Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In "The Windup Girl," there is frequent talk about kink-spring devices. Googling kink-springs doesn't turn up anything. Is this a real technology or has it been made up or is this just the same as the torsion spring in a plastic wind up toy? e.g.

The part that throws me is the word "kink", it makes it sound like there is something being referenced in the real world.

EDIT: And I'm under no illusion that The Windup Girl is a non-fiction textbook about mechanical engineering. Many people seem to think I'm asking for the answer "'The Windup Girl' is a work of fiction"

share|improve this question
what initially sprung to mind was this "kink" girl. – DampeS8N Jan 12 '11 at 20:10
FYI, here's an ancient Roman example... even uses organic technology. – Rodger Cooley Jan 16 '11 at 23:06
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Carbon nano tube springs already exist and have an energy storage potential 10x that of lithium ion batteries. They were created in 2009 at MIT. Still very experimental though.

share|improve this answer

I'd say the closest we have to that now would be a using a flywheel. It doesn't use a spring. Rather, you spin a heavy object, effectively storing energy in it. When you need the energy back, you use the wheel to turn 'whatever' - or maybe you lower some coils around it and turn it into a giant electro-magnet and use it to generate electricity. I think you get the idea.

The kink springs in that story are basically doing the same thing, except instead of spinning a wheel, you're tightening a spring. Except i don't know of any springs that are capable of storing useful amounts of energy.

share|improve this answer
That does not seem to be answering the OP's query at all (although flywheel's are cool). – Lexible Jan 3 '15 at 1:56

It's made-up technology that is not actually possible in the real world (or rather, cannot be made capable of storing useful amounts of energy). Bacigalupi has no understanding of thermodynamics, and just puts stuff in his books if it seems cool.

share|improve this answer
A bit harsh, Bacigalupi supposes it is possible, and the story is set against that supposition, factoring in futuristic materials. Steam is also incapable of the amount of work it has been pushed to in many recent stories. – Adrian Jun 14 '12 at 9:38
How does storing energy in a spring violate the laws of thermodynamics? – Isaac Rabinovitch Mar 12 '14 at 22:48
Getting more useful energy by feeding giant animals and having them wind the spring up rather than just burning the food in a biomass power station is what violates the laws of thermodynamics. Different physical laws are violated by the springs themselves, which require materials that can't exist. – Mike Scott Mar 13 '14 at 6:53
The springs are just energy carriers, like batteries. There is nothing about batteries that defies the laws of thermodynamics, and there are practical reasons why you might want to use a battery rather than carrying a power station around. It's true that the solution presented in the book seems uneconomical, and the springs would require some pretty exotic materials, but it's within the limits of what the author can suppose for the sake of originality. Also, to @Adrian, steam is used to power the turbines in nuclear power stations... – GregRos Oct 1 '14 at 19:49
Kink-springs as described by Bacigalupi would require magical materials, not just "pretty exotic", with binding forces far beyond the limits of what's possible. It's not the concept that's wrong, but the numbers -- they simply couldn't store anything like as much energy as is described. – Mike Scott Oct 1 '14 at 19:54

It's similar to the wind-up tech used in olden toys and watches. Check this out: The description even says it stores energy. I think the books takes a cue from this and made a leap into fiction.

share|improve this answer

It's a made up technology.

Apparently it may one day be possible to create springs with the kind of energy densities that occur in the book: Carbon Nanotube Super Springs

share|improve this answer
No, you can get better energy densities than steel springs with carbon nanotubes, maybe comparable to good batteries, but you'll never be able to get the terajoule per cubic metre densities of the devices described in the book. At least, not without femtoengineering working directly on atomic nuclei, and if you can do that then solving the technological problems in Bacigalupi's world would be trivial. – Mike Scott Oct 1 '14 at 20:08

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.