Monday, September 27, 2010

Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi

It was only after I read someone else's review of Ship Breaker that I realized it is classified as science fiction. Which made me wonder about the definition. This book is set in the future, but does not contain any of the elements I generally associate with that genre; gadgets, new theories of physics, stuff like that. All of the definitions provided to me by Google run something like this one, found at Wikipedia: "Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with the impact of imagined innovations in science or technology, often in a futuristic setting." Although climate change is not exactly an innovation, it is certainly the possible result of science and technology, so I guess it counts.

This is a book that would make a great video game. (I say this despite having very little experience playing video games.) It is fast-paced, and has lots of great lingo. It is a teeny bit violent, and the characters are pretty much super-human in their ability to take a licking and keep on ticking.

The protagonist is Nailer, a teenaged boy with an abusive father and a job as a light crew scavenger, scurrying through the wreckage of oil tankers to gather copper wiring for resale. In this bleak and not-too-distant future, category 6 storms are the norm, New Orleans is long under water, and now obsolete tankers rust on the beaches of the Gulf Coast. Electronic technology is still up and running, but fossil fuels are a thing of the past. Nailer makes a discovery which could make him king of the salvage yards when he happens upon a modern clipper ship wrecked on an outcropping of rock. He has to make the kind of moral choice that drives fiction: save the girl or go for the gold. The rest is nail-biting action.

Society in this novel has followed its current trajectory: the rich are richer and the poor are in trouble. Nailer's commentary on family, loyalty and desperation are very touching. I always love a stand-up guy as hero, and I'm also enjoying the boy--on-his-own-in-trouble genre, which is far less upsetting to me than the girl-in-trouble-and-messed-with-by-men genre. This is good YA - a little more action than is generally my taste, but a fun read.

I'm putting Paolo Bacigalupi's first novel, The Windup Girl, on my list. It won the Nebula Award, and tied for the Hugo. It sounds timely and fascinating...

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