Pump Six and Other Stories Paperback – Nov 1 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Bacigalupi's stellar first collection of 10 stories displays the astute social commentary and consciousness-altering power of the very best short form science fiction. The Hugo-nominated The Calorie Man explores a post–fossil fuel future where genetically modified crops both feed and power the world, and greedy megacorporations hold the fates of millions in their hands. The People of Sand and Slag envisions a future Earth as a contaminated wasteland inhabited by virtually indestructible post-humans who consume stone and swim in petroleum oceans. The Tamarisk Hunter deals with the effects of global warming on water rights in the Southwest, while the title story, original to this volume, follows a New York sewage treatment worker who struggles to repair his antiquated equipment as the city's inhabitants succumb to the brain-damaging effects of industrial pollutants. Deeply thought provoking, Bacigalupi's collected visions of the future are equal parts cautionary tale, social and political commentary and poignantly poetic, revelatory prose. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Paolo Bacigalupi’s debut young adult novel, Ship Breaker, was a Michael L. Printz Award winner, a National Book Award Finalist, and a Locus Award winner. His debut adult novel, The Windup Girl, was named by Time Magazine as one of the ten best novels of 2009 and won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Compton Crook, and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. His short-story collection, Pump Six and Other Stories, was a 2008 Locus Award winner for Best Collection and was also named one of the Best Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly. He lives with his wife and son in western Colorado.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
These are dark stories of a Dalai Lama in a datacube, a modified human, a world of scavengers, a cultural conflict, genetically engineered life forms, population crises, life in a future Thailand, murder and a polluted world, as well as the tamarisk hunter. To a large degree these are cautionary tales - tales of what might be, if we take no action or take the wrong action. The biggest fear is that they will happen despite anything we can do and the author does not relieve us of this fear. Finally, these are finely crafted stories of the very near and far futures of human existence and they will leave you very uneasy. For all that, they are well worth the reading.
For example, "The People of Sand and Slag" and "The Tamarisk Hunter" feature near-future humans who have gone to terrifying lengths to adapt to the ruination of the world by our current pollution patterns, and "The Calorie Man" shows a disturbing worldview based on the little-known current social problem of the creeping corporate control of farming practices. "The Pasho" and "Yellow Card Man" are allegories of globalization and the slowly developing misery to come from this modern ideological craze. Another high point here (in a collection full of high points) is the beautifully disturbing "The Fluted Girl," a tale of body modification gone mad. Bacigalupi's stories are consistently haunting but often with open-ended conclusions, giving the reader a feeling of possible hope amidst ecological and social chaos. If you're into modern speculative fiction and distressingly believable dystopian visions, keep an eye on Paolo Bacigalupi. A star is born. [~doomsdayer520~]
"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.
The problem I had is that many of the stories were... depressing. Not disturbing. I'm okay with disturbing. Instead, many of the stories were just sad. It often seemed as though a patina of hopelessness was washed over the pages. And I don't do sad very well, even though I recognize the skill both in the worldbuilding and writing itself.
As it stands, the skill on display made this collection worth reading, even if I didn't actually *like* it. But if depressing plots don't bother you, then Mr. Bacigalupi's writing in this collection will be a treat, and you should snag it ASAP.
First, his "darkest" writing is the kind where, at the end, you look at your own life with added appreciation for your many blessings, including your simple humanity. This "dark" writing takes seemingly wonderful technology -- the ability of human bodies to self-repair, the ability to prolong youthful life, even the ability to create truly disease-free crops -- shows how easily it can be twisted, and makes you deeply grateful that you live in a world without such wonders. It's a darkness that, for me at least, is thoroughly uplifting when you look back at it. That's quite a trick, and I think it reflects a remarkably mature moral view. This writer thoroughly understands that science and technology are neutral tools, and they will be used for good or ill based on human morality.
Second, this writer appreciates that people need to work for a living. Part of the power of The People of Sand and Slag, for example, is that a key decision gets made, not out of cruelty, but just because it's too expensive to do anything else on relatively modest salaries. In the Fluted Girl, there is a whole business and economic model that the author believably creates, in the span of a few sentences here and there, that plays a nice supporting role to the central drama. In Yellow Card Man, the scarcity of resources is driven to harsh -- but again believable -- levels, and the story plays out against this scarcity. In Pump Six, again, an incredibly imaginative story is told through a character with a relatively ordinary job who is just trying to do it well.
By the way, I've seen Pump Six compared to a story from the 1950s called The Marching Morons, which is considered by many to be one of the "classic" science fiction stories. I liked Pump Six so much that I bought the anthology, The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (Volume 2A), just so I could read The Marching Morons too. It's rare for me to say this, but the "classic" story can't hold a candle to the new one. Everything about Pump Six -- the writing style, the characters, the details and sub-plots, the moral view and tone -- is far superior.
I'm looking forward eagerly to more from this author and hoping against hope that he can maintain his unique vision and moral bearings, rather than sliding into the easy political cliches that many of the reviewers try to project on him. Many thanks to the author and to Amazon for bringing this work to me.