The Windup Girl

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The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi novel - cover art).jpg
Hardcover edition
Author Paolo Bacigalupi
Cover artist Raphael Lacoste
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction, Biopunk
Publisher Night Shade Books
Publication date
September 1, 2009
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 361
ISBN 978-1-59780-158-4
Followed by Ship Breaker

The Windup Girl is a biopunk science fiction novel. The novel was Paolo Bacigalupi's debut novel and published by Night Shade Books on September 1, 2009. The novel was named as the ninth best fiction book of 2009 by TIME magazine,[1] and as the best science fiction book of the year in the Reference and User Services Association's 2010 Reading List.[2] This book is a 2010 Nebula Award[3] and a 2010 Hugo Award winner (tied with The City & the City by China Miéville for the Hugo Award), both for best novel.[4] This book also won the 2010 Compton Crook Award and the 2010 Locus Award for best first novel.


The Windup Girl is set in 23rd-century Thailand. Global warming has raised the levels of world's oceans, carbon fuel sources have become depleted, and manually wound springs are used as energy storage devices. Biotechnology is dominant and megacorporations like AgriGen, PurCal and RedStar (called calorie companies) control food production through 'genehacked' seeds, and use bioterrorism, private armies and economic hitmen to create markets for their products. Frequent catastrophes, such as deadly and widespread plagues and illness, caused by genetically modified crops and mutant pests, ravage entire populations. The natural genetic seed stock of the world's plants has been almost completely supplanted by those that are genetically engineered to be sterile.

The current monarch of Thailand is a child queen. The capital city is below sea level and is protected from flooding by levees and pumps. The three most powerful men in Thailand are the Somdet Chaopraya (regent for the child queen), the chief of the Environment Ministry General Pracha, and the chief of the Trade Ministry Akkarat.

Plot summary[edit]

Anderson Lake is an economic hitman and the AgriGen Representative in Thailand. He owns a kink-spring factory trying to mass-produce a revolutionary new model that will store gigajoules of energy. The factory is a cover for his real mission: discovering the location of the Thai seedbank. He leaves the running of the factory to his Chinese manager, Hock Seng, a refugee from the Malaysian purge of the ethnic Chinese. A businessman in his former life, Hock Seng plots to regain his former glory by stealing the kink-spring designs kept in Anderson's safe. When Emiko, an illegal Japanese "windup" girl stuck in a sex club, shares information she learned about the secret seedbank to Anderson, he tells her about a refuge in the north of Thailand where people of Emiko's kind live together. This becomes fixated in her mind, and from then on she strives to pay off Raleigh, the club's owner, and escape to this refuge.

Jaidee Rojjanasukchai, an upright captain of the white shirts (the armed, enforcement wing of the Environment Ministry), intercepts and destroys a dirigible containing a great amount of illegal contraband. Anderson and others in the white, foreign trading community pressure Akkarat to make Jaidee back off. When Jaidee finds his wife is kidnapped, he submits and is sentenced to nine years of monkhood. Realizing his wife has been murdered, though, he escapes the monastery to infiltrate the Trade Ministry. He is caught and killed. The other white shirts declare him a martyr and rise up against the Trade Ministry.

Meanwhile, Hock Seng learns that factory workers are falling to a new plague that had previously made the algae tanks malfunction. He has the bodies disposed of surreptitiously. As the white shirts take control of Bangkok, he escapes. Anderson discovers Hock Seng's flight and goes into hiding. Jaidee's replacement (and former protégé), Kanya, discovers the new plague and sets about trying to contain it while dealing with guilt of being Akkarat's mole and betraying Jaidee. She reluctantly seeks help from Gibbons, who is revealed to be a renegade AgriGen scientist. He easily identifies the new plague and gives clues to Kanya that lead her to Anderson's kink-spring factory.

Anderson meets with Akkarat and the Somdet Chaopraya, who is the regent to the young Thai Queen and the most powerful person in all of Thailand. Anderson offers to supply a new strain of GM rice and a private army to repel the white shirts in exchange for access to the seedbank and lowering of the trade barriers. He also introduces the Somdet Chaopraya to Emiko. When the Somdet Chaopraya's acts prove too humiliating, Emiko snaps and kills him, Raleigh, and eight other men before seeking refuge with Anderson. Akkarat accuses General Pracha of orchestrating the Somdet Chaopraya's assassination and uses this as a pretext for regime change against Pracha and the white shirts. The capital is plunged into civil war.

Failing to steal the kink-spring designs, Hock Seng tries to capture Emiko for ransom. However, Anderson makes a deal with him: Hock Seng would be patronized by AgriGen and Emiko would remain with Anderson.

Eventually, Pracha and most of the top Environment Ministry men are killed. Akkarat, now all-powerful, appoints his spy Kanya as the chief of the Environment Ministry. He also opens up Thailand to the world, and grants AgriGen access to the seedbank. Kanya, who acts subdued at first, reneges and executes the AgriGen team in the seedbank. She then proceeds to move the seedbank to a safer place with the help of the monks. With the hidden arsenal in the seedbank, she orchestrates an uprising and destroys the levees, flooding Bangkok. Bangkok's people and the capital relocate to the site of Ayutthaya, a previous Thai capital. Akkarat becomes a monk to atone for his failure of protecting the capital. Anderson dies of the plague originating from his factory and Emiko eventually is found by Gibbons, who promises that he will use Emiko's DNA to engineer a new race of fertile New People, thus fulfilling her dream of living with her own kind.

Awards and honors[edit]

In September 2010, the novel won the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel category, tying with China Miéville's The City & the City.[4] In May 2010, the novel won the Nebula Award for Best Novel.[5] In 2010, the novel won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. In 2012 a translated version of the novel by Kazue Tanaka and Hiroshi Kaneko won a Seiun award for "Best Translated Long Fiction" at the 51st Japan Science Fiction Convention.[6] The German translation Biokrieg won the Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis in 2012. The French translation La Fille automate won the Planete-SF Blogger's Award in 2012.[7]


Adam Roberts reviewed the book for The Guardian and concludes "when it hits its sweet-spot, The Windup Girl embodies what SF does best of all: it remakes reality in compelling, absorbing and thought-provoking ways, and it lives on vividly in the mind."[8]


  1. ^ Grossman, Lev (December 8, 2009). "The Top 10 Everything of 2009 – 9. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi". TIME. Time Inc. Retrieved January 22, 2010. 
  2. ^ "2010 Reading List announced". RUSA Blog. Reference and User Services Association. January 17, 2010. Retrieved January 22, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 5, 2011. Retrieved April 6, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Flood, Alison (September 6, 2010). "China Miéville and Paolo Bacigalupi tie for Hugo award". The Guardian. Retrieved September 9, 2010. 
  5. ^ Standlee, Kevin (May 15, 2010). "Nebula Awards Results". Science Fiction Awards Watch. Retrieved May 15, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Madoka Magica, Gundam: The Origin Win at Japan Sci-Fi Con". Anime news Network. 7 July 2012. Retrieved 7 July 2012. 
  7. ^ "Lauréat 2012 du Prix Planète-SF des Blogueurs". November 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  8. ^ Roberts, Adam (December 18, 2010). "The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi – review". The Guardian. Retrieved December 24, 2010. 

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