The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

I am currently listening to The Wind-Up Girl on audio. One of the main things going on is that the world is suffering from plagues that are swallowing food production and gene-hacking /gene-ripping seem to be SOP, but they are running out of heirloom seeds to bring back. One of the main characters is trying to get at a Seed Bank.

I’m not sure if I’d ever heard the term Seed Bank before (maybe in passing), but the concept is obvious. That night surfing the Internet, an article popped-up about the 3rd shipment to Norway’s seed vault in Svalbard. Suddenly, seed bank went from a concept to something I was really curious about.

I found this news clip first.

It takes you on a brief tour of the Svalbard site and mentions a few other seed banks as well. What I like most about this clip is that is the introduction of a new term. Did you know that Plant Explorer was job title?

There is also a TED video.

I found this one on the Global Crop Diversity Trust website. It’s by Cary Fowler. He mentions Jack Harlan the Plant Explorer from the first video as one of the greatest inspirations for his work.

There are other modern plant explorers making arduous treks for rare wild seeds believed to have more potential for adaptability in case of extreme climate change etc.
In this New York Times article:

It [wild strawberry] had originally been discovered by an intrepid Japanese explorer in 1929, and was named by a world-renowned German strawberry taxonomist in 1973. It was this taxonomist, Günter Staudt, who revealed the precise location of the strawberry to Sabitov.

I was reminded of Anderson Lake, one of the main characters in The Wind-Up Girl, pouring over books and attempting to subtle question people about the newest fruit he’d found on the market.

As I listen to this novel and think about all the out-of-control plagues and the genetic engineering gone wrong, I have to wonder how close are we going to dabble in this future? There has always been a bit of cautionary tale in science fiction novels. Not many of them, that I’ve read, paint rosy futures. One of the first articles that came up when I started researching the term ‘seed bank’ was talking about how this great store of Genetically Un-modified Seeds is being build at the same time more and more GMO food is being put out for public consumption. It also asked questions about who will control this source? These thoughts might be easy to dismiss as conspiracy theory when terms like ruling elite and planned genocide get thrown about, but in the light of The Wind-Up Girl it all seems a little more plausible.

Then I think that at least the Svalbard site and the other 1400 site around the world are looking to the future. It is a What If? Great novels are built on What If? So, maybe great lives can be too.

I will finish listening to The Wind-up Girl over the next few days. And I’ll most likely keep reading about this new topic. I’ve found a few articles on Jack Harlan I haven’t read yet.

Also in the TED video, Fowler talks about apples. That reminded me that I haven’t finished watching the PBS series the Botany of Desire, which is about how plants use us to preserve and spread them around the world. There is a whole section on apples.

So, what if plants really do use humans to preserve and spread them and now they seen up close and personal how horrid we are treating the earth and have convinced us we need to move their un-sprouted into a safe place until they deem it necessary to resurface? Too far fetched?

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One Response

  1. […] The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi won the Hugo Award for best novel. Actually it was a tie, but this is the one I’ve read. I really liked it because it was one of those scifi novels that made me want to dig into some of the idea presented. I talked about it here. […]

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