Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi is a new author for me, but I’ve been hearing his name a lot. He’s written two novels, one for adults and the other for the YA audience, and has written award-winning short stories. So I’m working on catching up to him. When I saw Ship Breaker offered on Amazon and read through the description, I ordered the book immediately. I’m not big on dystopian novels of the future, preferring more hopeful fare as well as space opera or military science fiction for the most part, but I was completely blown away by this one, folks.

I just blazed through Ship Breaker and I really regret having to leave that world. I want to go back along Bright Sands Beach and revisit all those wonderful people I met that are struggling through such hard lives.

The author vividly paints the small microcosm that is the life of the ship breakers and successfully creates a culture based on past histories of coastal towns and cities. In this world, a ship breaker is a person employed by one of the few surviving corporate entities to salvage wrecked ships savaged by storms known as “city killers.”

The world Bacigalupi reveals in the novel is heartbreaking, but anyone who has read history will quickly grasp the giant backward step he makes in this dark future. The book is aimed at the older YA audience, probably eighth grade and up in my opinion, but adults (like me) will enjoy the headlong adventure as well.

Nailer, the main character who was really named that, is fourteen or fifteen years old. He works with a “light crew,” a group responsible for slithering down through the ducts of old ships in search of copper wiring and other salvageable items. The opening chapter establishes his job as well as the danger that he faces every day, and makes him a sympathetic character in the course of a few pages.

I loved the “backward” science of the book. The phosphorescent paint Nailer puts on his forehead to navigate the darkness so he can leave both hands free to salvage and save himself was incredibly neat, and something that I wouldn’t have thought of. The author provides a lot of touches like this.

The book concentrates on the low-tech coastal life for the most part, and I missed getting a better view of the inland world. Of course, Nailer didn’t know much about that world either, so it was fair. However, I can’t help wishing that Bacigalupi returns to Nailer’s world soon and presents us with another intriguing look at this proposed future.

Real world "ship breaking" going on right now in Bangladesh.

I also enjoyed the details about Tool, the half-man, and how his species were constructed in some laboratory to serve as nearly undefeatable and forever loyal bodyguards. I would love to get Tool’s story at some point as well. There is a progressive science that gets revealed in the novel, and most of that comes while aboard the fabulous, solar-powered clipper ships that ply the seas of the worlds.

The main plot surrounds the mysterious identity of a “swank,” one of those incredibly wealthy corporate people, girl that turns up in a busted ship after one of the colossal storms. Nailer and his friend, Pima, are torn over whether to save her or hack off her fingers to get at the gold rings she wears. This agonizing decision and the cold-blooded way they talk about it is amazing and complex, and shows just how desperate these people are.

Nailer’s dad, Richard Lopez, is one of the meanest characters I’ve seen in fiction in a long time. The history that the author gives the man is completely realistic and made his presence on the pages even more chilling.

The book shifts from a view of this dystopian future world to a frantic chase that brings Nailer into conflict with new enemies and old ones. The shipboard battle at the end of the book holds classic sea battle overtones, but it done in new ways that make it fresh and original. Highly enjoyable.


2 Responses to “SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi”

  1. Okay, okay…I’m off to get a copy for my Kindle.

  2. Great Review! I just read this book and I loved it. Hopefully his other novel, “The Windup Girl,” will be as a great book as well.

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