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The Windup Girl
By Paolo Bacigalupi

Discussed August 2010

Buy from Amazon.com

Characters

Citizens of Thailand:

  • Minister Akkarat, head of the Royal Trade Ministry.
  • General Pracha, head of the Royal Environment Ministry (“the white shirts”).
  • The Somdet Chaopraya, the Crown Protector of Her Majesty the Child Queen of Thailand.
  • Captain Jaidee Rojjanasukchai, a former muay thai fighter, now an officer in the Environment Ministry; known as “The Tiger of Bangkok.”
  • Chaya, Jaidee’s wife.
  • Kanya, Jaidee’s loyal lieutenant, secretly an agent of the Trade Minister.
  • Dog Fucker (real name Sukrit Kamsing), a Thai gangster working for The Dung Lord.
  • The Dung Lord, head of the Thai underworld.
  • Mai, a young Thai girl employed at the SpringLife factory.
  • Ratana, a scientist and medical doctor working in the underground labs of the Environment Ministry.

Foreigners:

  • Anderson Lake, an undercover “calorie man” in Bangkok (working for AgriGen); manager of the SpringLife factory.
  • Tan Hock Seng, chief administrative officer at SpringLife; a “yellow card man” (refugee from Chinese genocide in Malaya).
  • Emiko, the “windup girl,” a New Person created in Japan and abandoned in Thailand by her owner.
  • Raleigh, an “Old Hand” émigré, current owner of Emiko and of the sex club where she works.
  • Richard Carlyle, unofficial leader of foreign investors and corporations seeking to break into the Thai market.
  • Gibbons (aka Gi Bu Sen), a generipper secretly in the employ of the Thai government.

Questions

  1. This novel has garnered a lot of acclaim this year: Nebula Award (SFWA); Locus Award for Best First Novel; Compton Crook Award for Best First SF Novel (BSFS); Hugo nomination (WSFS). What’s your opinion? Does it merit all this acclaim?
  2. One of the functions of SF is to explore the “what if?” concept. How successful do you think this novel is at exploring a possible, plausible future (calorie companies, Contraction of the West, climate change, fossil fuel crisis)?
  3. Present-day Thailand is notorious as a center for “sex tourism” and “the sex trade.” What do you think about the inclusion of the sex trade into this story? Does it add to the story or advance the plot? Is it in there just for sensationalism?
  4. There is, in fact, LGBT content in this novel. It’s not
    “front and center,” but it’s there. What’s your opinion on the LGBT content?
  5. Recently there seems to be a lot of near-future SF being written about (and from the perspective of) non-Western nations and cultures. Here are a few recent examples:

    River of Gods by Ian McDonald (2004) – set in India
    Air by Geoff Ryman (2005) – set in “Karzistan” (loosely based on Kazakhstan)
    Brasyl by Ian McDonald (2007) – set in Brazil
    Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald (2009) – collection of stories set in India
    The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (2010) – set in Istanbul, Turkey

    What do you think of Bacigalupi’s depiction of near-future Thailand? Does it seem authentic or plausible to you? Does it “ring true” for you?
  6. According to Wikipedia, the term “mundane SF” refers to SF “set on or near Earth, with a believable use of technology and science as it exists at the time the story is written.” Does The Windup Girl qualify as “mundane SF”? Do you think the science and technology (bio-engineered plagues, generippers, New People, megodonts and cheshires) is “believable”?
  7. What do you think about the fact that the novel is entitled The Windup Girl? Do you think the character of Emiko is significant enough to the storyline(s) that the novel should be named for her?
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