Windup – genetic modification and the rising seas

Cover of "The Windup Girl"

Cover of The Windup Girl

Book Review

The Windup Girl

By Paolo Bacigalupi

This author was new to me and truthfully I haven’t read any science fiction for quite some time as it all seems derivative having watched the films and read the classics from Asimov and so on, but this one was in one of our holiday flats and I thought, well it’s free, so why not try it? Different for sure and then – well….

The book is his debut novel and THE WINDUP GIRL was named by TIME Magazine as one of the ten best novels of 2009, and also won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Compton Crook, and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. Internationally, it has won the Seiun Award (Japan), The Ignotus Award (Spain), The Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis (Germany), and the Prix Planète-SF des Blogueurs (France). Wow! So recognised as something good and new then.

It is a rather long book and takes a while to get into but do stick with it! The title of ‘windup’ isn’t explained until the end. So you need to get through it all to find out just what this girl is and how and why she was created.

I found it an imaginative extrapolation of muddling in genetics can do. They called it science fiction but the science is not so far removed from what we could do now if moraility and ethics were thrown out of the window, and thus in a cuple of centuries this world could exist in reality.

I find myself conflicted about genetic modification – and on the TV this morning they were debating about creating burgers out of cells – is this a step too far? And as one of the panellists said, she had a genetically modified dog – ie one that had been specially bred for certain traits. As a gardener I am well aware we have, and will continue to do so, breed for colour, size, shape and ability to cope with different climatic conditions. Every year, the RHS celebrates a newly bred plant which is different from its forebears with some exaggerated feature that the consumers will pay for. Surely breeding grain, for instance, to cope with less water so it will grow in desert areas cannot be wrong?

What does seem to me to be wrong is to breed strains that are costly to the environment and the consumer. To breed seeds that are sterile and thus you cannot save them for the next year’s crop and to sell these in poor countries must be wrong. Just as it is wrong to breed seeds that are poisonous to the other creatures eg they contain an insect or weed deterrent – these affect not only the immediate soil but also the crops and plants and insects and those that eat the insects for quite some area around. Exactly what size that affected area is is debatable. And I certainly wouldn’t believe the salesmen on that – they are primed to sell their new seeds after all, just like a car salesman and thus any potential faults are not going to be discussed. Systemic poisoning of soil kills good life and bacteria as well as its intended target – a sterile soil requires added nutrients (artificially produced) and these nutrients and the poison escape into the eco-system.  Usually to its detriment – see the current issues with bees and the insects that are breeding a resistance to these poisons.

But back to the book. I think it could have been shortened and there is no back story at the beginning  – this just emerges gradually, and for this back story alone the book is worth reading.

As a warning to us all.

Overall this is an accomplished 1st novel (see awards above – which I didn’t know about when I picked up the book) but this is not a vision of the world to come that I’d like to revisit. I give it 4* but I’ll check the storyline before I read his new novel on the Drowned Cities.



One thought on “Windup – genetic modification and the rising seas

  1. Pingback: 2013 Great Debate: Genetic Modification | Hidden Agendas

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