A New Expansion: Climate Change, Posthumanism, and the Utopian Dimension in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl

The action of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (2009) takes place in a vividly imagined future world in which the texture of life on earth has been dramatically impacted by climate change, the depletion of the supply of oil, and a series of devastating plagues affecting both humans and their food resources. Meanwhile, the sophistication with which the novel treats these issues has made it an important contribution to the burgeoning literary phenomenon of climate fiction. The Windup Girl uses the resources of a variety of subgenres of science fiction to explore the global economic and political impact of climate-related catastrophes, thus providing important warnings about the possibility of such catastrophes. At the same time, Bacigalupi’s novel also includes significant utopian energies that point toward possible solutions to the problems posed by climate change and the depletion of resources. In particular, the “windup girl” of the title is a genetically engineered “New Human,” and the novel’s central science fictional novum involves the availability of techniques that make it possible to design these New Humans to thrive in the climate-changed (and socially-changed) world of the future. In addition, these New Humans can be read allegorically, taken as an instance of the use of the resources of science fiction to make the point that utopian solutions to the challenges posed by climate change and the depletion of resources are available, but only if human beings are willing to make fundamental changes in the way they relate to each other and to the world around them.

Climate Change, Science Fiction, and Utopia

Environmentalist science fiction stories have been around almost as long as science fiction itself, but such novels got a particular boost after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) inspired a surge in environmentalist activism in general that included such novels as Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest (1972) and Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia (1975). The twenty-first century has seen a particular flowering of such novels, though the emphasis has now been changed from the earlier focus on pollution and conservation to a central concern with climate change. Several novels by Kim Stanley Robinson (culminating in his 2020 masterpiece The Ministry for the Future) have led the way in this regard. The Windup Girl was a relatively early participant in this phenomenon as well[1].Indeed, Adeline Johns-Putra singles out Bacigalupi’s novel and Robinson’s “Science in the Capital” (2004–2007) trilogy as crucial to the establishment of climate change in the “science fiction imaginary.”[2] Other leading contemporary science fiction writers are contributing as well, with works such as David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks (2014) and Neal Stephenson’s Termination Shock (2021) serving as a particularly notable examples. Meanwhile, as Johns-Putra goes on to note, writers of “literary fiction,” including Margaret Atwood, T. C. Boyle, Cormac McCarthy, Will Self, and Jeanette Winterson, have also contributed to the production of climate-themed novels. To this list, one might also add the remarkable achievement of Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize–winning The Overstory (2019).

What has been particularly striking about Robinson’s climate fictions is the power of the utopian dimension that drives them, despite the emphasis on climate catastrophe[3]. One might say the same for Bacigalupi’s climate fictions, especially The Windup Girl[4]. Like Robinson, Bacigalupi, especially in this novel, is as interested in proposing solutions as he is in warning of dangers. And, while Bacigalupi might lack the sophistication of Robinson’s Marxist-driven understanding of utopian thought, The Windup Girl generates utopian energies in a variety of ways. For one thing, it is bursting with energy in general. Despite its postapocalyptic, scarcity-driven setting, The Windup Girl is, in many ways, a novel of excess, bubbling with diversity and bursting with ideas. The very language of the text suggests a richness and abundance that seems at odds with the novel’s setting. As Tom Idema has noted, “The Windup Girl is twenty-first century baroque: its overflowing, sweltering storyworld is painted using abundant figurative language to the point of exhaustion.”[5]

“Baroque” is a perfectly accurate description of the texture of The Windup Girl, though another word might be “Menippean,” in the mode of the subversive, rambunctious texts described by Mikhail Bakhtin as contributing important energies to the history of the novel. Indeed, the complex multicultural, polyphonic, multigeneric quality of The Windup Girl would respond well to a Bakhtinian analysis. However, the kind of Marxist utopian analysis that is consistently built into the climate fictions of Robinson might make an even more useful framework within which to read Bacigalupi’s novel, partly because Robinson is available for comparison, but mostly because it is simply well suited to the kind of serious attention that Bacigalupi pays to economic and political issues.

Among other things, the productive use by Robinson of the work of his former professor Fredric Jameson, surely America’s leading utopian Marxist thinker of the past half century, helps to clarify the meaning of “utopia” in The Windup Girl.Throughout his career, Jameson has emphasized the importance of seeking utopian energies in cultural texts, drawing for his definition of “utopian” on the work of Ernst Bloch, for whom utopian thought is less concerned with the production of blueprints for ideal societies, with all problems solved, than with thinking the ”not-yet,” looking with hope toward improvement in society and toward a time when mechanisms will be in place to facilitate making conditions continually better[6].

In addition to the utopian energies embodied in Bacigalupi’s style, The Windup Girl also contains explicitly hopeful energies of the Blochian/Jamesonian sort at the level of content. Not only do individual characters continue to struggle to make better lives for themselves, but this post-disaster world as a whole has the potential for a strong comeback. On the other hand, it is still early enough in the recovery process that it might go in very different directions—either toward a restoration of the self-defeating tendencies that caused the disaster in the first place or toward genuinely new ways of thinking about and acting in the world. Like Robinson, Bacigalupi places particular emphasis on the global economic consequences of climate change and on the economics of any possible recovery. Thus, Adam Trexler describes The Windup Girl as “one of the most sophisticated accounts yet written of a future economy transformed by climate change.”[7] And it is certainly the case that this novel focuses on the economic impact of climate change in an unusually insightful way. Though centered in twenty-third-century Thailand, the novel appropriately takes a global perspective in terms of both climate change and economics[8].

Bacigalupi never supplies a concise summary of the impact of climate change on the world of The Windup Girl, preferring instead to fill in bits and pieces of information in the course of telling his story. What we do know is that the effect has been dramatic worldwide and that it poses a particular threat to certain vulnerable areas, including Thailand, whose agriculture is dependent upon the annual monsoon rains that now, thanks to climate change, have become unpredictable and unreliable, making it difficult to sustain agricultural production. Global warming, meanwhile, has led to rising ocean levels that have flooded many coastal areas and that constantly threaten low-lying Thailand, which is protected by high coastal walls and by a system of powerful pumps that move excess water back outside the walls. The residents of Bangkok, though, remain aware that this system might fail at any moment—as it eventually begins to do at the end of the novel. Bacigalupi’s narrator reveals early on the air of crisis that pervades the city, one that is directly related to the rising ocean levels that have so often been identified as one of the most immediate results of global warming: “It’s difficult not to always be aware of those high walls and the pressure of the water beyond. Difficult to think of the City of Divine Beings as anything other than a disaster waiting to happen. But the Thais are stubborn and … have so far kept at bay that thing which has swallowed New York and Rangoon, Mumbai and New Orleans.”[9] (8).

Climate change has also contributed to conditions that have led to the global spread of the devastating diseases that have wiped out many food crops, contributing to a worldwide food crisis. A key element of the plot of The Windup Girl involves American Anderson Lake, an agent of the powerful AgriGen corporation, which traffics globally in genetically modified seeds for food crops, most traditional plants having been wiped out by disease and climate change. Importantly (and in good capitalist fashion), AgriGen’s plants are designed not to produce seeds after they mature, so that their customers have to continually buy new seeds from AgriGen. In the novel, Anderson has been sent to Bangkok to head up his company’s attempt to acquire a stake in the secret seedbank that the Thais are thought to be maintaining, potentially making them a strong competitor to AgriGen. Anderson is also assuming control of the “SpringLife” factory that was established by his predecessor in Bangkok to produce a new, highly efficient “kink-spring,” such products having become a key source of energy in this post-oil world[10]. Anderson, though, is skeptical of the potential of these springs, though he agrees to continue the operation of the factory primarily so it can serve as a cover for his secret activities in relation to the Thai seedbank.

A leftover from the days of neoliberal domination of the globe by Western-based multinational corporations, AgriGen seems determined to maintain old systems of domination and exploitation despite the changed situation in the world. But the tide of history in The Windup Girl is against such old systems. Just as diseases have destroyed many of the world’s traditional food crops, so too have new disease strains been devastating to humans and other animals. Indeed, a devastating new virus has been accidentally produced in the AgriGen kink-spring factory in Bangkok, with the potential to wipe out humanity altogether[11]. Indeed, it does kill Anderson late in the book, though there is also a possibility that the damage done to AgriGen as a result of this virus might ultimately be a positive for humanity.

The Windup Girl takes a long-term, global view of history, figuring as the “Expansion” that period from the beginnings of modernity in the Renaissance to the collapse of the world system due to the end of the world’s oil and the roughly concurrent onset of climate disasters (largely as a result of centuries of oil use)[12]. During the period Bacigalupi calls the “Expansion,” modernity swept across the world, first through colonialism and then through the global spread of a Western-dominated global capitalism. At the time of the action of the novel, the world is in an age of Contraction, with global shipping and transportation being so limited by the lack of available fuels that it is impossible to maintain a global economy on the previous scale. On the other hand, there are hints in the novel that human ingenuity is such that the world might be on the verge of a new Expansion. Unfortunately, there are also signs that this new Expansion might not be entirely good news and might be seriously in danger of simply repeating the mistakes of the original Expansion, while still taking no effective steps to reduce carbon levels in the atmosphere (other than the obvious benefit of not burning oil—but the novel suggests that the lack of oil has often led to increased burning of coal). The novel does, however, indicate important ways in which the new Expansion might not repeat the mistakes of the original one. For example, The Windup Girl suggests that a new Expansion might be driven by novel, more environmentally friendly energy sources, making the unavailability of oil an actual advantage[13].

At first glance, in fact, it might appear that The Windup Girl ends with disaster, especially in Bangkok. However, the violence, flooding, and disease that threaten the city at the end of the book do not lead to total devastation. For one thing, the young queen of Thailand and a group of supporters, along with many of the people of Bangkok, escape to establish a new provisional government in Ayutthaya, an important historical site. As Hageman concludes, “With previous ideologies swept away, at least temporarily, the future to come at the end of The Windup Girl will be figured and formed collectively. And this collective will be, like an ecosystem, constituted by diverse subjectivities intimately and inextricably in contact with each other.”[14] The Windup Girl thus actually ends on a hopeful note that is in keeping with the other utopian energies that run throughout the novel.

One sign of utopian hope at the end of The Windup Girl involves an odd group of misfits who survive the disasters and gather together to build their own post-disaster community as a move toward making their own contribution to building a better new world. This community is headed by a rogue genetic engineer (formerly employed by AgriGen) named Gibbons and also includes Emiko, the “windup girl” of the title, a member of a race of genetically engineered “New Humans,” who have been designed for exploitation by conventional humans, but who nevertheless tend to be feared and despised by conventional humans. In particular, conventional humans fear that they might be replaced by the more resilient New Humans, though Gibbons sees this possible replacement as a utopian possibility.

That Emiko is a member of this group represents a particular moment of utopian liberation. Designed and manufactured in Japan, New Humans of her type are intended largely for sexual purposes; they are designed (and then extensively trained) to be sexually alluring, but also to be obedient and to have an overwhelming desire to please their masters. One key aspect of Emiko’s design is that she has almost no pores in her skin, making it particularly smooth to the touch but also rendering her unable to cool her body as ordinary humans do and thus liable to dangerous overheating, especially in climates such as the one that prevails in Bangkok, where she lives during the novel. Models of her type are called “windup girls” because they are designed to move in a jerky manner that makes them resemble clockwork automatons. These movements make it easier to distinguish them from ordinary humans and thus make them seem less threatening to those who might be concerned about their possible infiltration of the general population. Windup girls are also designed without wombs, so that they are completely unable to reproduce, thus presumably lessening the fear that they might somehow replace the population of ordinary humans[15].

Windup girls might also provide other services in addition to sexual ones, especially to men who simply enjoy having women be subservient to them. In addition, they are part of a large Japanese industry based on the design and manufacture of New Humans customized for a variety of purposes, providing cheap labor, both in Japan and in other countries where declining populations have led to a shortage of workers, especially in certain hazardous or unpleasant jobs. They are even used as soldiers, with military models designed (without jerky movements) to be superior to ordinary human soldiers in speed, strength, and stamina. In fact, all New Humans have the ability to move at superhuman speed, which makes them potentially deadly, though most of them are programmed to avoid violence except in extreme circumstances. Within Japan, the New Humans are held in a certain regard because of the value the Japanese place on order, discipline, and obedience, which makes the New Humans, as a popular saying there goes, “more Japanese than the Japanese.” Outside Japan, however, New Humans tend to be regarded with fear or even disgust, because they are considered to be “unnatural” abominations, though their use is in some cases unavoidable.

One thing common the world over, including Japan, is that the New Humans are regarded as property, rather than as people. Emiko, for example, had been owned by Mishimoto, a rich Japanese businessman, who took her to Thailand with him when he relocated there, but left her behind like an obsolete piece of machinery when he returned to Japan, thus saving himself the cost of her transport home and giving him the opportunity to upgrade to a newer model back in Japan. Emiko has survived ever since by going underground and receiving the “protection” of Raleigh, an old Western businessman who lives a shadowy existence on the margins of Bangkok society, employing Emiko not only for his own pleasure, but also hiring her out to clients and using her in demeaning sex shows to draw clients to the club that he owns.

To the extent that New Humans are regarded as property, they function as an allegorical commentary on slavery (and thus racism), much like the replicants of Blade Runner (1982), with whom they, in fact, have a great deal in common. Much of the animosity displayed by ordinary humans toward New Humans closely parallels the kind of racist attitudes that were historically used to dehumanize slaves and thus justify their treatment as property (but that then survived into post-slavery times). The Windup Girl does not, however, deal in detail with New Humans other than windup girls, so that the most striking issue addressed by this motif has to do with gender. New Humans as a whole are workers specifically manufactured to do specific jobs with a maximum of efficiency and a minimum of expense, thus providing the ideal working class for a capitalist economy. Windup girls, on the other hand, provide ideal feminine partners for patriarchal males who desire to use women merely as objects of domination or for sexual pleasure, much as the replicant Pris (Daryl Hannah) is a “basic pleasure model” in Blade Runner.

Emiko has thus lived a life of archetypal patriarchal domination, but her subjugation is thoroughly undermined in the narrative. Thus, the usually passive and obedient Emiko, when pushed past a certain point, can suddenly become a deadly super-assassin (another characteristic she shares with Blade Runner’s Pris), which she does ultimately do, causing her to become a fugitive until she takes refuge with Gibbons. Gibbons himself hovers through most of the text as a mysterious figure. In fact, Gibbons is officially believed to be dead at the beginning of the novel, but some of the recent products of Thai genetic engineering, to Anderson, smack of Gibbons’ handywork, and Anderson spends much of the novel unsuccessfully pursuing vague rumors of Gibbons’ presence in Thailand.

Understanding their engineering, Gibbons has a high opinion of the potential of New Humans, just as he has a quite low opinion of ordinary human beings, whom he views as a destructive force on the planet. When the Thai security officer Kanya complains that the entire food system is in danger of unraveling, Gibbons simply responds that this unraveling began the moment human beings evolved to the point of being able to modify their environment. “‘The ecosystem unravelled when man first went a-seafaring. When we first lit fires on the broad savannas of Africa. We have only accelerated the phenomenon. The food web you talk about is nostalgia, nothing more. Nature.’ He makes a disgusted face. ‘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. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it’” (264).

Human beings, he believes, have made themselves obsolete by changing the environment in which they evolved, then refusing to evolve further to adapt themselves to the change. For him, the solution to deadly climate change is not to try to restore the environment to its original state but simply to genetically engineer all future humans in the mode of the New Humans, designing them to be perfectly in tune with the new conditions that prevail on earth. By extension, of course, humans could be continually re-engineered to keep pace with future changes in their world. He tells Kanya, “A generation from now, we could be well-suited for our new environment. Your children could be the beneficiaries. Yet you people refuse to adapt. You cling to some idea of a humanity that evolved in concert with your environment over millennia, and which you now, perversely, refuse to remain in lockstep with” (265).

The New Humans and the New (Posthuman) Expansion

One of the key reasons that the new Expansion might be different from the original is that it has the potential to be a genuinely global effort, rather than an effort that begins in one part of the world and is then thrust upon the rest of the world, as was the case with the first Expansion. Accordingly, one of the most important sources of utopian energy in The Windup Girl is its richly multiracial, multicultural texture—extending to the possible creation of a whole new, genetically modified, branch of the human race. Gibbons’ vision of a new world led by New Humans, of course, takes on special significance given the recent concerns of White Supremacists on the American Right with what has come to be called “Replacement Theory.” And there is a long legacy of science fiction narratives in which hidebound individuals in positions of power work to suppress the rise of new kinds of human beings who might threaten their power. Perhaps the best-known example of such narratives involves the “X-Men” franchise of comic books and films, in which “normal” humans feel threatened by the rise of mutants with new superhuman powers, persecuted mutants thus serving rather transparently as metaphors for persecuted racial minorities. In a similar mode, Norman Spinrad’s novel The Iron Dream (1972) employs the postapocalyptic persecution of mutants as an analog to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, while conservative Christians react in racist ways to the threat of human mutants in Louis Erdrich’s novel Future Home of the Living God (2017).

The New Humans of The Windup Girl also meet with considerable resistance on the part of conventional humans. Bacigalupi’s future Thailand is an extremely multicultural society in which different groups compete for influence, sometimes bitterly. The one most despised group, the one group that remains Other to all of the ordinary humans in the novel, regardless of their ethnicity, is the New Humans. Indeed, opposition to the New Humans is one of the few things that a number of disparate groups in the novel have in common. The novel’s narrator states (and challenges) these attitudes toward the New Humans when he declares that they are “not human, certainly, but also not the threat that the people of this savage basic culture make her out to be. Certainly not the devils that the Grahamites[16] warn against at their pulpits, or the soulless creatures imagined out of hell that the forest monk Buddhists claim; not a creature unable to ever achieve a soul or a place in the cycles of rebirth and striving for Nirvana. Not the affront to the Q’ran that the Green Headbands[17] believe” (40).

The revulsion that so many ordinary humans feel toward the New Humans in The Windup Girl can essentially be reduced to a perception of the New Humans as unnatural and thus as abominations that go against the way “normal” humans are “supposed” to be. Much of The Windup Girl is designed to undercut this distinction as based on a false, dualistic sense that humans are special and stand apart from all other creatures, an attitude that is central to many of the world’s religions (thus, the Grahamites here). But this attitude that nature was created as a resource for the use of humans is also central to the climate change crisis, which has largely been caused by human exploitation of nature without consideration of the possible negative consequences for nature itself. Granted, humans cannot live without the resources provided by the natural world, but humans are, in fact, part of the natural world, and anything that is bad for nature is ultimately bad for humans.

Importantly, though, Gibbons’ vision of a new posthuman world is not, in his view, tantamount to the replacement of “natural” humans by a new race of genetically modified “artificial” humans. For him, with his understanding of genetics, the boundary between humans and New Humans is not a matter of natural vs. artificial or unnatural. In fact, his thinking—which seems to be endorsed by Bacigalupi in this sense—is that the natural vs. unnatural distinction is a false and harmful one based on a confused and contradictory misunderstanding of human beings and their relationship to a world they regard as Other to themselves. Thus, while humans regard themselves as apart from and superior to the natural world, they despise the New Humans because they are regarded as unnatural. On the other hand, the perceived ability of the New Humans to build a better future is based as much on their potential willingness to entertain new and less exploitative attitudes toward the world and its natural resources as it is on their modified genetics. Thus, while forces such as AgriGen are still working to restore the destructive structures of the original Expansion, Gibbons envisions the New Humans as leading the way toward a utopian, posthuman, postcapitalist[18] future.

Perhaps the most direct recent science fictional precedent to Gibbons’ vision for the New Humans in The Windup Girl occurs in Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (2003), in which a brilliant genetic engineer (the “Crake” of the title) concludes that human beings have become a danger to the survival of all life on earth. He therefore designs an alternative intelligent species of posthumans that can live more in harmony with nature, at the same time distributing a deadly virus that is meant to wipe out conventional humans altogether. The Windup Girl gestures toward a similar solution, though there is no indication that Gibbons plans to try to exterminate the human race, despite the fact that he is certainly an unconventional thinker—with many of the classic characteristics of a Frankensteinian mad scientist.

Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein is, indeed, an important predecessor to Gibbons, and the artificial human created by Frankenstein has much in common with the New Humans. On the other hand, Gibbons is significantly updated and sometimes seems more like a Bond villain. Though he is diseased and dying, confined to a wheelchair, his tastes seem to run to decadent luxury in almost everything, including sex, and he spends much of his time by his pool, ogling the coterie of Thai ladyboys that he keeps with him for his personal entertainment. When we are first introduced to him in his meeting with Kanya, he intentionally baits her and clearly tries to act as outrageously as possible, knowing that she already holds him in contempt as a former AgriGen scientist, given that AgriGen is regarded as a dangerous threat to Thailand. Still, Gibbons ultimately emerges as a rather positive figure in the text. Immersed as he is in the world of genetic engineering, is the only ordinary human in the novel who treats Emiko with respect, even admiration—as an engineering marvel, rather than an unnatural abomination. He decries her design and training for obedience, expressing regret at the wrongs that have been done to her. “Still,” he notes, “you are better than human in almost all other ways. Faster, smarter, better eyesight, better hearing. You are obedient, but you don’t catch diseases like mine” (385). The novel then ends as Gibbons offers refuge to Emiko and even suggests that he can remove some of her limitations, such as the jerky windup movements. Perhaps even more importantly, he suggests that, while her inability to reproduce is too fundamental for him to overcome, he can use her DNA to make clones that can themselves be made fertile, potentially opening the way for the rise of a race of New People that might eventually replace ordinary humans, much as the genetically modified “cheshires” that wander through the book have a clear survival advantage over ordinary cats[19]. As Gibbons tells Emiko, “Someday, perhaps, all people will be New People and you will look back on us as we now look back at the poor Neanderthals” (385).

Gibbons’ vision of a utopian posthuman future in which a new breed of humans have been engineered to live more in tune with both their social and their natural environment is a literal one, though many questions about the details of this process remain unanswered. For example, Gibbons’ radical vision could be taken to include the suggestion that, if conventional humans could learn to accept New Humans, it might help them transform their thinking in other ways as well. At the same time, the New Humans could also be read allegorically as an embodiment of the notion that human beings simply need to change in fundamental ways in order to survive in the long term. These ways though, need not be literally genetic, but could also be simply social and ideological, along the lines of the “post-capitalism” put forth in Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future as a necessary step toward dealing with climate change. After all, Bacigalupi’s New Humans have a direct historical precedent in the way that fundamental changes in human consciousness were required in order to accommodate the original rise of the new capitalist order that eventually led to the first Expansion and to all the crises that are depicted in The Windup Girl. Jameson, for example, has discussed the way in which the rise of capitalism was accompanied by what he calls a “bourgeois cultural revolution—that immense process of transformation whereby populations whose life habits were formed by other, now archaic, modes of production are effectively reprogrammed for life and work in the new world of market capitalism.”[20] The possible posthuman utopian future pointed to in The Windup Girl can be taken as a suggestion that another thorough “reprogramming” has become necessary in order to take human civilization into a new postcapitalist phase. The novel’s Gibbons clearly believes that this reprogramming would need to occur at the genetic level. However, the first Expansion was successfully built on social and ideological reprogramming, serving as an important historical precedent to suggest that the New Expansion might be built in the same way.


Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl depicts a twenty-third-century world in which climate change, resource depletion, and natural disasters have collapsed the world order of the twenty-first century. However, the novel contains a number of utopian energies that point toward the potential for the rebuilding of a new world order that is more just and more sustainable than the old one had ever been. One key to this resurrection might be genetically engineered “New Humans” (like the windup girl of Bacigalupi’s title), who could be designed (and continually redesigned) to ensure that humans remain compatible with their evolving environment. But these New Humans need not be read entirely literally: they could also be taken as a suggestion that humans simply need to be willing and able continually to revise their ways of thinking to keep pace with an ever-changing world.


[1] In a survey of science fiction and environmentalism from Olaf Stapledon’s First and Last Men (1931) to Robinson’s Fifty Degrees Below (2005) that was completed just as The Windup Girl appeared, Eric Otto added an afterword on Bacigalupi’s novel in order to acknowledge its importance. Eric C. Otto, Green Speculations: Science Fiction and Transformative Environmentalism (Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2012), 122–26.

[2] Adeline Johns-Putra, “Care, Gender, and the Climate-Changed Future: Maggie Gee’s The Ice People.” In Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction, edited by Gerry Canavan and Kim Stanley Robinson (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2014),127.

[3] Other climate novels by Robinson include Antarctica (1997), the “Science in the Capital” trilogy (2004–2007), 2312 (2012), Aurora (2015), and New York 2140 (2017). Even his early “Mars” trilogy has (1992–1996) has strong implications with regard to climate and ecology, leading Wark to consider it to be an exercise in utopian theory with special relevance to climate change: McKenzie Wark, Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene (London: Verso, 2015). Climate and ecology are also central to recent important novels of planetary colonization such as Sue Burke’s Semiosis (2018) and Interference (2019), and Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time (2015), Children of Ruin (2019), and Children of Memory (2022).

[4] Climate is also a key issue in a number of Bacigalupi’s short stories, as well as in his novels The Ship Breaker (2010) and The Water Knife (2015).

[5] Tom Idema, “When the Levees Break: Global Heating, Watery Rhetoric and Complexity in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl,” Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism 24, no. 1 (2020): 62.

[6] Bloch’s utopian thought is most thoroughly expressed in his three-volume classic The Principle of Hope, translated by Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995). (Original German version published in 1959.) Jameson’s thoughts on utopia can be found everywhere in his extensive body of work, but his principal meditations on utopia and science fiction can be found in Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2005).

[7] Adam Trexler, Anthropocene Fictions: The Novel in a Time of Climate Change (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015), 211.

[8] For an excellent, nuanced discussion of the economic dimension of this novel, see Andrew Hageman, “The Challenge of Imagining Ecological Futures: Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl,” Science Fiction Studies 39, no. 2 (July 2012): 283–303.

[9] Paulo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl (2009, New York Night Shade Books, 2015), 8. Hereafter cited parenthetically in text.

[10] These kink-springs are similar to the springs in windup watches, though they can be made much larger. They can be wound in a variety of ways, including human labor or the labor of work animals, such as the genetically modified elephants, or “megodonts,” that are prominent in the novel as a source of bio-power.

[11] Reading this novel after 2020, it is tempting to see this motif as an eerie anticipation of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this novel grew out of Bacigalupi’s visit to Southeast Asia in 2003, including a stay in Thailand. The SARS epidemic erupted in Southeast Asia during Bacigalupi’s visit there, contributing significantly to the atmosphere of crisis in the area, which is reflected in the novel. SARS was ultimately much less serious than COVID-19, but it is a coronavirus disease in the same family and initially caused considerable concern.

[12] It might seem contradictory that climate change and oil depletion are presented in this novel as interrelated disasters, given that oil depletion should help mitigate the impact of climate change. However, our current failure adequately to prepare for a post-oil world seems part of the same mindset that has so limited attempts to take decisive action against climate change. Indeed, it has long been recognized that these two future disasters are likely to occur in tandem, as when Rob Nixon notes “those twinned calamities of squandered time: oil’s receding tides and the advancing tides of climatic change.” Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 102.

[13] For a readingthat emphasizes the oil motif in The Windup Girl (as well as in Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel The Road), see Sean Donnelly, “Peak Oil Imagining in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup GirlEnglish Academy Review 31, no. 2 (2014): 156–69.

[14] Hageman, 300.

[15] One might compare here the ultimate refusal of Victor Frankenstein to produce a mate for his Creature, for fear that “a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror.” Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus (London: Penguin, 2018), 160–61. (First published 1818.)

[16] The Grahamites are a fictional American-based Christian sect devoted to the belief that any sort of bioengineering is an offense to God. The novel does not stipulate the source of this term, but it is almost surely a reference to evangelist Billy Graham, a science skeptic who waws particularly concerned about genetic engineering, as when, in 1983, he declared it to be a greater danger to humanity than the nuclear bomb. See “Billy Graham Fears Science More Than Bomb.” UPI.com, 16 May 1983, https://www.upi.com/Archives/1983/05/16/Billy-Graham-fears-science-more-than-bomb/8638421905600/. Accessed 17 February 2023.

[17] The “Green Headbands” are Islamic Militants in the Malaya of the novel. They impact the narrative largely because they have driven many Chinese, including Anderson’s heavily underestimated assistant Hock Seng, into Thailand as “yellow card” refugees.

[18] For an extended leftist meditation on the need to move beyond capitalism in order to combat climate change, see Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann, Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future (London: Verso, 2018).

[19] Predictably, of course, most humans regard the cheshires as a curse, but Gibbons (who sometimes sits stroking a Cheshire like a Bond villain) admires them and prefers them to ordinary cats.

[20] Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981), 152.