Tag: The Windup Girl

Are We Headed Down This Road?

The Windup Girl was a little bit of a struggle to get through. The book starts and you are thrust into a world that isn’t the easiest to understand right off the bat. At first you have no concepts of when the book is taking place or what has happened that has led to the current events. It doesn’t help that the characters change from chapter to chapter. I did like that you got to know each of the important characters through their own stories and see how their social statuses effected their stories. Each character came from a different type of background, from Anderson being the rich white guy who is considered a foreign devil to Emiko who is a genetically designed new person. It’s interesting to see how the social structure plays a large role in the story. The rich still have the power to control the poor and make money off of their suffering. I think that it was also interesting to see that all of the characters were corrupt in some sort of way. By writing from several characters’ perspectives, the book is able to show the story from every perspective, rather than painting just one person as the bad guy. While reading it I found myself disliking something about almost every character.

The thing that I really did like about the book was how you got to see life after the largest horrors had passed. It was a way to see life after they were dealing with the effects of climate change. The genetically modified food, animals and people were intriguing ideas of a possible future. We are constantly trying to modify foods to meet our needs. It brings up compelling ideas monopolizing food companies controlling the world. We already see hints of that in the world today with companies like Monsanto. I think the book paints a very realistic possibility when it comes to these large money hungry companies. I think that book really shows the lengths that these companies are willing to go to make money.

Overall I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book, but I didn’t hate it. It had some interesting moments that made me really think about the future in the book is a road that the world could possibly head down

The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl definitely takes a bit of getting into before the action starts to pick up and stories begin to unravel, but reading it is well worth the effort. There are two things that really struck me while reading this novel: How important the changing perspectives is to advance the plot and keep the reader engaged, and how raw the representation of prostitution and pimping is depicted.

Every chapter allows the reader to be exposed to a different character’s perspective. Of course it was a bit confusing at first to get used to being dropped into changing situations ever chapter, but it reminded me of the movie Crash. These characters were seemingly irrelevant to each other, leading their own lives and dealing with their separate problems. But gradually as the story unfolded, the reader could see how their lives overlapped and influenced each other. I thought this was interesting when it was first revealed how Anderson’s and Emiko’s lives had to do with each other. It was especially pleasant to be given little details here and there from one character that regarded another character; it was like filling in the empty spots of a jigsaw puzzle. Admittedly, it was still a bit difficult to keep up with the heavy plot lines at times especially because of the new terminology: Calorie men, white shirts, blister rust, genehacking. Surprisingly, understanding and visualizing most of the qualities of Emiko as a windup girl wasn’t that hard. The only thing I would point out is that a visual on-screen interpretation would be extremely helpful in understanding her mechanical ticks.

Emiko’s story line was by far the most interesting to me. Her life as an exotic performer/prostitute was shown in such a realistic and unapologetic manner that I had no choice but to respect the author for his bravery. I feel as though most artists would be cautious to portray the work and lives of prostitutes for what they are for fear of making the viewer uncomfortable and even guilty. Movies like Pretty Woman depict unrealistic portrayals of the dangerous night work of prostitutes. Its illustration, according to one Newsweek article, suggests to young children that prostitution is a viable career choice that may even bring enjoyment (Burleigh). This is certainly not a message that should be given to anybody. Prostitution is not a choice, it is sex slavery, which is clearly shown through Emiko’s experiences very early on in the novel. Her “performance” (which is quite clearly rape) on stage is humiliating and degrading on many levels. She endures the sexual assault and emotional trauma because she physically has no other choice as she was genetically engineered to please her companions and she economically has no other choice because she is in serious debt to her owner, Raleigh. As if her rape isn’t enough for the reader to cringe, Raleigh very clearly shuts down Emiko’s wishes to leave the establishment by essentially telling her how worthless and undesired she is outside of Japan. This treatment is incredibly harsh and even heartbreaking, but the rawness of the depiction is exactly what people need to see and be exposed to. Prostitution is in no way a pleasant experience and people should not be led to believe anything other than its abusive and traumatizing qualities. I applaud Bacigalupi’s talent and bravery in shining a light on the very serious topic, even if it’s not the main issue being depicted in the story.

 

Burleigh, Nina. “Sex Trafficking and the ‘Pretty Woman’ Fairy Tale.” Newsweek, 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Nature and Capitalism in the 23rd Century

It is tempting to read Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl as a story of GMOs gone wild. GMOs themselves are not so much the issue, however, as it is the ethics and philosophy behind their use that cause disaster. In Bacigalupi’s 23th Century Thailand, GMO food is an accepted, necessary part of the nation’s food supply. The problem is not that these foods are unhealthy, but that the actual companies that produce these GMO crops also produce plagues to wipe out their competitors’ products while showing little or no regard to how many people consequentially starve. These companies essentially cause the necessity of GMOs, as new crops are needed to replace those wiped out by plagues, and so Bacigalupi’s concern throughout The Windup Girl is the power that these bioengineering companies have, especially because of how they exploit global vulnerabilities created by climate change and the continued dominance of a capitalist global economic system.

In exploring this issue, Bacigalupi runs into more existential questions about bioengineering: what divides human civilization (i.e. our GMOs) from nature? Gibbons, the premier genesplicer in Bacigalupi’s world, posits that there is no difference: “We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods.” (Bacigalupi 243). While, as Aarthi Vadde notes, there is something “Machiavellian” about characters like Gibbons and his obsession with godhood, the premise that bioengineered, artificial evolution is an extension of nature may not be as radical as it seems. Scientists today arguing in favor of GMOs note that genetic manipulation is merely the advancement of techniques that we have already used for millennia: “according to [Dr. Steven] Novella, humans have been using selective breeding to create more desirable versions of plants and animals for thousands of years. In fact, it was a lone monk, Gregor Mendel, who in the 1800s discovered the laws of inheritance and launched the science of genetics by crossbreeding pea plants.” (Indre Viskontas, “No, GMOs Won’t Harm Your Health”). Still, no matter how ancient this assessment of nature’s boundaries may be, there are some dire implications to such a notion in the 23rd Century. The most damning of these implications is that if our GMOs are as disposable as the nature we create them from, (as indeed anthropocenic climate change asserts this disposability), then so too are the most ethically problematic GMOs imaginable: the New People.

Emiko, the titular windup girl, embodies the contradictions that this extended definition of nature entails. Emiko is conflicted between her instinctual inclinations for subservience, her strict obedience training, and her desire to be a free person. This desire, although it may deviate from other New People, (it is never confirmed if the village of free New People that Emiko dreams of is real), suggests that however artificial her origins are, she is of emotionally developed. We know that Emiko feels hope: “There is a place for windups. The knowledge tingles within her. A reason to live.” (Bacigalupi 101). We know that she feels pain and anger. Simply the fact that she feels conflicted demonstrates that despite the shackles of genetic programming she was created with, she is capable of experiencing different emotions. This is in turn should be evidence enough of her humanity, but Bacigalupi’s GMO humans experience an oppression that is much older than the technology that creates them.

Windups or New People are subjugated to slavery, and much like European colonial slavery of the past, this new generation of enslaved people is necessarily dehumanized. 23rd Century Thailand uses a Buddhist ideology to assume that New People like Emiko do not have souls, their justification being that New People are created rather than born. This definition of the soul, however, conflicts with the idea that New People are an extension of nature, and does not consider their capability of self-agency. This is because their inclination to follow their instinctual programming hides their agency. When Emiko does contradict these inclinations, while also expressing genuine emotion, she proves her agency resolutely effectively defies this dehumanization.

For these reasons, Emiko’s remarkable humanity is in an odd way, a kind of praise for GMOs, despite the manipulability and other negative traits that she is created with. Emiko is direct evidence for Gibbons’ definition of nature: she both is artificial in origin, yet natural in her humanity. Still, to treat her entirely as a positive portrayal of GMOs is both negligent and overly optimistic, as the cruel and oppressive flaws she is designed with once more remind us of the dangers that a bioengineering-centric view of nature poses. Creating GMO humans may not be such a bad thing if they are used primarily to continue the survival of the human race, (assuming that we count them as members of our kind), like Gibbons more or less hopes: “We should all be windups now. It’s easier to build a person impervious to blister rust than to protect an earlier version of the human creature.” (Bacigalupi 243). Creating GMO human slaves; however, as is the case with the New People, can only be seen as exploitative and sadistic; it relies upon a dehumanization of New People that Emiko’s character so resiliently contradicts.

That the calorie companies in Bacigalupi’s vision of the future can bioengineer both slaves and devastating crop diseases means that we need to be cautious about who has the power to tinker with GMOs and what the limits of GMO production should be. If we are to continue pursuing new GMO technology and crops, then we need powerful regulation, not just the kind we already follow to make GMOs safely palatable, but also the kind that carefully enforces humane ethics as well. Bacigalupi teaches us this and also warns us that as long as nature and civilization progressively meld together, there is much peril if a profit driven elite remains at the center of this fusion.

 

Works Cited:

Viskontas, Indre. “No, GMOs Won’t Harm Your Health.” Mother Jones. N.p., 14 Feb. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.

Vadde, Aarthi. “Megalopolis Now.” Public Books. N.p., 6 Aug. 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.