Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi is a dystopia set in the American Gulf Coast region. Nailer is part of a light crew that includes Pima, Sloth, Moon Girl and Pearly, all of them children or young teens whose prime purpose is to strip copper from abandoned oil tankers. Nailer lives with his abusive, murderous father, Richard Lopez in a bamboo shack at the edge of the encroaching jungle on Bright Sands Beach.

The American Gulf Coast region has been abandoned due to rising seas and repeated storm damage from “city killers”, severe tropical storms that have destroyed and drowned cities such as New Orleans. Bright Sands Beach is an area where derelict oil tankers are scavenged for scrap by light and heavy crews. The light crews are run by bosses who push the crews to make quota. Those who don’t are replaced and their fate is worse than death.

When Nailer almost loses his life in an accident he is called “Lucky Boy”. His luck seems to hold after he survives a “city killer” storm that strikes Bright Sands Beach. Surviving the “city killer”, Nailer and Pima discover a wrecked clipper and a barely alive “swank”, whom they name Lucky Girl.

At first, Pima wants to kill Nita for her gold and the scavenge they will own if she dies. But Nailer can’t bring himself to do this. He struggles with letting Nita die and claiming her wreck as salvage and letting her live and possibly receiving a reward for her rescue. The former choice will mean certain wealth and freedom from the salvage crew.

When they learn that Nita Chaudhury is the daughter of Patel, owner of Patel Gobal, a company that buys scavenge from a local company, they decide that she is worth saving. However, Nailer and Pima soon learn that Nita’s shipwreck was not accidental. They learn that she was fleeing from her father’s enemies who are intent upon using her to gain control of his company.

Soon after, Nailer’s luck fails when his father and some of his goons discover the wreck and capture Nita and Nailer. The situation is further complicated by the appearance at Bright Sands Beach by Pyce, Nita’s father’s arch-enemy who had been pursuing her over the ocean. What follows is a race to save Nita from the clutches of Pyce and to grab a chance at a new life away from Bright Sands Beach. Ship breaker races to a final, satisfying and thrilling conclusion.


I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who loves science fiction. Some of Bacigalupi’s dystopian elements included drowned cities (The Teeth which represent New Orleans), half men – genetically designed human-canine hybrids who are brutal but loyal to the death and Harvesters – people who deal in body parts for money.

Characterization was fascinating and well done. Nailer is hardened but not past redemption like his brutal drug crazed father. Although his motives are initially those of self-interest, he does put aside his prejudice towards “swanks” - the wealthy, to save Nita. He wants to feel that he is better than Sloth who abandoned him to die in the bilge of the oil tanker. His character grows throughout the story from the boy who is always trying to appease his abusive father to one who eventually has the courage to confront him.

I found this book exciting from beginning to end. Bacagalupi gradually reveals his dystopian world in Ship Breaker such as the Harvesters and the half-men. Ship Breaker  is thrilling and engages the reader's attention right to the exciting conclusion. Look for more world-building in the next installment.

Book Details:

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Little, Brown and Company            2010

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