I confess that I’ve found it difficult to make time for reading recently. Which partly explains why it seems to have taken me weeks to read ‘The Windup Girl’ the debut novel by Paolo Bacigalupi.

‘The Windup Girl’ is speculative SF in that much of the technology is either here today or very close to being reached. The book is set in a near future Thailand after the natural reserves of oil have run out. Joules are a currency in a country which seeks to defend itself against rampant GM modified plagues by retreating behind its own boundaries. Global warming also offers another challenge to Thai survival.

The conflict at the heart of the story is between the protectionist Environment ministry which seeks to protect the country by isolationism and the Trade ministry which sees the solutions to the country’s problems as coming from outwith its own boundaries.

From this premise Bacigalupi builds a complex story with a wide cast of characters. As a consequence there’s a lot of information to be digested and character motivation to be identified in the early stages of the book. But at the centre of it all is the windup girl, a manufactured human, surviving very much on the margins of society in Bangkok.

As the plot picks up steam, the chapter length drops significantly as an explosive incident (which actually happens off camera) tips the whole country into the chaos of a coup.

Whilst it may initially be slightly hard going it’s well worth persevering with the book for a fairly devastating second half. And remarkably, in amongst all the chaos, Bacigalupi manages to successfully resolve the arcs of his varied cast albeit to a mixture of fates.

Recommended. Buy it here or in your local bookshop.