Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi
Night Shade Books 239 pp/trade paper back 10 stories

I know the first publication of this collection was out in 2008 but this is the paperback from Night Shade Books released in 2010. First off, near as I can tell, there is no difference from the hard cover printing.

Second, I don't think I need to spend a whole lot of time telling the Beam Me Up audience that Paolo is a really good writer and his stories wildly inventive and entertaining. Pump Six follows on in the tracks of the Windup Girl and many of the stories (the rest paying homage) play in the same venue as Windup. A world flooded by global warming and energy starved as petroleum fuels are no longer used while food scources become contaminated with corporate entities becoming "calorie" barons developing resistant food sources to feed and power the world's economy.

I first became aware of Bacigalupi's world with "The Calorie Man" where engines became super strong main-springs, gas stations became "winders" and the economy based on the "calorie". Paolo puts you right into this in between world of mutated animals that generate the power (all the way up to engineered elephants capable of huge amounts of power on few calories) the smell, noise and people lived for me. (if you like the Calorie Man and haven't read The Windup Girl, you really should. ) Then I ran across The People of Sand & Slag which was even more gene modified to a point that I question whether the humans are even that anymore....human. A world so horribly destroyed that it took me a while to reconcile the fact that both stories were from the same author. In the People.... the whole world seems to be a strip mine. When I read the story I wanted so badly to do it on Beam Me Up and Paolo was very gracious. I started reading it on episode 139 and finished reading it on episode 140 & 141. He managed to hammer the world into a cesspool of oil spills and toxic sludge and warped the humanity out of the main characters but somehow still made them human.

Soon after I found "the Yellow Card Man". Many of the "Calorie" stories are placed in an Asian influence land. With Thailand and Malaysia bringing a strong influence. The water influence, nonstop humanity. The feel of the marketplace with food, people and a mishmash of languages will set the stage. When Bacigalupi mixes in a refugee element and then doses it with the calorie and you get something recognizable and at the same time alien. Yellow Card Man lets you travel with someone that is hopelessly trapped in the margins of this world, destined to never be a player.

Then when you think you have a fix on what Paolo is all about with Pump Six, he skins in "the Fluted Girl, is so far removed from the constant press of humanity that Yellow Card Man or Calorie Man seem a distant if other world memory. I don't want to do a spoiler on Fluted Girl, other than to say that it is painfully evident that genetic manipulation is not far away, but so utterly different in scope.

And then one wonders where a story like "Softer" came from. A totally twisted ride into madness that wonders what lies behind the calm exterior of Mr. Bacigalupi.

Praising his writing talents at this point are redundant. Pump Six and other Stories on it's own merits is certainly worthy of a read. As an addition to the Bacigalupi library, well it's a must.

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