Written by: Paolo Bacigalupi
Set initially in a future shanty town in America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being dissembled for parts by a rag tag group of workers, we meet Nailer, a teenage boy working the light crew, searching for copper wiring to make quota and live another day. The harsh realities of this life, from his abusive father, to his hand to mouth existence, echo the worst poverty in the present day third world. When an accident leads Nailer to discover an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, and the lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl, Nailer finds himself at a crossroads. Should he strip the ship and live a life of relative wealth, or rescue the girl, Nita, at great risk to himself and hope she’ll lead him to a better life. This is a novel that illuminates a world where oil has been replaced by necessity, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is now an abyss. Yet amidst the shadows of degradation, hope lies ahead.
Paolo Bacigalupi shines in this novel set off the gulf coast in the creepy future where the divide between the “have” and the “have-nots” seems as vast as the seas.What struck me in this novel was the fantastic use of language. Bacigalupi creates a whole shanty society complete with their own slang that permeates every thought and conversation. You get a real feel for the world with that language. You get a real sense for how the poor in this area are beyond uneducated, they are generations of uneducated. They learn what they need to survive and little more, because surviving takes up every scrap of time from a young age.
The book makes you wonder what will happen to America once we finally give up on oil. Will we turn from our addiction to oil only when forced to look for other ideas? The other theme of the future that I saw centered around the effects of the weather changes we see today. It does not matter if you believe in global warming or not, we live in a time with some extreme weather patterns, and what will happen to the world if those patterns continue? Could we see “city killer’ hurricanes, as described in this novel? Will we truly see New Orleans built three times over? And what will it take for us to finally learn that perhaps we need to change our thinking in regards to these weather patterns?
I truly enjoyed the high adventure as Nailer runs away with Nita in an attempt to save her from the very people he grew up with, including his father. Nailer’s hard work and determination saves his life time and time again, in ways showing how when put to to the test you can do mighty things.
If you are looking for a rosy look towards the future, go back to “Star Trek”. You won’t find world peace here. Instead you find a rusty, oily future where family will turn against family at the drop of a hat and survival is a matter of cunning and luck more than anything else.