Saturday, April 9, 2011

"Ship Breaker" by Paolo Bacigalupi

Summary: Nailer is a ship breaker, part of the crews that work in Bright Sands Beach outside what was once New Orleans, breaking apart the large beached oil tankers for scrap.  Like all ship breakers, Nailer's life is hard, but his is made especially difficult by his ruthless alcoholic and drug-addicted father.  After a particularly fierce storm which shuts down the scavenging for a few days, Nailer and his fellow crew member Pima go scavenging and discover a wrecked clipper--one of the beautiful and expensive ships that Nailer has never seen close up.  When they explore the ship, they find a "swank" girl, nearly dead.  Soon Nailer's life becomes inexorably woven with this girl's.

Musings: I enjoyed Bacigalupi's recent adult novel The Windup Girl and was especially impressed with his strong world building.  Bacigalupi does not disappoint in The Ship Breaker, where he creates not only a believable post-apocalyptic New Orleans, but he also utilizes interesting characters and a fast storyline.

Nailer's difficult life is fully detailed, from his work in ship breaking to his bond with his crew and his conflicted feelings about his abusive father.  Nailer is an excellent protagonist--he's good at heart, but he's not an angel, and he struggles with mixed and contradictory feelings.  The secondary characters like Nita, Pima, and Tool are also fascinating but are given less attention, and I did almost want more from them (particularly Tool).

Although the novel is set in the future, it does a good job of straddling the line between the recognizable and familiar (the degradation of poverty; unsafe working conditions) to the new and fantastic (half-men half-dog creatures).  There are aspects that are only partially explained (such as the myriad new religions or cults like the Harvesters), but that doesn't get in the way of enjoying Ship Breaker.

In the end, what won me over most was the fast-paced action and sympathetic characters.  I don't know whether Bacigalupi intends to write more about this world, but he's created an interesting enough set-up and characters to certainly warrant a return.

***Though Ship Breaker does not qualify, for me, for the POC Reading Challenge because Bacigalupi is white, the main characters of the novel are all characters of color from a variety of backgrounds.

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