In Pump Six and Other Stories, which won the Locus Award for Best Collection, Paolo Bacigalupi treats us to these ten excellently written biopunk stories:
"Pocketful of Dharma" (1999) -- a young street urchin finds a digital storage device which contains some startling data. This is Bacigalupi's first short story -- and it's impressive. I love the premise of this story and its ambiguous ending. It would be fun to see Bacigalupi extend this one into a novel.
"The Fluted Girl" (2003) -- a young girl is at the mercy of her cruel and ambitious mistress. There's a scene in this story that's eerie, chilling, and strangely beautiful. Another ambiguous but satisfying ending.
"The People of Sand and Slag" (2004, Nebula nomination, Hugo nomination) -- three colleagues are surprised to find an extinct species: a dog. Although this one was nominated for a Nebula and Hugo and has some fascinating ideas, it lacks Bacigalupi's usual subtlety and feels a bit heavy-handed.
"The Pasho" (2004) -- an educated and enlightened man returns to his primitive village. This one has a surprise ending that was really well done.
"The Calorie Man" (2005, Theodore Sturgeon Award, Hugo nomination) -- set in Paolo Bacigalupi's Windup world (the setting for his multi-award winning novel The Windup Girl), generipping and bioterrorism have destroyed the world's food supply, leaving an oligopoly of a few biotech firms. It took me a while to get the feel for this blighted world, partly because I was listening on audio and couldn't see the words (e.g., At first I didn't realize it was "joules" and not "jewels"). Once I read a couple of pages of the print version at Nightshade's website, I was fine and loved it. This is excellent world building.
"The Tamarisk Hunter" (2006) -- during Big Daddy Drought in Colorado, Lolo has found a way to make sure he keeps his job. This is the weakest story. It's well-written, but lacks the superior qualities of the other stories.
"Pop Squad" (2006) -- death has been conquered, human evolution is over, and breeding is now illegal. This story is incredibly disturbing, but wonderfully thought-provoking. The craftsmanship -- the symbolism, the imagery, and the juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness, evolution and decay, and life and death -- is sublime.
"Yellow Card Man" (2006, Hugo nomination) -- a once-proud Chinese shipping magnate who now lives on the streets of Bangkok finds that "fate has a way of balancing itself." Another Windup world tale, this one had me riveted. I must read that book!
"Softer" (2007) -- a man who just killed his wife experiences the world differently in his last days of freedom. Ironically, this is the only story which isn't set in a hellish dystopia, but it's the most disturbing of all. I actually had to fast forward through some of the tracks. Perhaps what was scariest is that the murderer's thoughts made complete sense to me!
"Pump Six" (2008, Locus Award) -- Travis, who works for the sewage plant, keeps the toilets running. This is another especially well-crafted piece which is slightly humorous, has an amazing stream-of-consciousness scene that comes across great in audio, and has a slow, chilling, inconspicuous reveal.
I listened to Brilliance Audio's version of Pump Six and Other Stories, read by James Chen, Jonathan Davis, and Eileen Stevens. Chen was a perfect pick for the Windup stories and Jonathan Davis, a favorite of mine, had some glorious moments (though he had a tendency to suddenly and inexplicably affect a bad Southern accent occasionally).
Every single one of these stories is disturbing, but they're also excellently written and unforgettable. Bleak, pessimistic dystopian literature isn't usually my thing, but Paolo Bacigalupi's stories make great reading due to their superior construction, moody immersive atmospheres, tantalizingly provocative ideas, and sometimes-subtle warnings. Everything Paolo Bacigalupi writes goes on my TBR list.