Ship Breaker – Paolo Bacigalupi

Title: Ship Breakershipbreaker3-paolobacigalupi
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian
Pages: 326
Category: 10. Read a book labelled as young adult
Format: Paper

Date Started: September 5th 2017
Date Finished:  September 13th 2017

Set in the same world as Bacugalupi’s earlier book The Windup Girl, this novel is the first in a series aimed at young adults. Taking us back to America somewhere around New Orleans we get to explore the world of ship breaking through young Nailer’s eyes.

His job is dangerous. He crawls through the innards of big old ships, the kind we’re used to seeing photos of today huge iron ships that haul cargo all over the world. His job is to pull them apart though, just the small bits, copper wiring and such, then the so called heavy crew will come in and pull the ship itself apart.

One day he almost dies but he doesn’t, so he becomes known as Lucky Boy. Then he really does get lucky when a storm shipwrecks one of the new clipper ships just off shore and he is the first one to find it. There’s more wealth than he’s ever seen before. And then he finds something else that changes everything. Maybe he could even get out of this place and make it somewhere better.

Unlike the Bangkok we saw in the Windup Girl, New Orleans is completely underwater aside from the occcasional tip of a high rise building to be seen at low tide. Nailer and everyone he knows survives in tiny huts along the beach and everyone he knows works on the ships. He can only dream of what’s away from there. He dreams about the clipper ships that they see in the distance and wishes he was on one but his little corner of America has been forgotten by the rest of the world.

Rating: 4/5 stars (definitely be reading the other books in the series)

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The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi

Title: The Windup Girl6597651
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 361
Category: 35. Read a book labelled as dystopian
Format: Paper

Date Started: August 1st 2017
Date Finished: August 15th 2017

So this is the second book by this author I’ve read this year and the two books really couldn’t be much different if they tried. At least on the surface. This is actually the first novel he released way back in 2008. His novel Shipbreaker released in 2009 is kind of a companion book to this one aimed at a slightly younger audience. But it’s only when you consider these two in conjunction with his more recent novel The Doubt Factory that many similarities begin to emerge.

The Windup Girl (and Shipbreaker) are set in the not too distant future in a world that has suffered from both a rise in sea level leaving many major cities submerged, partially submerged or in the case on Bangkok (pictured above) surrounded by a huge sea wall. But this is only the start of the world’s problems. In bioengineering food horrible diseases have emerged killing many people and leaving many starving as well as many species of fruit and vegetables completely removed from the ecosystem.

The novel follows a white man in Bangkok trying to get access to the Thai seedbank under the guise of a factory owner. The novel switches between his story and that of his Chinese assistant, as well as government officials and a windup girl from Japan. A windup girl is essentially an engineered human who is highly prized in Japan but not so much in the streets of Bangkok where it is a struggle just to survive.

Slowly the stories of the characters converge leading to a huge climax. Though for me it was not the story that was a s compelling as the setting. Beyond the bioengineering and sea level rise there is also a huge step backwards in technology with the characters relying not on cars or fossil fuels but on the burning of calories. Though you’ll still see guns and ships as well as factories all of it is powered by people or animals rather than the traditional fossil fuels.

But to step back to the Doubt Factory and the similarities between the two. Doubt Factory took place in a society almost identical to our own but explored the dangers of huge companies telling lies to consumers and hiding behind ‘doubts’. For me, and I have to assume for Bacugalupi as well, this is like a precursor to the world we’re introduced to in the Windup Girl and Shipbreaker. What could happen if we don’t question companies and governments and engage with the world we live in as a whole. In essence, Bacigalupi’s works are a call for all of us to take responsibility for how we live and what our ambivalence could do to the world for our children and grandchildren.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars