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The Windup Girl is a 2009 biopunk science fiction novel by Paolo Bacigalupi (pronounced BA-chi-ga-LOO-pi). Winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards.

Events take place in 23rd century Thailand. Global Warming has raised the ocean levels to the point where pumps work continuously to keep Bangkok above water. Fossil fuels have all but been exhausted; the main source of portable energy are hand-wound 'kink-springs'. Megacorps dominate the world through biotechnology -- the crops they sell are engineered to be resistant to diseases both natural and man-made, but they're also sterile so their customers become reliant, with some countries like India and Burma run as virtual puppet states for the calorie companies. Reckless genetic engineering has led to the destruction of the natural ecosystem; the few plants and animals which have been modified to survive are constantly under threat from the latest viral mutations, as is the entire human race.

Throughout the turmoil, Thailand has managed to stay relatively stable by firmly controlling its borders and maintaining a seed bank safe from the megacorps' 'calorie men'. However a power struggle within the Thai government threatens to change all that.

Tropes used in The Windup Girl include:
  • Anti-Hero: Every. Single. Point-of. View. Character.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Kink-spring technology.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 1, although it is far from clear that humanity will get back on its feet.
  • Bad Cop, Incompetent Cop: Corruption is the norm in the Environment Ministry, and even the loyal men of Captain Jaidee grumble over how he doesn't take any 'gifts of goodwill', because they're losing face in front of their wealthier colleagues.
  • Beast of Battle: War megodonts (giant genetically-engineered elephants) have carbon fibre armour, blades attached to their tusks and machine-gun cages on their backs.
  • Big Applesauce: Subverted. The center of power for the agricultural megacorps is Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Big Fat Future: Definitely averted. Even in Thailand which is relatively well off foodwise, only the very wealthy or foreigners on good terms with the calorie companies put on weight.
  • Church Militant: The Grahamites are violently opposed to biotechnology and the corporations that do business in it.
  • Crippleware: the New People, aka windups, are a prime example. Physically they're stronger and much faster than humans, but they're crippled by making them overheat whenever they exert themselves. They're also bioengineered to have a dog-like need to obey and please, not to mention choppy movements to make them easy to spot. The military versions are explained to be just like the normal ones, including the dog-like behaviour, but they don't stutter or overheat. In the end Gibbons promises to remove all the artificial crippling.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: on a genetic scale. Cheshires are so much more effective than cats that their introduction brought about the end of felis domesticus in a few generations. It's also heavily implied this is what would happen to humanity if New People weren't designed to be crippled and with a dog-like need to please. And then Gibbons promises to change that...
  • Designer Babies: The Windups, Emiko included. They were genetically engineered without the ability to reproduce, a lesson learned from the spread of the Cheshires. Gibbons promises to Emiko he plans to change that.
  • Disney Owns This Trope: The disease-resistant grains shipped by calorie companies are sterile, so no-one can steal the 'intellectual property' involved in developing them. This has the effect of making countries which buy them slaves to the Mega Corps. The conspirators are shocked when Anderson offers Thailand the grain before sterilisation as an Enemy Mine incentive.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Emiko snaps when she realises her owner is never going to let her go, kills him with her bare hands, then runs into the room where she'd just been sexually abused and humiliated as per usual and kills the client and his bodyguards. The client happens to be the Somdet Chaopraya, the most powerful man in Thailand.
  • Downer Ending: Anderson dies of cibiscosis, and Kanya massacres his replacement and her team as they pick up their promised seed samples. 'Agri Tech' never gets the new material to work with, so those foods are probably lost to humanity forever; Gibbons doesn't seem intent of working on them, and after years he only managed Nighshades and ngaws on his own. This slaughter didn't endear Thailand to the Westerners, so they don't replace their failing pumps, and the city of Bangkok drowns. Those who survived the coup and flood are now refuges.
  • Evil Chancellor: The Somdet Chaopraya.
  • Earth-That-Was. Anderson views an old picture of a Thai farmer showing a fat tourist his array of fruit and vegetables, and is furious over their total ignorance of their good fortune. In his world where most food crops have died out from plagues, pests or competition from genetically-engineered strains, such a stockpile of diverse calories would represent enormous wealth.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Trade Minister Akkarat isn't willing to hand over his country's seed bank to the calorie companies, as it's the only guarantee of his country's independence. And when the Somdet Chaopraya is murdered all Thais -- no matter how villainous -- are outraged by this attack on royalty.
  • Evil Genius/Evil Cripple: Gi Bu Sen Gibbons
  • Flechette Storm: Spring-guns fire razor sharp discs, and eventually we see machine-gun versions.
  • Fingore: Akkarat tortures Anderson by breaking his fingers.
  • Foreign Fanservice: Inverted as blonde-haired, blue-eyed Anderson is regarded as ugly by Thai standards.
  • Ghostly Goals: The Thais are haunted by the spirits of the dead (phii) who can't resurrect as they don't deserve the Crapsack World they'd be reborn into. After Jaidee is killed by the Trade Ministry, a guilt-ridden Kanya finds herself being followed around by his phii in full Deadpan Snarker mode.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: None of the characters can really be called heroes. The 'good guys' act with questionable methods, and their motives are often just as self-serving as the 'bad guys'. Emiko is the most sympathetic of the bunch, probably as she gets very little chance to act on her own accord at least until she snaps.
    • Just to drive the point home: despite the fact that the reader is told that Gi Bu Sen/ Gibbons is a Complete Monster, and he gets very few scenes, he is arguably the most heroic character after Jaidee. Of course, there's still his A God Am I complex.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Averted. When thirteen-year old Mai discovers two sick workers, Hock Seng considers killing all three to prevent the white shirts burning down the factory to stop a pandemic. He packs them off to the hospital instead.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Kanya becomes The Mole after her village was burnt by the white shirts; she ends up doing the same thing to contain the pandemic.
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: Emiko, the title character, was a pampered Sex Slave / Office Lady for a Japanese businessman who abandoned her in Thailand because he'd rather update to a new model than spend the money to ship her home. She now spends every night being raped and humiliated for the amusement of brothel patrons, in a climate that's too hot for her genetically-engineered body. Hock Seng was once a wealthy ship merchant in Malaysia before a fundamentalist uprising led to the destruction of his business empire and the death of every member of his clan.
  • I Have Your Wife: Jaidee's wife is kidnapped and a photograph of her Bound and Gagged is slipped under the door of General Pracha. Jaidee is forced to resign in a humiliating public ceremony in the hope that she'll be released unharmed.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Anderson gets this literally.
  • Interservice Rivalry: General Pracha (in charge of the Environment Ministry) and Trade Minister Akkarat loathe each other, and are engaged in a constant battle for supremacy which eventually ends in open war.
  • Irony: Akkarat boasts how he intends to see Pracha live out his days as a disgraced monk in the jungle; that turns out to be Akkarat's fate after losing Bangkok to the floodwaters.
    • Dramatic Irony: Anderson dismisses his coughing up blood as a side effect of the torture he went through at Akkarat's hands... even though the audience knows that he's been exposed to a new and deadly disease from the algae baths.
  • Karma Houdini: Dog Fucker, the character that is arguably the one the audience most wants to die horribly, doesn't. The Dung Lord gets the spring blueprints, too.
  • Kill It with Fire: Burning villages and great swathes of jungle is often the only way the white shirts can stop pandemics and pests. The Grahamites are notorious for burning the occasional genetically-engineered crop as well.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Inverted with Captain Jaidee; he knows he's fighting a futile battle against corruption and the illegal importation of genetically-engineered food, but enjoys sticking it to powerful people too much to stop.
  • Knights Templar: The Grahamite Church. The 'green headbands' in Malaysia. The Environment Ministry ('white shirts') in their heydey.
  • Mega Corp: Lots of them. AgriGen, PurCal, U-Tex, Total Nutrient Holdings.
  • The Mole: Akkarat's people recruited Kanya to infiltrate the Environment Ministry after her village was torched by General Pracha. Kanya realises too late that Akkarat is no less corrupt and ruthless.
  • Morality Pet: Emiko for Anderson, Mai for Hock Seng, and Kip for Gi Bu Sen.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Too many to list, but Kanya's massacre stands out.
  • Odd Couple: Ever-cheerful Cowboy Cop Captain Jaidee Rojjanasukchai and his Number Two, Emotionless Girl Lieutenant Kanya Chirathivat.
  • Post-Peak Oil: Wind-ups are needed for portable energy now after petroleum supplies were exhausted.
  • Punk Punk: A mix of Biopunk, Springpunk, Musclepunk, Coalpunk and Dungpunk.
  • Properly Paranoid: The 'yellow cards' (Chinese survivors of fundamentalist genocide in Malaysia) live in a constant state of low-grade fear, waiting for the time when their Thai neighbours will find it similarly expedient to massacre them.
  • Rescue Romance: After Anderson saves Emiko from an attacker.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money: The Dung Lord and Trade Minister Akkarat own limousines powerd by coal-diesel engines, an unbelievable extravagance.
  • Sex Bot: Emiko, although not exactly a robot.
  • Schizo-Tech: Factory production lines driven by genetically-engineered animals, treadle-powered computers, elevators using human counterweights, coal-diesel tanks fighting alongside war-megodonts.
  • Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: Emiko. Turns out the 'geisha' windups are just as fast as the military windups.
  • Truth in Television: Ask Monsanto what a "terminator" seed is. Agribusinesses have already adopted some of the practices mentioned.
  • The Un-Reveal: Exactly what role Anderson played in Finland. What happened after Yates reached for the spring-gun. Whether Dog Fucker tortured, raped and killed Doctor Chan as he claimed. What happened with the super kinksprings after the Dung Lord got the blueprints.
  • The Verse: The Windup Girl is set in the same world as the short works of "The Calorie Man" and "The Yellow Card Man" with references to both in the text.
  • Villain Protagonist: Any of them could be, depending on which of profiteering, piracy, or violent Nationalism you consider most evil.
  • Villain Ball: The calorie companies dominate the world market due to their genehacked crops and animals, but also end up wiping out most of the natural environment and creating viral mutations that could end up killing everyone on Earth. Akkarat dumps Jaidee's mutilated corpse outside the Environment Ministry, which causes the white shirts to rise against him. Anderson introduces the Somdet Chaopraya to Emiko, causing his death. Anderson orders Hock Seng to get the factory running no matter what -- Hock Seng is forced to use the old infected vats, which end up incubating the disease that kills Anderson.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Wind-ups and cheshires (chameleonic cats) are believed not to have souls, so it's perfectly acceptable to kill them. Only one Thai questions the morality of this, and wonders if his previous job killing cheshires hasn't led to his dead relatives being reincarnated as wind-ups in karmic punishment.
  • With My Hands Tied: Akkarat tries to shove a bound Jaidee off the roof of the Environment Ministry. As Jaidee's a former kickboxing champion this turns out to be a bad idea. Unfortunately Jaidee is gunned down by Akkarat's bodyguards before he can send Akkarat over the edge instead.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Averted by Emiko's former employer who should have had his wind-up destroyed, but set her free instead. Given what Emiko endures since this is a questionable act of mercy.
  • We Are Everywhere: When Anderson's partner looks like he's distancing himself, Anderson points out that while Akkarat may be the power here in Thailand, the megacorporation he works for rules everywhere else.
  • World Half Empty: Ohhhh, yeah.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: There's no more petroleum, so international trade is conducted via clipper ships and dirigibles.
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