5 out of 5!
Nailer is a ship breaker — he works for a salvage operation on a Gulf beach, taking apart rusty oil tankers from the Accelerated Age (ahem, that would be us). Nailer lives day to day, barely making quota and avoiding his dad’s drug-addled rages — until a storm washes up the biggest salvage of all, a swank luxury craft full of enough wealth to buy Nailer and his best friend Pima out of ship breaking hell for good. There’s just one problem: the owner, a teenage girl, is alive, and mixed up in problems far too big for a couple of beach rats.
Man, this book is awesome. I’ll warn you: it’s dark and it’s violent. Bacigalupi is an adult SF author writing his first YA, and he does not pull punches. If Hunger Games was too much for you, this probably will be too, and in some ways I found this more disturbing because the world is so realistically broken.
Warnings aside, though: AWESOME. First of all, Ship Breaker is a model of how to avoid the “Sit down, son, while I explain the history of our world” style of storytelling. Every aspiring author of a dystopia should read this and learn. By the end of the book I understood everything I needed to, but it took patience and careful attention.
“Patience and careful attention? Are you trying to make it sound boring?” Sorry. Did I mention that it also has the most thrilling fight scenes I’ve read in a long time? And that a genetically engineered half-man, half-dog named Tool turned out to be my favorite character? And that the characters survive falling in an oil reservoir, jumping a train, shipwrecks, and a deadly storm called a “city killer”?
The world-building is gorgeous, and while I suspect that Bacigalupi knows what the train conductor had for dinner and the intricacies of post-oil farming, the bits of the world we see are always in service of the story. It does exactly what good science fiction should do: extrapolate our future (in this case, bringing in issues of climate change, poverty, peak oil, child labor, and genetic engineering, just to name a few) to comment on our present, without losing sight of the people who make the future worth caring about.
A quote, to give you a sense of tone:
“Lost it, huh?” was all his father said, but Nailer could tell that dangerous gears were turning now, fueled by the rattle of drugs and anger and whatever madness caused his father’s bouts of frenzied work and brutality. Underneath the man’s tattooed features a storm was brewing, full of undertows and crashing surf and water spouts, the deadly weather that buffeted Nailer every day as he tried to navigate the coastline of his father’s moods.
There’s a sequel coming out next year. Color me shocked. But for once I’m actually excited about it!
Nailer actually kills someone! I call this medium-sized because it’s a big deal, but it happens fairly early on. After Todd “Boy Who Couldn’t Kill” Hewitt, that was a huge relief. It wasn’t easy for him, but in keeping with his generally pragmatic outlook on life, he knew it needed to happen, so he did it. (Is there something wrong with me that I was relieved to read about a teenage boy committing murder?)