Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ship Breaker (#1) - Paolo Bacigalupi


Goodreads:  In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life...

In this powerful novel, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future.


This is one of the most dystopiest dystopias I've read!  (And also one of the few marked as a dystopia that IS a dystopia).  This future of our world is caused by our use of fossil fuels and ignoring global warming.  It's not really preachy about it - in fact it sounds eerily accurate to what we are experiencing now and the trajectory that Paolo paints our future heading feels unnervingly likely.  In Nailer's world Category 6 hurricanes are a montly event, everywhere is an island, there are tons of "dead cities" underwater - which is where a lot of Paolo's work takes place (I think, I actually wasn't sure how much were ship wrecks and how much was buildings, so I might be wrong on that front).  Basically this world building is amazing and feels so real.

Tthe characters are just as fantastic as the world building.  First off, there is fantastic diversity.  There's people of mixed races, whites, and different shades of browns - whether that's equivalent to our blacks or hispanics I'm not sure.  Basically, it feels like an accurate representation of what our current racial ratios are like.  There's also people with different virtues and flaws, and a wide array of moral compasses - no one character is alike.  I'd say Tool (who I will talk about below) and Pima's mom (whose name I forgot...I know, she's my favourite character and I don't even know her name haha) are easily my favourite characters.  Pima's mom is such a strong woman physically, mentally, emotionally, and morally.  She's seriously awesome.  She basically holds everyone together in this book - even when she's no longer physically with the main characters!  I vaguely remember her being black if I am recalling correctly, and she doesn't have a husband (he died maybe?), but she loves her daughter, is basically a surrogate mom to Nailer, has her own heavy crew, and garners some serious respect - even from the not so great guys in this book.  She never feels like a Mary Sue - she does feels like a freaking awesome character that I'd love to meet in real life!

Tool is a really enigmatic character, and his story line is one of the most interesting parts of the story for me.  There's not just diversity among skin color - there's diversity in actual humanity.  Tool is what the characters call a half-man:  literally half a man, half an animal.  They are a mix of animal DNA (tigers, dogs, wolves, etc.) and human DNA and are supposed to be so loyal that they die when their "master" dies because they just pine away.  But Tool, even as a half-man, makes choices and is his own person.  He is unique even among his own species.  You know, now that I take the time to think of it, he really reminds me of Castiel personality wise.  Sort of.  Maybe.  In any case, he brings up so many questions that mirror questions brought up by AI in other novels (at what point do they deserve rights, what determines humanity, etc.), so I thought it was interesting to use someone who was actually part human to explore those same questions.

And of course I can't leave out the main characters!  Nailer works the light crew as a ship breaker.  It is extremely dangerous work - it not only exposes him to toxic substances without protection, there's always a chance the tiny tunnels will cave in, or he will get stuck, or even worse he could get lost in the tunnels.  Nailer describes the fate of another boy, Lost Jackson, who gets lost in the dark of the tunnels, but despite his entire crew being able to hear him, they couldn't find him.  He starved to death in the dark after a few days.  In the beginning of the book Nailer falls into a pit of oil and almost drowns.  It is a particularly vivid scene as Nailer fights to find a way out.  Much of this book is quite graphic which makes scenes like that one rather terrifying (but then I've already mentioned many times that I am absolutely a baby about these things).

Nailer's character is juxtaposed against Nita's.  Nita is born to possibly the richest man in the country.  I won't give away any spoilers on her though, so I will say simply this:  The combination of smarts and luck is extremely prevalent as a theme throughout the whole novel.  Nailer works light crew because that is his only option.  It is that or die.  Nita is at the top of the world, but she's not just there because she was born lucky - she's also survived so long because she's got smarts too.  I think what I loved most about Nailer and Nita's story lines is that romance wasn't a focus.  I mean it's there, but this book is definitely a survival tale, and not a romance pretending to be a dystopia.

It is easy to say Nailer and Pima's situation is because the book is set in a dystopia.  That's not true.  There are people today, in our current world, who live horrible lives.  They don't have any control over their fate.  They can't even dream for a better life, because it is simply not available to them. There are god knows how many people born into the slums of a third world country or into the middle of a war-torn continent.  The danger these young children go through every day is no better than Nailer's.  I think it's so important to remember that all of these situations set in dystopias - they come from somewhere.  This one is the closest to what I see happening to our future and the closest to what is actually happening in our world today.  It's so easy to close our eyes and pretend that we are in control of our future, and that everyone has an equal opportunity to become educated or get out of their community if it's a bad place to be.  That's just not true.  It's important (and especially with certain politicians in America *shifty eyes*, but also worldwide) to remind everyone that people who aren't making enough money?  They aren't there because they want to be.  For some of them, it's out of their control.  I think because I have always recognized that I was born into extremely lucky circumstances, this story really resonated with me.  I often think about how much luck has played a role in my life.  And if there is one thing this book will do, it will definitely make you think.   It has a lot of messages that are woven expertly into this story, and it just so happens that a lot of these messages are things that I've spent a lot of time thinking about over the years.  I think a lot of the power of this book was personal for me, but I do think that it will have a strong impact on anyone who reads it.


Definitely the most thought provoking read I've had all year.  Great world building, great characters, great diversity, I really don't have anything bad to say about this book.  Oh yeah, and even though it's a series, you could read this book and never know!  I mean I'm definitely going to check out the sequel, but there's no cliff hanger so you don't need to feel compelled to.  Yay!

Would I recommend it?

Absolutely!  It may sound a bit intimidating and heavy, but I didn't talk much about how fantastically action packed it is, and the language is actually what one would expect out of a dystopia - so no fancy, flowery dialogue here!  So don't be intimidated, and go check out this series!


  1. Oh this sounds like a wonderful book, and must go on my TBR list immediately! I love it when books take what could indeed be the reality for our own world. It's a scary thought, but I'm sure that it's only a matter of time before this planet is completely screwed up (more so than it already is). Thank you for the recommendation :)

  2. It's definitely worth reading! It has such a different feel from the other distopias I've read (partially because it is the most terrifyingly realistic one I've read!)

  3. Wow, the most thought-provoking book you've read this year? High praise! I have been meaning to read this book FOREVER, I've heard such great things about it. I'm glad you ended your review by saying it may sound intimidating/heavy, but not to worry about it, because frankly that's probably what's been holding me back. Thanks for the review. :)

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  4. Yeah it's amazing at how well put together everything was in this book! I'd not heard of it before, I just randomly came across it in the library. It's definitely not a dense or tough read, so I hope you get to it soon!


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