Review of SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi
Little Brown, May 2010
Oil has run out, coastal cities are drowned by rising sea levels, and city-killer hurricanes happen almost monthly. In this world, ship breakers like Nailer can only watch the ultra-rich as they sail past the swampy coast in their beautiful white clipper sailing ships.
Teenage Nailer may dream of sailing but he spends his days crawling through shattered freighters from an earlier age, salvaging copper, aluminum, and, if everything goes right, even a little oil from these abandoned ships. If he does well, if he makes quota, he and his team can eat. But he’s getting too big to scurry through the conduits and soon will be out of a job, cut off from his crew, and left with nothing.
When a storm destroys one of the sailing ships, Nailer and his friend Pima are first on the scene. The salvage is incredible and it’s all theirs… if they can keep it. It’s the ‘lucky strike’ everyone prays for. There is one problem, deep in the sailing clipper ship, Nailer and Pima find a girl, an owner. And if the owner is alive, the ship isn’t salvage. Of course, there’s an easy solution… the girl doesn’t have to stay alive. In fact, to many, she is worth far more dead than alive. And Nailer’s father, a drug-abusing ultra-violent thug, will stop at nothing to claim the salvage as his own, even if doing so means the death of the girl… and his son.
Author Paolo Bacigalupi (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of speculative fiction by Bacigalupi) creates a different kind of dystopic future. Rather than rely on magic or some unknown cataclysm to bring about the disaster, he builds on existing trends… global warming, the depletion of extractable oil, and the dramatic increase in wealth concentration. Extrapolating these into the near future, Bacigalupi delivers something that’s a deeper than the usual run of young adult fiction.
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