Friday, June 15, 2012

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Summary:  Nailer works light crew, scavenging decrepit ships for copper wiring to make quota.  After a lucky escape from drowning in oil, Nailer’s fortune continues when he finds a clipper ship shipwrecked by a storm.  Suddenly he has a decision to make, scavenge the remains before anyone else discovers it, or save the swank girl inside and trust the Fates that she will lead to an even bigger reward.  His choice will take him on an unimaginable adventure away from any family he’s ever known, but will make him realise that family is so much more than a blood connection.

Dystopian Issues:  Eugenics, Disparity Between Rich and Poor, Climate Change
Part of a Series:  The first book in the Ship Breaker series
Next in Series:  The Drowned Cities, technically the prequel to Ship Breaker, but still the second book in the Ship Breaker series
Age of Main Character:  Unknown, even to himself (but probably between 12 and 14)
Number of Pages:  323
Year of Publication:  2010
Publisher:  Little, Brown and Company

Review:  Ship Breaker is an action-driven book that challenges the true meaning of the word family.  There were many things I loved about this book, but the main thing was that I kept thinking about it for days after I'd finished it.
     Nailer lives in a world where trust is hard to come by.  Although his light crew shares a blood oath to protect each other, all are secretly looking for a 'lucky strike' that will make them rich.  At home Nailer's life is even worse.  His mom is dead, and his dad has turned into an unpredictable, physically abusive drug addict.  Although Nailer has every reason to take any lucky strike he can find, when he is presented with the choice of saving a life or scavenging a ship, he chooses to save the life.
     Bacigalupi's characters are well-drawn with complex motivations.  I love how Nailer struggles against himself, ultimately doing the right thing but also knowing that he could easily do the selfish thing as well.  Nailer is a reflector who considers his options and is willing to pay the price when a price must be paid.
     I was intrigued by Tool, part human, part dog, part tiger, and wished that Bacigalupi had told more of his story.  From what I have read of The Drowned Cities, however, I think my curiousity will be satiated.
     Ship Breaker marks the first instance of dystopian organ donation on my site but I am sure it will not be the last.  In this case people are free to sell their organs, blood and eyes to the harvestors.  Selling your body parts does not have to be consentual though as other people can sell you to be harvested.  Women can also sell their eggs for the creation of the half-men that exist (like Tool), created by something called Life Cult.
     Weighing in at 323 pages Ship Breaker isn't exactly a fast read but I found it to be a mesmerizing one.

Real Life Dystopia:  Ship Breaker actually references New Orleans being hit by a hurricane.  In this dystopian world however, a second Orleans was built, only to be hit by another similar 'city killing' storm.  After that the name Orleans was dismissed for any further cities because it was thought to have bad luck attached to it.
     While we may not have advanced to the point of cross-species animal hybrids yet, at least not that I am aware of, scientists have been taking genes from DNA found in animals and using them in plants for research purposes.
     Harvesters, as they are known as in Ship Breaker, are known to us as organ transplant surgeons.  However, legal organ donations in North America in our time are still consentual and not monetarily rewarded.  Emphasis on 'legal'.

Memorable Quotes:  "He was alive.  His skin sang with life.  Even the pain in his back and shoulder where the shiv had driven into him felt good.  Being close to death had made everything in his life shine."
     - Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, pg 42
     "Nita didn't blink.  'I ran out of chances a long time ago.  It's all Fates now.'"
     - Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, pg 165
     "Sadna shook her head.  'Killing isn't free.  It takes something out of you every time you do it.  You get their life; they get a piece of your soul.  It's always a trade.'"
     - Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, pg 174

     "'Listen to me, boy.  Scientists created me from the genes of dogs and tigers and men and hyenas, but people always believe I am only their dog.'  Tool's eyes flicked to the captain, and his sharp teeth gleamed in a brief smile.  'When the fighting comes, don't deny your slaughter nature.  You are no more Richard Lopez than I am an obedient hound.  Blood is not destiny, no matter what others may believe.'"
     - Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, pg 248

     "The blood bond was nothing.  It was the people that mattered.  If they covered your back, and you covered theirs, then maybe that was worth calling family.  Everything else was just so much smoke and lies."
     - Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, pg 274

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