Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  Set initially in a future shanty town in America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being dissembled for parts by a rag tag group of workers, we meet Nailer, a teenage boy working the light crew, searching for copper wiring to make quota and live another day. The harsh realities of this life, from his abusive father, to his hand to mouth existence, echo the worst poverty in the present day third world. When an accident leads Nailer to discover an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, and the lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl, Nailer finds himself at a crossroads. Should he strip the ship and live a life of relative wealth, or rescue the girl, Nita, at great risk to himself and hope she'll lead him to a better life. This is a novel that illuminates a world where oil has been replaced by necessity, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is now an abyss. Yet amidst the shadows of degradation, hope lies ahead.

And here's what I thought:   One in word -- Wow.  Yes, it's that good.   This story hooked me from the start, pulling me into Nailer's world and keeping me reading (and way up past my bedtime one night).    The book begins with Nailer climbing through a service duct in an old tanker ship, pulling as much copper wire as he can.   The way Bacigalupi writes, I felt like I was right there in the duct with Nailer, seeing what he was seeing.  The fact that I'm claustrophobic didn't deter me from turning the pages.   And it just kept getting better.    The characters here are all vividly written, and I found I really cared about what was going to happen to them, even the more minor characters (which is something I don't find in many stories).   The pace was also quick in this story, so combined with the great characters, this was a story I found hard to put down.

And now, a few words about the setting.  The world in this story felt like a character unto itself.   It's hard to tell exactly when this book is set, but it's definitely a future where the environment has been taking revenge on us for all of our abuse.   Storms wreak havoc on coasts, forcing people to adapt quickly (if they can).    Where Nailer lives, people are used to scavenging for everything, cobbling together shelters on the oil-stained beach.   When the first storm hits, it's obvious that this is a level of storm we can only imagine --- and it's a common occurrence in this world (in fact, they're referred to as "city killers").   When Nailer later travels to the city of Orleans, we can really see what Nature has created here; a place built upon the remains of a drowned city.   I really liked this dark vision of the future that the author creates in this book.   The idea of the environment producing storms like this doesn't seem too far-fetched, and that made what happens in this book creepily realistic.

I found this book to be dark, but very compelling.      Between the poetic writing, and the exciting pace, there were a lot of thought-provoking elements here.   This world isn't for the meek.   If the environment doesn't kill you, your fellow man just might.     Frankly, I didn't mind that -- it just kept me guessing as to what was going to happen next.    Wonderful, wonderful book.

And one more little addition ---- just when I had finished this book, I saw that Presenting Lenore had a very well-written review, and then had an interview with the author.   Check it out!

And where did I get this book?  Library!


BookQuoter said...

Great review of what seems like a good read. That is what's happening now.

Charlotte said...

I enjoyed this one lots to, and can't wait for the sequel!

I totally agree about the minor characters--each one seems like they have their own story.

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