening for what it depicts, and possibly, predicts.


The Windup Girl on audiobook

Book:  The Wind-up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl, art by Sharksden Art Studio, from DeviantArt
The Windup Girl, art by Sharksden Art Studio, from DeviantArt

It took a while to get into this book.  I’m listening to it, not reading it, so that makes a difference in how it’s experienced.  In my view, reading is better, you can go at your own pace, reread a section if you want to, go back and check for something, etc.  Listening takes more effort; dry or slow-moving sections are more boring.

About one-third of the way through I started to listen more carefully to The Windup Girl and now that I’m in the second half I’m closer to sitting on the edge of my seat, and I really care about the outcome.

In Bacigalupi’s post-oil future every calorie is counted and carbon expenditures really matter.  Seas have risen and droughts and crop failures have created a world where only highly modified GMO crops can survive to provide sustenance for humans.

The Thai Kingdom has weathered the storm better than most countries and here our story takes place, with a Japanese “wind-up” as an extremely sympathetic character.  Wind-ups are genetically modified humans who are considered by the Thai people to be unnatural, soulless, even disgusting.

There is a lot of racism – the Thais disdain foreigners – but even worse, there is a total lack of compassion for living things.

I have noticed this in Bacigalupi’s other writing:  His socially collapsed realities are filled The Wind-Up Girlwith people who must struggle to survive and compassion is something that has been left in the wake of that world of leisure that is no more.

The wind-up girl has one friend, a white man, a foreigner, and their attraction to each other is the closest thing to love that this book has.  So I ask myself, do I want to keep reading Bacigalupi’s books even though there is no “love”?  And it’s a resounding yes.

The reader has a way of finding the tiniest salvation and hanging on, as long as the rest of the story is engaging, and it certainly is in this case.