Friday, October 12, 2012

Brokeback Tankers

Do you think  my titular puns are getting worse?  I think they might be.

Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker won a bunch of awards last year, so I always figured I'd read it.  Took me a while to get around to it, probably because I was a little put off by the first few pages of Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, which is overwhelmingly world-building and kind of hard to follow, I thought.  So I put this book off.

This book, though, is really great.  The blurb is pretty straightforward--it sounds like setup, but it's really the meat of the story--Nailer lives in the poor community centered around tearing apart derelict oil tankers for scrap.  In a post-petrolium world, this is dangerous business, and everyone is hanging on by their fingernails.  When a hurricane rips through their beach community, it leaves behind a prize--a wrecked sailing ship, and a survivor who could be worth a fortune, or who could get him killed.

All this is on the inside cover, so you kind of expect it to happen in the first ten pages.  But really, that's about a third of the book, and everything else that happens stems from that, so it's not like any of it is a surprise.  There was a little stretch in the middle where I was adrift, because I wasn't sure what direction the story was going to go in, but that was pretty brief--the story is about Nailer, and wherever he is, you're happy to be. 

Usually your protagonist in a book like this is a little smarter or kinder or better than everyone around him--because in a rough world, most people are keeping their heads down and doing whatever ugly things they need to do to survive.  You don't want your protagonist doing these things, so you're with the special guy who rises to the top.  And that's not untrue here, but it's not nearly as clunky as you expect, either.  Nailer isn't the only one who does generous things, and he doesn't always do them, either.  He believes the code that the people around him live by--the book just happens to catch him on a day when he rises above it, and everything spills from this. 

I need to write my reviews while I'm still reading the book, or right after.  I finished this at least a week ago, and it's hard to blather on as I usually do.  But I really, really liked this book, and I definitely want to read the next one--which follows a character who's a genetically modified half-man, which is one of the more interesting world-building details.  We'll see if I can ramble more eloquently on that one when the time comes.


Aarti said...

I just read this one, too! So I was thrilled to see your review. I enjoyed it more than I enjoy most dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction, mostly because it seems much more based in a possible reality. I enjoyed the grittiness of it, too. I didn't LOVE it whole-heartedly, but I did love that there were so many Indian characters ;-)

Biblibio said...

Though I didn't like Ship Breaker quite as much as you (something about Bacigalupi's writing didn't sit very well with me in this one, oddly enough), I was also struck by how late in the game the back cover blurb becomes relevant. It really flirted with being considered spoilers...

LibraryHungry said...

Weirdly, I think part of the reason I enjoyed it so much was because I didn't expect to. I flipped through another of Bacigalupi's books once and wasn't caught up, so I didn't expect to like this one so much. I'd be interested to see your takes on other of his books.