The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi
I'm trying to resist the urge to begin this review with the words 'I really wanted to like this book, but...' and I can't help it because they really say it all. There are so many good things about 'The Windup Girl', so much thought has clearly gone into the writing of it and I can totally see why it picked up both the Hugo and Nebula awards. But even so, it's a book I just can't quite bring myself to actually like.

The book is set in a future where many of the world's cities have been lost to the sea, in a Bangkok where only pumps and dikes keep the water at bay. This particular version of Thailand is both reliant on imported foodstocks (carefully genetically modified to resist a variety of nasty diseases but also designed not to seed themselves, so the companies have a captive market). Despite this, the Thais have a seedbank carefully hidden, meaning they are not as reliant as the much-despised calorie companies would like and one of their representatives is trying to plot a coup which will also have the side-effect of making that happen.

The eponymous Windup Girl (Emiko) is also genetically engineered, a servant designed for perfect loyalty abandoned by her Japanese master in the slums of Bangkok. Naturally our two main characters meet and things happen for very little apparent reason I could see. There's a degree of ingenuity in how the character of Emiko is drawn, with various deliberate flaws from the design that leads to her aesthetic 'perfection' but even when bad things happen to her (as they inevitably do), it's hard to empathise.

For me, clever as 'The Windup Girl' is, there's something quite voyeuristic about all of it and it's that distance between audience and characters that means it doesn't quite work for me - in the end I couldn't really find it in myself to care if any of them survived what was inevitably coming and that's never a good sign.