The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

Just finished reading this book this morning as I was out for my morning walk (thank you. iPhone for making that possible). A very satisfying read. The reviews tag is as “biopunk” but I think that the blank+punk moniker is getting a bit overused. There are elements in this book that come from a wide range off literary and genre roots. Paolo Bacigalupi’s musings on resource allocation are reminiscent of Frank Herbert’s Dune series and also his Destination Void series wherein resource allocation is a central theme. So it is as well in this book. Economies in The Windup Girl are stripped down to their most fundamental form in that the basis is calories paid for calories burned and trade is composed of genetic resources to grow crops resistant to numerous manmade plagues which are the cause for the aforementioned economic dynamics. A very interesting idea and well drawn by the author in how such economics might affect a people and a culture. There is a distinct anime influence in the style of the writing in the author’s use of the uniquely Japanese sensibility toward ministries and agencies and clandestine groups and the importance payed to one’s affiliation, loyalty, and place in the pecking order of same said.

Well described. Cleanly written. The inner eye is not left wanting.

I loved this book. One of the best of any genre I’d read in awhile.

I am sorry but I cannot enjoy the Windup Girl Novel because of the physics of the world.

The physics does not make any sense at all. The amount of energy stored in springs cannot be enough for the type of application they are used for. Also the author has poor knowledge of thermodynamics, as the form of energy generation does not make any kind of sense. Why not just have a steam engine instead, makes much more thermodynamic sense.

This is what other people has to say about it… … ng-factory

My problem isn’t that the factory defies science, just common sense. Let’s look at the steps involved for getting energy in and out of the springs.

  1. We start with plants absorbing sun light. This isn’t too bad – chlorophyll’s a horrible solar collector, but sunlight’s free so it’s no big deal.

  2. Then we harvest the plants and transport them to a city to feed megadonts. Wait, aren’t calories scarce? Why are we wasting energy cultivating, harvesting, and transporting plants that aren’t food for humans or animals that humans eat? In the world described, you’d use every other form of energy before this.

  3. The megadonts eat the plants and use the energy to wind the springs. Of course megadonts are going to use a lot of those calories just to maintain basic biological functions. Only a small portion of the energy stored in the plants will be used to wind the springs – and some of that will be lost due to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Yeah, there’s talk about the algae being used as a highly efficient lubricant, but that only goes so far.

  4. Springs don’t grow on trees. You need to use quite a lot of energy just to make them.

  5. Once the springs are wound, we have to transport them to wherever they’re being used. These springs sound rather heavy, so it’s going to take a lot of energy to move them.

  6. Then a factory hooks them up to their own machinery and extracts the stored energy. Once more you’re going to lose energy to entropy.

With all the energy intensive processes required for the scheme, I don’t see how anyone would deem it worthy the resources, even as a cover for other things. It would make more sense to use the megadonts to crank turbines or power machinery directly – at least that way you wouldn’t have to waste energy making and moving springs, and you’d only pay the entropy tax once.

And on top of that, there are tons of power sources never mentioned in the book. We’ve used up fossil fuels, but what about uranium? Are we no longer able to make mirrors for solar collectors? Have people forgotten how to build water wheels? And if genetic engineering is at the level seen in the book, why doesn’t anyone create a bacteria that can turn compost into oil? If an author wants me to believe that people have run out of energy to the point that they’re back to using animals for power, he really needs to address the alternatives.

From the internet… Multistage (moderate to high-pressure ratio) steam turbines have thermodynamic efficiencies that vary from 65% for small (under 1,000 kW) units to over 90% for large industrial and utility sized units.

It makes much more sense to grow vegetation and burn them to generate energy using a steam engine.

Fantastic novel.