Comparative review of The Water Knife & The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

I am going to attempt to do a comparative review of The Water Knife and The Windup Girl both by Paolo Bacigalupi.

I finished The Water Knife toward the end of March, I read it in three days and I really, really enjoyed it. Because of that, I wanted to basically read everything written by Bacigalupi and since I had a copy of The Windup Girl on my Kindle, I decided to start it the same day I finished The Water Knife.

I don’t usually read several books from the same author back to back, it happened recently with Europe in Autumn and Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson but at least they were from the same series. I don’t usually do it because I don’t want to “burn myself out” on series or authors that I like, and I am not going to lie, this is kind of what happened with Bacigalupi.

As I said, I really enjoyed The Water Knife. It had everything I was looking for, and more. I was in the mood for a sci-fi political thriller and it was exactly that. The story is set in the near future where after some geological catastrophes, the access to water is very hard and basically, having water is having power of life and death over other people. This book follows three characters Angel, a man working for the “bad guys”, his job is basically to neutralise and/or kill everyone standing in the path of the corporation is working for. Lucy a Pulitzer winning journalist trying to investigate the murder of one of her very ambitious friend and finally Maria, a 16-ish years old girl who is just trying to survive in a horrible world.

What I liked most about this book definitely were the characters. It could have been easy to just turn Angel in despicable man, Lucy in “a knight” in a shining armor, Maria in a victim. However, all the characters were very complex and it was fascinating to read about them.

The worldbuilding was also great, even if some elements too close to reality were a bit scary.

Overall, it was great book and I would highly recommend it to everyone, I already lent my copy to my father.

So, now let’s talk about The Windup Girl, Bacigalupi’s debut novel and the winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula award.

The Windup Girl is also set in the near future but in Bangkok, Thailand in the aftermath of a bioterrorism attack which destroyed most vegetables as we know them. Basically, in The Water Knife, those who had water were the ones with power, in the Windup Girl, the powerful people are the ones owning seed banks.

The premise was cool but I had two big problems with this book.

First of all, I despised all of the characters. Remember when I said that in The Water Knife, it could have been easy to turn the protagonists into one dimensional characters?

Well, it was the case in The Windup Girl.

The corporate guy was the asshole, the windup girl (an engineered being) was the victim, the soldier was the knight in shining armor and the worker/immigrant was greedy. I don’t mind when characters make mistakes, it’s normal but when they all are acting weird and stupid for 400+, I lose patience.

However, the thing that angered me the most wasn’t the characters, it was Bacigalupi opinions on biological engineering.

What you might don’t know about me is that I am actually studying in a engineering school and I would really like to graduate as a biological engineer. For now, I am more interested biomechanics but who knows, I have time to change my mind and work in the biotechnologis. Anyway, it is made pretty clear that Bacigalupi is against GMOs and more than this completely against GMOs corporation (AgriGen’s clearly representing Monsanto).

I can understand why it is very easy to despise Monsanto, I don’t like them too and I wouldn’t want to work for them, however, I didn’t like how Bacigalupi demonized GMOs in general. Yes, we have to be cautious with them but they are not “all bad”. If you want an example of a “good” GMO, go read this Wikipedia page. I really hate when people turn GMO into Satan, yes we should have seed banks to conserve genetic diversity but, we should also stop saying that GMOs are going to kill the planet, because like all scientifical progress, even if they have downsides, they can be used in a good way.

I am going to stop here because I don’t want to turn this into a huge rant on Gmos but, I really didn’t like Bacigalupi’s opinion on this topic and it made the enjoyment of the book hard for me.

So yeah, if you want to read a Bacigalupi’s book, I would highly recommend The Water Knife which is in my opinion a fantastic book but I would highly recommend that you don’t read read The Windup Girl. 😛


The Water Knife :

★★★★ 1/2


The Windup Girl :



14 thoughts on “Comparative review of The Water Knife & The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

  1. I also found it interesting how there were so many similarities between the two books, but at the same time they are completely different animals. Clearly, Bacigalupi seems to really enjoy writing dystopian science fiction about humans screwing up the future of the world but it’s also very telling to compare his first novel to his latest novel; he’s really come a long way since his debut.


    1. I completely agree with what you said, in a way TWG and TWK have a lot of similarities eventhough TWK felt a lot more polished (is that a word?not sure, well it is now :p) that TWG which is a good thing since it shows that he has improved a lot as a writer. I’m glad I read TWK first thought because, if I read his debut novel first, I don’t thinkt that I would have gave him another chance. I will definitely read his future books though and I am intrigues by Ship Breaker and his collection of short stories!


  2. I understand how “The Windup Girl” might have touched a sensitive topic, so I also understand your reaction: not having read that book yet, I imagine that the author’s convictions might have been expressed too… loudly, for want of a better word, and maybe spoiled a message for caution that should have come across much better with a lighter hand. That said, I read some comments about “The Windup Girl” showing a still-growing author, so it stands to reason that his later books fare much better than his first attempt.


    1. True, The Water Knife (his latest published book) was excellent and it shows that he has improved a lot as a writer. I am definitely going to read other books by him in the future, I just wouldn’t recommend his debut-the fact that it won both the Hugo and the Nebula is quite shocking to me…
      It’s true that this subject is close to my heart and that his opinion felt almost personally insulting at some times and it definitely prevented me from enjoying the book.
      However, this book has other problems that I forgot to mention like the romance between Anderson (the corporate guy) and Emiko(the windup girl), it was problematic and the feminist in me was extremely aggravated during all of their scenes together. This is strong word I know but really, some parts made me want to throw my dear Kindle across the room. Their relationship was abusive, based on power, money, servitude and Stockhom syndrome and I felt like the way Anderson used Emiko wasn’t pictured as something bad or anything, it was more romantized than the contrary actually and ugh, no. No,no,no,no,no. I was (I still am) very angry about it.
      However, the relationships in The Water Knife are very well done so I don’t really have a problem with Bacigalupi in general, just with The Windup Girl 😛
      Sorry for the rant 😉


      1. Winning a Hugo or a Nebula (or any kind of prize) does not automatically mean the book would be perfect for everyone – just like Oscar-winning movies are not necessarily great box-office successes… Apart from some writing rough edges that every writer learns to smooth over time, I believe that the portrayal of Emiko would be a big problem for me and that kind of abusive relationship is one of the details that can turn me off a book. Still, I might try The Water Knife: I read a short story that must have been the seed idea for this book, and I loved it, so I’m curious to see how the author developed it.


      2. Oh yes, I didn’t want to mean that winning an award makes a book wonderful, I know it’s not true. However, the fact that it won the two biggest sff awards shows the amount of popularity the book had when it came out and *that* is the most schocking thing for me because as much as I can understand that a majority of the readet were not bothered by Bacigalupi’s view on GMOs (that’s their right after all), the relationship should at least have bothered a little the female audience. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, I am extremely picky with how relationships are portrayed in fiction so maybe, it’s not as problematic as I thought it was, I don’t know but it didn’t work for me.
        The Water Knife is a great book, almost a five stars read, not quite there but almost. 😉 Was it City of Ash? I read it just after finishing TWK and I really enjoyed it too, it was a bit too short for me but it was still very good! 🙂


  3. Much depends on the readers, true: I know that an abusive relationship would bother me a great deal, and that others might not be as bothered by it. I also know that sometimes I’m driven off a book by far less sensitive details, like the excessive use of a word for example: I remember a case where the word “smirk” was used far too frequently, and together with other problems it caused me to stop reading that book… 🙂

    The short story from Bacigalupi that could have been the “progenitor” for The Water Knife was “The Tamarisk Hunter” and it was contained in “Wastelands 2”, an anthology about post-apocalyptic scenarios.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very nice analysis! I loved the Water Knife, and was wondering about the Windup Girl.. Love your informed, balanced take. I’ve already bought it, so I’ll probably end up reading it at some point, and I will keep in mind your points as I do. Thank you!


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