Wow. Charles Stross (Saturn's Children, Neptune's Blood) meets John Burdett (Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, Bangkok Haunts, The Godfather of Kathmandu, Vulture Peak).
I have done little reviewing of Charles Stross - his Saturn's Children series and his Laundry Series, and damn near everything else he has written, touched, or come close to is worth reading if you are interested in clever, well written, twisted, sort of science fiction or sort of magical stuff. Same is true for John Burdett and his Bangkok police series....each and every one interesting and a fascinating insight into Bangkok and the Thai culture. In fact, I am going to have to do a review of John Burdett -- my bad it has not happened earlier.
Enter Paolo Bacigalupi and The Windup Girl. Bangkok's legendary corruption and political battles between police factions and the military over power, money and drugs (see John Burdett above). Moreover, the Thais have managed to hang on to their agricultural production, their seed bank, and thus are self-sufficient in producing the calories needed to keep their people alive at a time when most other countries are ecologically endangered and at the mercy of the "calorie companies" who control the bio-engineered crops that feed the world. Oh, and by the way, most of Earth's coastal cities have been flooded by rising sea level, but the Thais have successfully built a system of dams, dikes, pumps, and other fortifications that have keep the ocean out of Bangkok. And the oil economy is over and done.
Bangkok's sex trade continues to be a thriving, energetic part of the economy - and world famous. Emiko is a "new human", a windup -- an artificial human, bio-engineered and grown and then sold. Abandoned by her original owner in her role as personal assistant and sexual companion, Emiko is staying (illegally) in Bangkok, having been sold to a brothel owner who knows how to exploit her unique talents -- here ability to take abuse and humiliation rises to a new plateau of "human" misery.
Enter Anderson, under the guise of owning a factory making energy storage devices, he is really the representative of one of the "calorie companies" looking for a way into the Thai's seed bank. Hock Seng is a "yellow-card" - a barely tolerated legal immigrant from China who exists at the mercy of his continued employment, but continues to scheme to recover his business success lost to him when all non Muslims were evicted from Malaysia. There are the ever so moral representatives from the Environmental Ministry - charged with keeping the bio-threats out of Thailand - the incorruptible Jaidee and his partner, Kanya (who is terribly conflicted for reasons I will let you uncover). There are the government ministers playing deadly political games.
It makes for an uncomfortably risky, scary, sweaty, and more than a little depressing vision of the future - scarce resources, xenophobia run wild, bio-engineering taken to the extreme. Who wins, who loses in a deadly game of power politics and economics. Ultimately, some very interesting questions of morality - what is right and wrong? What is human? Why is virtue not rewarded? How come the bad guys sometimes win. What happens when everyone is hungry?
Bacigalupi asks and does not always explicitly answer these and other questions, but he has created an new world in its entirety that is fascinating. Some really cool ideas and thoughts. It will take a bit of work to understand all the nuances, but if you like folks like Charles Stross and/or John Burdett, you will really like The Windup Girl.