As I’ve said before, I’m not planning to post lots of reviews here (see Criticality for my reviews), but occasionally I have one that’s lost its natural home. This is another review that was dropped from The Guardian as another reviewer had also covered it (these mix-ups happen sometimes). So here we go:
Paolo Bacigalupi’s first novel, The Windup Girl, was one of the most acclaimed science-fiction novels of recent years, winning five major awards and immediately identifying the author as one of the hottest names in the field. Ship Breaker, while less striking than Bacigalupi’s debut, shows that the acclaim was not misplaced, and has itself been shortlisted for the US National Book Award.
Set in a dystopian and grimly believable post Global Warming future, Ship Breaker is the story of Nailer, a teenager who works the salvage crews on the US Gulf coast, stripping wire from oil tankers stranded and wrecked among flooded cities. It’s a life where no one is worth keeping if they don’t make a profit, and Nailer has no future when he outgrows the cramped spaces and is no longer any use on the gangs.
In many ways, Ship Breaker is a very straightforward adventure novel which limps a little as it approaches its climax in what effectively becomes a long chase. The novel is lifted above the crowd by the author’s deftly constructed and quite awful future, and by the way he can paint the most vivid and memorable characters and settings with minimal brushstrokes.