Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi

In the near future, Nailer is a lucky boy. He's small enough to crawl inside of rusting old tankers to help salvage crews strip the wrecks of copper wire and other useful parts. It's rough work and his people live dangerous and hard lives. But things may be changing for the better.

After a heavy storm, a luxury boat washes up on the shore and, while salvaging it, Nailer finds a girl inside, barely alive. The easy solution would be to finish her off and claim the fortune in salvage that awaits. It could be the very break that he needs to start a new life elsewhere. But instead, something causes him to rescue her, launching a high stakes race to save much more than Nailer could ever have dreamed possible.

Rough and explicitly gruesome, this is a hard book to stomach. In comparison with, let's say, the last Hunger Games book, this is excruciatingly violent. And, like Matched, after a while the violence just numbs you because it comes on so hard and heavy that there really is no way to raise the volume. So, as with my review of that book, I'd say that Bacigalupi could benefit from learning that less is truly more. I was also distracted from the obvious pitch to get Hollywood interested in the story. Every description seemed designed to guide a screenplay. And it left it difficult for me to enjoy the story as a novel.

But that much aside, this is gripping stuff. While only explained in bits and pieces, this is basically a post-global warming world (think Waterworld for the obvious parallel) with a number of logical conclusions about the nature of things. Just the right mix of Mad Max and An Inconvenient Truth. The characters are rough and mean (there's not much human development here), but they get the job done and it's very effective. And if it is all a bit derivative, so much the better for making it familiar.

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