Saturday 7 January 2012

CBR4 Book 2: "Ship Breaker" by Paolo Bacigalupi

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: January 4th, 2012
Date finished: January 6th, 2012

So I saw this book mentioned in rave reviews all over the internets in the last year, and as I enjoy young adult quite a bit, I figured it might be worth checking out. I have to agree with what a lot of people are saying - young adult novels have certainly changed since I was a teenager. The plots tended to feature your teen pregnancies, and eating disorders, and homosexuality, and drug abuse, and AIDS and stuff. There were no sparkly vampires, or morally ambiguous fairies, or werewolves, or apprentice witches of the Discworld, or magical wizards schools, or Greek or Egyptian demi-gods, or criminal masterminds, and certainly no post apocalyptic future where most things have gone completely to hell, like in The Hunger Games or this one. Seriously, young adults today don't know they're born, they have so much good stuff to choose from.

Nailer works as a ship breaker, crawling through the tiny spaces of beached, rusting hulks, trying to scrounge enough copper wire to make the daily quota, so he and his work crew can eat for another day. His mum is dead, his dad is a calculating, deadly drug fiend who rarely has a good word for him. He's fiercely loyal to his work crew, and fears the day when he grows too big to work stripping copper, as he may not be big and strong enough to get work on a crew stripping heavy things like iron. He watches the sleek, clean, elegant clipper ships that sail by, and hopes that some day he'll find enough oil or gold to buy himself out of his dismal existence, but has very little hope of anything ever changing for him.

A few days after nearly drowning in a room filled with oil, a terrible storm hits the beach where Nailer and the other ship breakers live in shacks. When out with his crew mate Pima (whose mother is the only adult who seems to really care for him), he finds a stranded clipper ship, blown onto the beach by the storm. Inside the ship, they find enough luxuries to buy their freedom and set them up for the rest of their lives, but they also find a beautiful and clearly very rich girl, in the rubble. When trying to strip her jewelry from her, they discover that she's still alive, and have to decide whether the kill her, and keep their new found riches for themselves, or save her.

Due to his recent near death experience, Nailer can't bring himself to let Pima kill the girl humanely. They decide to rescue the girl, who assures them that her father will reward them handsomely for her return. But Nailer's psychotic father and his crew of equally dangerous low-lifes have also discovered the wreck, and want to sell her to the rival band who want to take over her father's business. Can Nailer go against the only family he has left, and abandon everything he's ever known, to risk his life and possibly his future for a disdainful stranger?

Bacigalupi paints an all too convincing picture of our future in Ship Breaker. The ice caps have melted, the sea levels have risen. Pollution and reliance on fossil fuels have made much of the world uninhabitable. The gap between the haves and the have nots has become almost insurmountable, with most people scavenging whatever they can find, including blood and organs, to sell to the wealthy corporations. Terrible hurricanes ravage the coasts of what used to be America, and many of the big cities are under water.

Nailer's life is awful, and you can't fault him for dreaming about something better. He lives in a harsh reality, where you are loyal to your blood-sworn crew, and betrayal is punished swiftly and brutally. Without a crew at your back, you are nothing. Every character is beautifully fleshed out, with very little effort, and the world building is excellent. The descriptions Bacigalupi uses are stark, sparing and very effective. There's quite a lot of violence and brutality, and the action rarely slows down for long.

I wanted to love the book, but something I can't quite put my finger on, held me back. Maybe it's just the sci-fi aspect. For some reason, I have a lot less time for science fiction than fantasy. I just can't seem to like it as much. This was a very good book, but maybe all the glowing reviews had raised my expectations up too high. Still, it's well worth a read, and people without a strange aversion to fantasy might enjoy it even more than I.

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