Review of SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A coming-of-age novel that’s a bit slow to start, but ultimately engrossing.

What stands out for me aren’t so much the characters–protagonists Nailer and Nita are complex and believable, but many of the supporting characters are sketchily drawn–or the plot, which has a familiar shape–shipwrecked rich girl rescued by gutter rat, flight from bad people wanting to use rich girl as pawn, a big fight, a hairsbreadth rescue–but the meticulously detailed, multi-layered post-climate change world in which the action takes place.

Bacigalupi presents a scenario in which our own “Accelerated Age” and the damage it wrought is just a memory, and a new society has grown up in and around its relics and submerged former metropolitan areas. From the hardscrabble coastal region where Nailer and his crew dismantle the rusted hulks of supertankers for salvage, to the drowned city of Orleans II, to the clipper ships that, in a world of water, are once again a main route of commerce, it’s a vivid, convincing, and frighteningly plausible vision of the future. And yet, much as the culture and the landscapes have changed, much remains the same: human nature, both good and bad, and the eternal exploitation of the weak by the strong.

I was reminded of George Turner’s wonderful and unjustly forgotten 1987 novel Drowning Towers (originally published as The Sea and Summer), which posited a similar worldwide economic and climate transformation long before climate change became inevitable, rather than merely probable.

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