Category Archives: Why I Love

Why I Love: Paolo Bacigalupi

When I first read The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi’s extraordinary novel set in a dystopian future Bangkok, I couldn’t believe how original and astonishing it was. I lived in Bangkok for three years and had just left the city for a two-year stint in the U.S. when this book was published. Reading it was like returning to Thailand, not to the city as I’d left it, but to a terrifyingly plausible vision of the future.

Imagine a world where elephants power machinery, where foot-treadle computers are the norm, where multinational corporations control the patent on almost every crop known to humanity. Bacigalupi perfectly captures the Thai sense of pride in never having been colonized; here the Thai people are a last refuge of hoarded genetically unique crops. One of the principle characters, an expat Calorie Man searching for unknown specimens, spotsĀ rambutan for sale on the street. I loved the specificity of that exotic fruit; it brought back memories of how my lips would go numb whenever I to eat the interior of a rambutan without removing it from its outer casing first.

The windup girl of the title is a Japanese-engineered automaton, a toy for the pleasure of wealthy businessmen. Stranded in Bangkok, she is a sideshow act at a seedy Thai bar, property despite her sentience. The designers included a herky-jerky stutter-stop motion in her movement so that no one will ever mistake her for human.

Books like The Windup Girl are the reason I read: to explore what it means to be human, to see the world I know in even the most foreign fictional universe, to be changed by another person’s vision. I can honestly say I will never forget this book. Bacigalupi’s more recent YA fiction, Shipbreaker and The Drowned Cities, share a dystopian setting, a future in which rising tides have changed the face of the world. Shipbreaker depicts a society in which children must risk their lives to salvage valuable materials from wrecked ships; The Drowned Cities imagines an America where partisan violence is the norm, and children are both soldiers and victims. Bacigalupi brilliantly takes the terrible realities that some children in the developing world face today and transposes them onto more familiar terrain, distorted but recognizable. I can’t wait to see what this author will imagine next.