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The Windup Girl  By  cover art

The Windup Girl

By: Paolo Bacigalupi
Narrated by: Jonathan Davis
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Publisher's Summary

Earphones Award Winner (AudioFile Magazine)

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history's lost calories.

There, he encounters Emiko...Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism's genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? In The Windup Girl, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi returns to the world of The Calorie Man (Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winner, Hugo Award nominee, 2006) and Yellow Card Man (Hugo Award nominee, 2007) in order to address these poignant questions.

BONUS AUDIO: In an exclusive introduction, author Paolo Bacigalupi explains how a horrible trip to Thailand led to the idea for The Windup Girl.

©2009 Paolo Bacigalupi (P)2009 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

  • Hugo Award, Best Novel, 2010
  • Nebula Award, Best Novel, 2009
  • Best Books of 2009, Publishers Weekly
  • 10 Best Fiction Books of 2009, Time magazine
  • Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy 2009, Library Journal

"Paolo Bacigalupi's debut sci-fi novel is a stunner, especially as interpreted under the careful ministrations of narrator Jonathan Davis. The novel postulates a corrupt near-future society in Southeast Asia, where powerful corporations vie for control over rice yields by wielding bioengineered viruses as tools for profit." ( AudioFile)
" The Windup Girl will almost certainly be the most important SF novel of the year for its willingness to confront the most cherished notions of the genre, namely that our future is bright and we will overcome our selfish, cruel nature." ( Book Page)
"A classic dystopian novel likely to be short listed for the Nebula and Hugo Awards" ( SF Signal)

Featured Article: Best Authors for Fans of Margaret Atwood


Iconic Canadian author Margaret Atwood is more than a beloved novelist, poet, and essayist. She’s also a feminist, environmental activist, and innovator. Atwood examines important themes across many genres, including nonfiction, poetry, dystopian fiction, science fiction, and retellings of mythology. If you've worked your way through all of her stellar audiobooks and don’t know where to go next, here are some listens by authors similar to Atwood for you to enjoy.

What listeners say about The Windup Girl

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Good and also Frustrating

The good about this book: Jonathan Davis, who did a great job, as usual. The plot was intricate and fascinating, the characters were all very complex and multi-layered. It's a very scary and creepily possible sounding future, so this book was great, except for...

the bad: I could only listen to a little bit of this each day, and as result, it's taken forever to finish it. I know it's supposed to be dystopian, but good heavens...it was such a relentess bummer, I had to turn it off and go listen to some current news (war in Iraq, bank failures, rising foreclosures rates, jellyfish invasions, etc) just to lighten my mood. In addition, this novel is so crammed with repetitive exposition, it made me scream more than once in the car, "She's obedient and she doesn't like it...he's an incorruptible fighter and a hero to the people...he's afraid he'll get killed with a machete before he buys his clipper ship...I got it, I got it, I GOT IT!"

It took a lot of patience to finish this, so I can't exactly call it gripping--but it was a very fascinating trip.

223 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Wanted to like, but....

I really did want to like this book. With an interest in Asian language and culture, I found the post-apocalyptic Thailand backdrop to be quite compelling. I liked the author's writing and felt that, while the cast was indeed large, I did care what would happen to the characters. The reader gave a wonderful performance, impersonating a wide range of voices from that of a shrewd American businessman to a young Japanese woman.

What kept me from finishing the book was the intense and endless depiction of violence. I know that I am more sensitive to violence than many, but I was still surprised that this was not mentioned at all in any of the other reviews. The book began right from the start with a gruesome factory accident and brutal sexual assault and never subsided. While I can tolerate some violence, I felt that the explicit descriptions of pools of blood and mutilation were unnecessary and far too copious. At least with a printed book I could have glossed over those paragraphs and potentially continued to read, but I constantly felt nauseated while trying to read.

After struggling with over 1/3 of the book--compelled to read on because of the unique story--I finally couldn't take it any more. I would assume that for the average reader this book should be tolerable, but a word of caution for those more sensitive to explicit depictions of gory violence.

181 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Al Gore nightmare meets Blade Runner.

This is an outstanding dystopian work with a strong environmental flavor. Following catastrophic disasters relating to both energy sources and food production, Thailand leads a precarious existence as a partially-sheltered enclave. Power struggles between internal political factions interact with the machinations of foreigners. At the same time, the life of the wind-up girl of the title mirrors these tensions, and she is not quite what she seems. The characters are well-drawn, the tone is dark, sometimes horrific, and the storyline strong and unpredictable. It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel, given the level of maturity it displays. Italian author Paolo Bacigalupi is definitely one to watch closely in the future. The audiobook is narrated by Jonathan Davis who is simply superb.

80 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Rated in halves

No doubt, the first half of this book is paced more slowly than the last half. It was interesting, and very detailed, which sets a good stage for the latter half where things pick up exponentially. If you can be patient with an initially slow plot, you'll be ok. Coupled with this slower plot pace in the beginning, I also agree with the previous reviews that much of the content in the first half is unnecessary to the finish. It felt to me as if the last half of the book was written first, and the beginning of the book was added for context. I give the first half three stars, and the last half five stars.

The "prologue" by the author is great backstory, and you can really see the parallels and motivation behind his tale, based on his real life experiences.

The narration was good -- but some of the section breaks within chapters weren't noted by a long enough pause, or something. Two characters would be in a discussion one moment, and the next, it would be two totally different characters in a totally different place.... On a printed page, the section breaks are clear and anticipated, but this audiobook needed a little more of a pause in between to make it easier to transition from scene to scene. Aside from this nitpick, very very good narration.

Overall, it's a very interesting book comprised of a rich near-future world set in a compelling location, with love-hate characters. If you're patient with the first half, you'll be well rewarded.

77 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant and Engrossing

W.B. Yeats wrote, "Whatever flames upon the night, man's own resinous heart has fed." Bacigalupi's imagined future Thailand, his characters, and his sure and economical prose bring weight and life to that assertion. The characters especially are memorable in a Dickensian way.

The dystopian future of the story is all too plausible. Coastal cities drowned by melting ice caps. Giant corporations supplanting governments and destroying human freedom in the name of ever growing profits. Warfare of the rich upon the poor, conducted with famine, and genetically engineered insects, parasites and viruses. Bacigalupi makes every challenge real and still leaves room for unexpected hope.

I was slow to warm to Jonathan Davis' performance, but once well underway, his clear and distinctive voicing, both for narration and for each character made the novel all the more engaging and memorable. In a way I seldom do, I felt I had missed nothing by listening to the book instead of reading it. Kudos to Davis, and brickbats for me who was so slow to notice his mastery.

68 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

A Wound Up Review

The narration was superb, the writing was fluid and detailed, character development was spot on, but I just couldn't get into the first half of this book. I wanted to like this book, and kept waiting for a hook to capture my attention, but it never came, instead it just trudged along.

The story very slowly and often painstakingly unraveled in the first half, introducing main characters who I didn't care about, and situations that didn't spark an interest. Even the hook of the book 'the new people', took most of the book before anything of interest happened.

It seems that when something interesting in this book did happen, it was dropped rapidly in replacement of something boring. I had hope when something unique happened with a 'new person' and the discovery of a great ability, but was let down once again when it was not explored.

Characters such as Yates and the scientist seemed to have great potential, but were never developed, and items such as the windup spring, and northern territories had great potential but were left in the dust. Exciting areas like Calorie companies and Gene Rippers were barely investigated, yet internal conflict between bland government agencies were written to near exhaustion.

The second half of the book does pick up, with unique and new concepts about survival, ethics, and commerce, and introduces more action, but it couldn't save the book for me.

49 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Fascinatingly dystopian

Some have complained this is slow, or took a while to get into it, but I had no such issue. I was absorbed with the fascinating world Bacigalupi created and the wonderful detail. It's an ugly, harsh world, but it seemed realistic somehow, and written in such a way you can feel the sweat prickle at you and smell the fetid aromas of a world gone wrong. It's a world of dinosaurs resurrected from their genes as work animals, of dirigibles and the odd coal fired car because there remains no fuel. It's a future world ruined by greed and rampant technology, great climate shifts, rising oceans, and genetic engineering gone mad. There's a warning in this somewhere.

I read this going in and out of work for a month. I would sit in the train and peer out the window at the passing scenery while I felt a growing sympathy for the wind-up girl, and curiosity at Anderson's schemes, and how it would end up. I found myself appreciating the things we take for granted - fresh fruit and vegetables, so sensuously described here, and the energy we use so unthinkingly.

I felt it all beautifully written, and if I have any criticism it seems at odds with many here. I enjoyed the slow and inevitable build-up that pointed to some final resolution - which, when it came, seemed a little simplistic.

35 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A Scary Fluid Line Between Natural & Unnatural

The Wind Up Girl is a strong work of dystopia science fiction filled with imaginative, vivid, and provocative ideas, settings, and characters that cast a horrible light on our present world here and now. The novel takes place in the capital city of a future Thailand that is barely holding out against global warming, scarcity of fuels and foods (calories), and prevalence of mutating, genetically engineered plagues that attack flora and fauna. Powerful genetic-agricultural corporations who control the world food and gene supply are itching to get their hands on Thailand's secret, "natural" seed bank. Genetically engineered people (wind ups), elephants, and cats play their roles (or break free from them). In this situation Bacicalupi tells his story from the point of view of several compelling characters whose schemes and dreams and destinies become ever more intertwined as the novel progresses.

Some reviewers have complained that the novel is too slow, especially in the first half or so, but I found it completely engrossing. Some reviewers have said that there are no likable characters, but I found all of them human and increasingly compelling. I sympathize with the reviewer who said that he'd have preferred shorter or fewer of the movie-type action scenes that kick in as the novel surges through its climax, although the reader, Jonathan Davis, does such a splendid job that I found myself excited rather than repulsed by the action.

Jonathan Davis delivers a virtuoso performance, convincingly reading parts for a Japanese wind up girl, an aging Chinese refugee entrepreneur, a Thai double agent, an American corporation operative, and more, his voice becoming appropriately tender or intense, cynical or ominous, jaunty or morose, depending on what's going on in the story.

All in all a fine listen!

25 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Do Not Continue Listening

I burned this onto 16 cds. It was a Nebula winner and had great reviews. I listened to the first three cds and was ready to throw it out. Then I reread the reviews and all these people gave it 5 stars and said it was a slow starter, but it would pick up halfway and would be worth your wait. I will admit it got better at the halfway point, but not a lot better and it soon went down hill after that. I can not believe this won an award, but then I am not a fan of Gaimen, who also seems to win lots of awards. There are hints of Asimov's robot series and Pohl's Space Merchants in this. This being PB's first work, I might read some shorter works of his in the future, but not real soon and I am not going to spend a lot of money on his work.

20 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Hard core almost at it's best

Very good hard core sci fi in the world it is set, with a message that is not preachy, but a very slow moving story. If you like story over action then this a good book for you. The story follows characters who seem to have very little interaction that leads to a chain of events that reach the book's conclusion. The world is gritty and grimy, set between the few haves and the all the rest of the have nots. The wind up girl is not electrical/mechanical but is genetically engineered. Which to me makes her still human, but how she is 'programmed' that makes her the way she is. It is the simple fact that she is made that is how others perceive her. The narrator is very good, he can jump from an American male to an Asian woman without a hitch. His voice is clean and clear. Over all the book has the feeling that is should be great, but in the end is somehow lacking.

19 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • David
  • 04-06-14

Great story - Narrator on Valium

Jonathan Davis MUST have been paid by the minute. I can't imagine any other reason for the glacial narration. Fortunately my Audible app lets me change the narration speed. I found "1.5 times" was about right. As a result, this was a considerably shorter book than I'd expected!

Now, the story: The Windup Girl is a fable of a world without fossil fuels, where mega-corporations claim Intellectual Property rights over genetically engineered cereal crops while millions starve. It's a story set in world where gene-hacked sub-class are quite literally, lower than trash.

It's story of contamination, where disease, superstition and revolution spread in the same way as suspicion, fear and depravity.

The Windup Girl exists in a place of poverty and decay, where your next mouthful of fresh fruit might see you coughing up blood in the gutter, and where the corrupted remnants of the police have become the most feared gang in the district.

It's challenging. Especially because of it's heavy reliance on Thai culture. So don't expect an easy page turner. That said, I absolutely loved it.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • VicHoon
  • 01-17-12

Glacial.

After investing 5 hours I have given up with this audiobook. There is way too much time dedicated to slow exposition as back stories are built. A simple activity such as hiding some cash in a hidey hole inside a bamboo wall takes about 15 minutes to achieve. For some reason I am stuck with the impression that most character conversations have to involve someone shrugging. It's a shame because the Asian post-civ setting is interesting but yes, I get it: Malaysian, Thai and Chinese people are deep thinkers whose complex cultural rules need to be navigated carefully. The trouble is that Bacigalupi hammers this home page after page after page (i.e. minute after minute after minute), at the expense of actual plot development. I perked up a bit at the introduction of the Windup Girl character, but she's barely in the first five hours of this story.
All the characters appear to be mired in their own personal misery, in a society that offers little joy. Fair enough if you like the semi-apocalyptic, post-civilisation genre, but there are other authors (Alistair Reynolds leaps to mind) who could convey the same mood but in a fraction of the time, and without sacrificing the depth that Bacigalupi seems to prioritise over action.
If there's an annotated version of this audiobook, I suggest you try that instead, unless you have infinite patience.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • John
  • 02-10-11

Breathtaking

I'm two thirds the way through this novel, but I feel sufficiently confident thus far to post some comments. It's easy to appreciate why it has won significant awards.
Whereas I did not enjoy other works by the author, I may have to re-read and give them a second chance after this book.
It's hard not to use superlatives to describe 'Wind-up Girl'. From the start, this book is, in my subjective opinion, fascinating, stunning and visionary. I think some significant credit is also due to the excellent narration of Jonathan Davis (who, I'm noting, does a good job on several other books)
A twenty second century Bangkok is richly described and experienced through the lives of the central characters.
By moving between several characters whose lives intersect the novel keeps a freshness going between chapters.
It's not a hard science SF novel, in that the author does not get bogged down in the science of genomics, but neither does he commit any major howlers in his inferences and extrapolations. The characters are well fleshed and the story has a realistic progression. An entirely original work, though with perhaps more than a nod toward the works of other great authors such as Phillip.K.Dick. I anticipate that this will see a major cinematic adaptation at some point.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • mandylouise
  • 05-04-19

Great book terrible narration

Paola Bacigalupi did a good job researching the nuances of Thai culture for this book, and he used Thai words carefully and appropriately. However, it took me about 5 years to finally listen all the way through because the narrator could not pronounce Thai words. It would have been easy for him to learn to say thanon, Ayutthaya, and mahout, but he did not and it sounded terrible. It would be like listening to a book about Scotland by a narrator who pronounced Edinburgh with a hard g at the end of the word. I eventually listened after several friends mentioned how good the novel is, and I stuck it out until the story got good enough to excuse the dreadful pronunciation. It would be a better book to read, rather than listen.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • mg
  • 12-05-20

Boring

The only reason I got to the end of this book is because I fell asleep.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Tuomo
  • 09-13-20

Who deflated the performer?

This entire book sounds like the performer is apologising for his own existence. Even at 1.5x speed, the contemplative silences between sentences are still long enough for the listener to stop paying attention and move on with their life.

The story seemed interesting, but I can't be really sure.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • E. Robson
  • 03-31-20

So slow

I am a prolific listener of audio books and am loathe to give one up without at least one full read through but this is very slow. You can glaze over for fifteen minutes and not lose a second of plotting. It’s densely descriptive and the narrator is excruciatingly slow. The premise is great and the book and writer have won numerous awards I think it’s likely this is a read instead of a listen. Gave up.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Rachel
  • 08-22-12

A wonderful, involving read

This book just grabbed me from the beginning. Although I didn't have huge sympathy for any of the characters, the world created - in the not-too-distant-future - is all too horribly believable. The results of global warming, over use of fossil fuels and genetic modification in the hands of giant corporations (Monsanto anyone?) have left Thailand as one of the only Asian countries that still has some freedom, with rampantly mutating diseases being kept at bay by harsh methods and humans only just managing to get enough to eat. The American 'calorie man' is a kind of spy, seeking genetic information, whilst getting involved with a japanese windup girl - a genetically modified human designed to help the aging population of japan. The story escalates as characters lives interweave and crisis piles on crisis for the people of Bankok. A satisfying, well plotted and beautifully narrated story, I was sorry when it finished.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • O. Blackwood
  • 07-18-19

An Engrossing Adaptation

Bacigalupi's work is always a pleasure, and it was another to find that his work had been adapted to audiobook form. His descriptions, narrative and characters are deeply immersive, and his attention to details in his hypothetical-future-Thailand is praiseworthy. Most of the painful tropes of scifi (pseudoscientific handwaving, perfect heroic men, submissive/disempowered women, abrupt introduction of too many new concepts/ideas) have been neatly evaded and subverted with a grace that borders on the balletic.

Jonathan Davis is a consistent and skilful narrator, who puts a great deal of effort into his work. In a work that evokes so many of William Gibson's themes, it is only to be expected that this choice of narrator would please author and fans alike. However, in the setting of the novel, I would have greatly enjoyed an English speaker with Thai heritage/language for the majority of the narration, and an East Asian female narrator for Emiko/Kanya's parts.

In summary, I greatly enjoyed this adaptation of The Windup Girl, and it may become a regular listen- but not near as regularly as I reread Bacigalupi's books.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Will
  • 02-17-15

Good but lacked history.

loved the dystopian future stuff. Not enough history on the destruction of our modern day society to the future depicted.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Disco
  • 03-27-19

amazing

amazing story, one of the best I've read
voice actor at first grated, like he was trying to sing it as a love poem, but got used to it and his ability to give different characters voices ( so you know who is talking) is unmatched

so if he annoys you at first please stick with it! it's great

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Nicole C. Lopes
  • 06-01-18

This should be the second book in a series

I really felt like there was a possible back story here that could have better explained what was going on. I liked the concept but often found myself floundering and not really knowing what was going on.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Jordan
  • 08-13-16

For racist accent lovers

If you like your audiobooks to be read by a generic (and white, apparently) American man who does poor, generic and insulting 'Asian accents', then this is the audiobook for you!

I cringed through much of the first hour, but when I heard the narrator actually say "compricated", I gave up. I can't even understand how this got approved during production.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • LN
  • 08-27-20

Very relatable content in our current climate

Very relatable content in our current climate. Great story line and an excellent performance by the Narrator. Would definitely recommend.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Kindle Customer
  • 08-09-20

I wish there was more!

I read this book a number of years ago and was very pleased to find it on audible. A unique storyline and a gripping tale of intrigue. Wonderfully written characters.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • David Wooldand
  • 05-06-20

Stunning read of our possible future

A stunning read which has insights into alarming but often accurate possible futures mankind. Paola close observation of the current world I feel allows him to extrapolate believable futures.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-31-18

Surprisingly good.

I didn't expect to like this book but really enjoyed it! Well written, with an excellent narrator, the story made me think about my use of resources and what may occur once fossil fuels have been exhausted. The author writes an excellent narrative, very descriptive and kept me engaged for the entire book.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • James Sprecak
  • 07-12-17

beautiful

author got ridiculed. but how the story was elaborately told, amazing. would recommend to all.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Carolyn Drought-Leblang
  • 06-02-17

Thoughtful book of a future dystopia

This book is a thoughtful inquiry into our possible future with big questions surrounding GMO's and their place in Bacigalupi's future world. Bacigalupi turns the question of GMO's on its head, reasoning that they are an extension of nature and imperative to the survival of his future society. All of this is very interesting and combined with a host of gritty characters the book is a great read. Bacigalupi's character development is thorough but could easily be criticised for slowing down the story and dragging out the middle section of the narrative. The other negative is the brutal sexual abuse suffered by the windup girl, it's enough to caution readers with a trigger warning, there's a scene in chapter 3 and chapter 29 but the rest of the book is ok. Overall, this book is worth the read, persist through the middle section to be rewarded by an interesting twist at the end.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Adam Sutherton
  • 08-18-16

Enjoyable post apocalyptic story

It reminds me of William Gibson - a realist?!?!
It is understandable why this book won several awards - something fresh and real!