Sunday, March 28, 2010

Book Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Title: Ship Breaker

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi

Pages: 223

Received from: author


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 This is a novel that illuminates a world where oil has been replaced by necessity, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is now an abyss.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.

Holy shit on a stick, I loved this book. So much so that I finished it three days ago and couldn't bring myself to write a single word about it, simply because there is nothing that can be said. Not to mention the fact that once I get going with these reviews, I all of a sudden discover something I wasn't too thrilled with choice bits and the rating goes down two points lower then originally intended. I'll try to restrain myself.

Nailor is a ship breaker; smallest on his light crew and sent into the depths of sunken vessels in a world far too conceivable to be picked from a hat. But he's too busy scavenging to think about the world, possibly the one element that saved this book from Preachy Dystopia Land. Since this is most likely aimed at younger to middle teens, I don't think the story nor the characters would have resonated nearly as well had Bacigalupi dwelled on the whys and the hows.

Anyway, we quickly see how severe the divide between rich and poor is; most of the population (at least, as far as Nailor knows) lives in extreme poverty, replaceable and malnourished. Drugs can be found on every mile of beach in this Gulf Coast and kids as young as three are working back-breaking jobs in an attempt to earn some food for their families. In other words, the world has basically become Southeast Asia, with the elite on the very top and everyone else poking for spots on the very bottom. And thats Nailor. The one thing he knows he can count on is loyalty, if not from his crew then from Pima, his light crew captain and best friend.

Another factor worth noting about this world; due to climate change, hurricanes have become so monstorous and regular that they have been dubbed "city killers". After one of these strike Nailor's beach, he and Pima find a sunk clipper with more wealth on its deck then they've ever imagined. If the two can keep it hidden long enough to gather its riches, we're talking one way ticket to swankville (coincidently, rich people are titled "swanks" by...yeah, everyone). But then they're forced to make a decision; take their scavenge for guarunteed riches, or save Nita, the young, wealthy survivor of the clippers downfall. The rings on her fingers alone are worth more then their whole lives, but Nita--or "Lucky Girl"--promises them hefty rewards for her safe delivery.

Mkay, so holycrap I couldn't put this shit down. Nailor's narrative is just as raw as you'd expect from an uneducated ship breaker, but at the same time filled with so much intelligence and--dare I say--wisdom that its like reading an actual documentation from the crap-filled world we're creating. As I said, there isn't much detail as to the cause of this world, but its easy to guess; we have exhausted our natural resourses, fucked up both our global and local economy, and beaten the shit out of the enviroment. All of this shit was completly preventable...I mean, this is probably like porn to Al Gore. I know very little about enviromental science, but I do know enough about climate change to say with confidence that if we don't get our shit together, this world will be fact.

Moving away from preachy liberal fodder, ya'll can rest assured that there is plenty of plot and characters to go around. There's Nailor (smarter then you), who has the shittiest life, like, ever and doesn't let anyone forget it. However, Bacigalupi somehow, by the grace of god, never makes his third person narrator either whiney or mopey. Nailor gets shit done, and he does it with class (at least, as much as a kid who eats fried rats could scrounge up). Nailor's awesome. Go Nailor.

The part that the author failed at is the other characters. Nita had never become anything more then a spoiled rich girl with a Heart of Gold in my eyes, yet somehow, in some pages I must not have read, she and Nailor formed some kind of romantic chemistry. Of course, I didn't see it, nor did anyone else most likely, but, you guys, its totally there. I mean, who wouldn't fall in love while hanging on a freight train for three days straight and digging each other from the water-logged remains of their tanker ship? You guys just don't know what love is.

Same diff with everyone else, except maybe Richard Lopez, Nailor's father. He's given the hint of something more then completly evil, though this could just be the remains of a kid's idol worship of his father. Even though the guys a douche. Whatever.

So yeah. Overall, great message thats accessible enough for younger kids, awesome main characters, fast-paced plot, and some of the best world-building you'll ever read. Definetly reccomended.

Rating: 8 out of 10


Simon said...

Awesome sauce.

vvb32 reads said...

whoa, sounds gritty. sounds good. adding it to my list.
btw: you've been awarded ;-D

sharonlovescats said...

Teehee Love this review. I just finished reading this and all it needed to make the perfect book for me was a feline character.

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