Initially a successful short story and novella writer, Paolo Bacigalupi's first novel, The Windup Girl won many awards including the Nebula and Hugo. It is an intelligent, apocalyptic saga full of corrupt governments, greedy and immoral corporate super-powers, and civil insurrections, all players on an Earth that evolved through the consequences of global warming and plagues caused by the gene ripping of Mother Nature. It is a dark and dreary world, not for the faint of heart. Characters range from wealthy to down-trodden to man-made organics (as found in Blade Runner). The dialogue is spot-on and fun to read. Descriptions are well written but not over-done. All very worthwhile reading.
Since this novel vies to play in the league of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, the bar to a 5 star rating is high. Areas that squelched otherwise perfect enjoyment were two: First, rape scenes of the windup girl, a character deemed disgusting, lower than trash, hit a raw nerve from the shear ugliness and brutality. The kicker was that the person doing the assault, the violation, was another prostitute who was happy to torture someone she considered beneath her own rung of the social ladder for the enjoyment of the bar patrons. Night after night, one miserable sex-slave viciously abusing another--was too sad and inhuman for this heavy heart of mine. Having the windup girl appear very geisha-like in servitude and obedience, and the sex abuse taking place in Thailand lifts the story from fiction to a circumstances found in eastern cultures, among others. The stereotype can be useful for portraying a complex situation with little effort, but I prefer China Miéville's ability to get a point across using unique characteristics.
Second, at the ending, I suddenly became aware of the author stepping onto the scene to wrap things up. I can't point to a specific offending scene or sentence, and no one else may agree, but there it is--the author is here telling everyone it is time to go home.
Still, I enjoyed the intelligence of the story. It is not one-sided activist propaganda. It reads like a legitimate rendition of the path our society is treading.