So remember a week ago when I, all cocky and full of bluster, thought that I was going to read three giant novels over my Spring Break? Yes, well, that didn’t so much happen. It turns out that, because El Boyfriend was also on Spring Break, that we spent most of the week napping on the couch together, making exciting meals, and occasionally going to see movies. And then I had to reread Hamlet to prepare for the first day of the Spring Quarter. All this means that I finished precisely one novel, so I’m feeling pretty glad that it was a corker.
The Windup Girl is more than good. It’s an absolutely magnificent realization of a world devolved, evolved, adapted from our own. Bacigalupi’s mastery of the uncanny is everywhere in this novel, reminding the reader that what they are engaging with is not some fantastical alien world, but the very possible and very near repercussions of our current world. Because of this, his novel is, in some ways, even better than Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Wiliam Gibson’s Neuromancer. I know that I’ve made a big claim there, so bear with me. What Huxley and Gibson did so well was predict what wasn’t yet a reality and thereby stir the imagination with what could be. This is an amazing feat. Looking back on both novels, it’s staggering to believe that Huxley lived in a world without genetic modification and yet predicted in-vitro fertilization, that Gibson lived before the world wide web and nonetheless invented cyberspace (seriously, he coined the term in the novel way back when in 1984!). The creative genius of both men is undeniable and I would certainly not say that Bacigalupi’s novel topples them from their places of prominence in the field of speculative fiction. But what Bacigalupi does that they did not is take the most frightening realities of our world — genetic modification run amok, the loss of global biodiversity, peak oil and what happens after, global warming and climate change, etc. — and imagine them out to their most horrifying, most bedeviling ends without ever slipping into the cartoonish, the absurdist. What Bacigalupi has created in the Windup World is all terribly possible, even plausible: genetically crafted “windups” that can be made to factory specifications but all move with a clockwork tick to distinguish them from natural people, the post-peak oil contraction world that runs on kinetic energy sources and the whims of the tides, the loss of biodiversity caused by “calorie companies” that build and patent infertile seedstock to create monopolies and thereby starve the world, plagues wrought in labs and released in campaigns of biological warfare. And it is just how realistic these events are that makes his imagination superlative.
So am I claiming that this is a perfect novel? By no means. There are quirks to the written style, to the novel’s structure, to the character development, etc., that could perhaps be improved upon. But this is a sweeping, vast novel that never sacrifices sympathetic, nuanced characters for convenient, one-dimensional plot points and never makes a move that feels stilted or contrived. And that, kiddos, is saying something; anyone who has read the novel will attest that a whole heck of a lot goes down and we get to know a crazy big cast of characters. All of this, then, is to say one thing: I really can’t wait till Bacigalupi’s next visit to the Windup World.