The Windup Girl is a soft apocalypse novel set in a future in which climate change has destroyed nations and changed the world. Combustion technology is mostly history...everything is powered by hi-tech springs. The evil oil companies have been supplanted by vile genetics corporations that released engineered crop-destroying diseases in order to take control of the world's food supply.
In Thailand, a pseudo-American undercover corporate agent plots to steal that country's resources and force open its markets. A Trade Ministry official plots a revolution. A captain in the Environment Ministry--charged with preventing both human and crop epidemics from breaking out--is less corrupt than the rest of the nation's power brokers, which makes him a hero of the people. And a "wind-up" girl--a genetically engineered Japanese mostly-human servant--is systematically abused for profit until she snaps and changes the course of Thailand's future.
I was actually pretty bored through the first half of the book. It plods. The author uses a lot of Thai, Japanese, and Chinese words as if their meanings are obvious in context. I guess sometimes they are. NONE of the characters are easy to identify with, they're all unsympathetic and self-involved. They were well-drawn though, with believable, complex motivations; self-involved in different ways and for different reasons. I think that's why I stuck with this book even though I was bored. It showed promise. (Plus I liked the kink-spring technology that everything runs on in Bacigalupi's post-oil future.)
It got more interesting. Political maneuvering, inter-ministry espionage, corporate espionage, megadont attacks, betrayal, schemes and plots and surprise revelations eventually combined to turn a dull book in a fascinating setting into a fascinating story. Weirdly, I liked the inconclusiveness of a lot of the plot elements as well. A second wind-up girl is just forgotten. The truth about a dead character who talks to a living one is never addressed. A kidnapped woman's fate is never revealed. And after the Trade Ministry defeats the Environment Ministry in the climactic revolution, the author throws two more twists into the mix that make everything up to those points almost irrelevant. I found it oddly satisfying. If there's ever a sequel, I'll read it.