My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In a post-oil economy, calories have become the world’s currency. AgriGen calorie man Anderson Lake covertly searches Bangkok’s street markets for new and exotic foods that won’t succumb to the bio-engineered plagues that run rampant across the globe. Lake’s subordinate Hock Seng, a Chinese genocide survivor, has plans of his own to take advantage of Lake’s findings. Lake soon meets one of the New People, Emiko, known pejoratively as a Windup Girl (due to the jerky, clocklike movements she makes). Emiko looks and acts human, but is in fact genetically engineered, grown, and programmed as a high-priced call girl. Abandoned by a wealthy Japanese businessman in Bangkok, Emiko is now a virtual slave forced to perform decadent and degrading sexual acts as entertainment.
Incorruptible Captain Jaidee Rojjanasukchai, the Tiger of Bangkok, champion of the martial art muay thai, under the direction of corrupt General Pracha leads the Environment Ministry’s white shirt enforcers protecting the city from incursions of disease, foreign plants and animals, and artificial humans. Jaidee intercepts and destroys illegal imports to the consternation of powerful and influential smugglers. Lieutenant Kanya Chirathivat finds herself in a difficult situation when one of Jaidee’s raids goes awry.
Trade Minister Akkarat wants to expand relations with the rest of the world, while the Environment Ministry works to retain Thailand’s isolation. This conflict eventually spills into the lives of the eclectic cast of characters.
The shifting points of view create a mosaic that is rich in detail, requiring the reader’s full attention. To get the full impact of this novel, plan to read it in large chunks in a quiet room. Plan on going slowly in the beginning to grasp the intricacies of the plot and characters in a stylistic prose liberally sprinkled with Thai words. Otherwise, the story will be just interesting, not astounding, and harder to keep track of what’s happening.
This is an impressive first novel from an acclaimed short story writer. Take the time to absorb its delights and you will be rewarded with a rich tale that explores a very realistic possible future. This is a cautionary parable filled with complex and thought provoking ideas.