Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Author Interview and Giveaway: Paolo Bacigalupi discusses Ship Breaker

I reviewed SHIP BREAKER earlier today, and now I'd like to introduce Author Paolo Bacigalupi and welcome him to Presenting Lenore for a Dystopian August interview.


On the surface, SHIP BREAKER is a kick-a$$ adventure story, but there are a lot of weighty topics explored as well – the importance of loyalty, corporate responsibility and breaking the cycle of violence. Which came to you first – the ideas you wanted to explore or the storyline/characters?

With this book, the ideas came first, but not the ones you name, actually. I was initially interested in writing about the environment and cool sustainable technologies. That was the real seed for the story. But as I crafted Bright Sands Beach and the world of the ship breakers, another set of themes emerged--the need to rely on one another for survival, the vast differences between the wealthy winners of the future and the losers; and as Richard Lopez came on stage, with his addictions and violence, the theme of family and what we owe our parents ended up taking over the narrative. So the world-building and story-telling ended up creating their own driving rules. I started with a map and a plan, and then took a sharp turn and went off-roading, instead.

I was really fascinated with the half-men, especially as they related to the theme of loyalty – they are essentially as loyal as you get in SHIP BREAKER’s world. Can you tell us a bit about their development? Will we ever find out how Tool was able to be his own patron?

Yes. You'll definitely see Tool again. I've always been interested in bio-engineered characters, and anyone with the blood of tiger, dog and hyena running through his veins is too interesting to leave alone. When Tool first arrived onstage for me, he was almost fully formed, and he turned out to be a good metaphor for questions not only of loyalty, but also a stark example to illustrate questions of nature vs. nurture that Nailer finds himself wrestling with. Tool has the blood of dogs running through him, and he's expected to obey his patron at all times. To be the well-trained animal. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much what we expect of our kids, as well.

I’m totally psyched for SHIP BREAKER II – THE DROWNED CITIES. When is it coming out and what can we expect?

Not sure when SHIP BREAKER II will come out. I've got a bunch of revisions to do, so I'm sort of delaying the process more than I'd like. Hopefully sometime next year, though. You can expect to see Tool again, and Nailer's life is far from secure. To say more would sort of spoil the surprises that I'm lining up, but you can expect to see more of the world fleshed out, and to get a better sense of parts of its history, as well.

Do you read a lot of dystopian/post-apocalyptic literature? Any influences? Any recommendations?

Actually, I don't read that much of it. My influences all come from environmental journalism. I look at current trends and then try to extrapolate on what might come next. If oil is getting scarce, then what might the world look like? If we're destroying ecosystems, what does that mean? Mostly, what I like to do is turn up the volume on a trendline that already exist and is already playing out. I think of my stories as thought experiments, and to the extent that other people call the results dystopian or post-apocalyptic, I think that reflects how ugly some of our current trends are.

If I was going to suggest something to read, I'd say most of the writings of Michelle Nijhuis are interesting, she's an environmental journalist and a friend of mine, and I'm always stealing from what she writes about. Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker is doing a great job of sketching out the broad lines of the future based on what's happening today, and it's scary as hell. David Quammen's book Song of the Dodo is a fabulous look into the science evolution and extinction, and what it has to tell us about our present. Journalists like these ones are mining the present for the stories that are telling us what tomorrow will look like. I turn to them again and again so that I can understand our own narrative arc.

As far as fiction that I've read and liked, and that used the tools of dystopia particularly well, I'd recommend MT Anderson's FEED. It's about as smart as it gets.

The dystopian genre has really exploded in terms of popularity in the past year. Do you think it’s been played out? Or are readers insatiably hungry for these types of stories?

I didn't really understand that there was a dystopian genre until SHIP BREAKER was labeled that way. I've always thought of myself as writing extrapolations, and really (let's whisper it), science fiction. There's a long tradition in science fiction of writing speculations that ask the question "If x goes on, what does the future look like?" I think of myself as being pretty firmly embedded in that tradition.

Regarding the current taste for devastation, I suppose that to the extent that it has something relevant to say, it always will have a place.1984 still survives because of its continued relevance. Books like LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow continue in that tradition, and I think that relevance doesn't get played out. If dystopian literature has something worthwhile to say, it will survive; if it's a shtick, it will die in favor of some new shtick.

Thanks Paolo! 

Visit Paolo at his website to find out more about SHIP BREAKER and his other novels.  You can also read the first 30 pages of SHIP BREAKER via Hachette's open book app.


Thanks to Little, Brown, I have three copies of SHIP BREAKER to give away today to readers with US mailing addresses (no PO boxes please).  To enter, just leave a comment about some aspect of today's interview.  Contest will remain open until August 31st at 11:59 CST.

43 comments:

Kaitlyn (Kaitlyn in Bookland) said...

I love dystopian novels, so I can't wait to read Ship Breaker! Thanks for the contest :)

kaitlynkline (at) gmail (dot) com

Mrs. DeRaps said...

Dystopian lit is my all-time favorite. I loved Cory Doctorow's Little Brother and always love to know which books inspire authors. Thanks for the interview and giveaway!

mrsderaps @ hotmail . com

Amy said...

I have been wanting to read this one for a long time! I found the interview really fascinating in particular the focus on how much he's really expecting these things could happen! Yikes! And I always thought dystopian lit was a sub-genre of science fiction. Great interview, Lenore! you know my email address right?

Emily said...

I think the comment on science fiction and hypothetical situations was really interesting- I guess really, dystopian stories ask scary questions while other forms of science fiction might ask funny, silly, or exciting ones. It's definitely something to think about. Great interview and thanks for the giveaway!

whatbookisthat at gmail dot com

Kailia Sage said...

Oooh yet another dystopian novel! I've noticed that they are very popular these days and I've come to absolutely love them!

Thanks for the interview and giveaway!

Anonymous said...
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Alessandra @Out of the Blue said...

Wow, I didn't know this was a dystopian novel. I assumed it was steampunk. More excited about it now :)

Jenna said...

I begged my mother to buy this for me for my birthday, but she haid I already had too many books! I have been wanting to read it so bad, and this interview did not help matters in the slightest.

Thanks for the contest!

jennapomme[at]yahoo[dot]com

Miss K said...

It is worrisome that a lot of what was covered in Feed has come true. I hope that is not the same for Ship Breaker!

go.megan.go at gmail dot com

Zibilee said...

The half-men sound really interesting, and I am really intrigued by them. I bet you will be happy to see them again!

zibilee(at)figearo(dot)net

Sarah said...

Wow...the half men sound really interesting. This book has a really interesting premise, and I can see how dystopian easily fits as a subset of Sci-Fi. Thanks for the interview!

Hawkeyegirl said...

I love dystopic fiction, I can't seem to get enough of it these days. I agree with Paolo, dystopia will stay popular as long as it continues to be relevant. I like what it says about humanity, often surviving with just the barest threads of hope. The problems come when it starts to get commercial-ized and mainstream. I really hope the nature of the genre itself will keep it from getting too shallow.

hawkeyegirl at gmail dot com

Em said...

Thanks Lenore and Paolo for a wonderful interview! This is my absolute favorite book of 2010 thus far and I would love to have my own copy to treasure and reread. I'm glad to hear that Tool will be back in the sequel. When he first appeared in Ship Breaker I was drawn to him as a character and waited with great anticipation for him to really dive into the action of the story.

Meredith said...

I loved the interview and would love to read this dystopian novel! I wonder if he's had any other ideas for books that have generated from his interest in the environment.

meredithfl at gmail dot com

Mel said...

Wonderful interview! I think it is scary though that he gets his ideas from "environmental journalism." The idea that what we are doing to our planet could cause some of these disasters is terrifying. In some ways that makes the dystpoia all that more believable, because we know what we are doing to our planet and that it could have disastrous consequences. Great interview!

wheems01 (at) gmail (dot) com

Darren @ Bart's Bookshelf said...

Fascinating interview! Can't wait for book 2!

Addy said...

I liked the point Paolo made about thinking of his books as "extrapolations" and how isn't that pretty much SF anyway?

Amazing how labels can color opinions.

addystevens(at)gmail(dot)com

Alyce said...

The bio-engineered characters sound fascinating! I'm wanting to learn more about them. :)

akreese (at) hotmail (dot) com

Jo said...

Thank you so much for posting this interview --- I just finished Ship Breaker last night and loved it!!!

LiquidityofTime at Gmail dot com

J.T. Oldfield said...

I found it really interesting that he's influenced more by works about the environment than dystopia. I'd love to read this!

j.t.oldfield[at]gmail.com

J. P. Wickwire said...

I agree that the dystopian genre has exploded. Personally I love dystopians, but I love that Bacigalupi didn't *try* to write a dystopia. They're always better when they're unintentional. :D

Please enter me in teh contest!
JPWickwire@gmail.com

Ladytink_534 said...

I love all of these new genres that are getting so much attention lately! It is sad how bad our world is today that it is inspiring books like this though.

Ladytink_534(at)yahoo(dot)com

debbie said...

I think it is really interesting that the author follows enviromental journalism. My hobby has been studying the enviroment and it's effects on pandemics for years. Maybe,that's why I love this genre.
twoofakind12@yahoo.com

Lorin said...

"(lets whisper it), science fiction"

Yes! that's right, Ms. Atwood and your critics, you are writing science fiction. This is not a bad thing!

Sorry about that rant.

Great interview! Please enter me in the giveaway.

Jacqueline C. said...

It's interesting to hear that it was originally intended to be a story about environmental issues. I always find it intriguing to see what ways a story evolved from an author's original idea.

Irish said...

I always love hearing about how the concept of an idea came about. I think its also cool to learn that Bacigalupi didn't intend his book to be in the dystopian genre. This one has been on my wishlist and the more I hear about it the more I want to read it.

irisheyz AT yahoo DOT com

linz said...

I love the fact that he gets his ideas from what's happening to the world now. It's much more realistic and adds a bigger punch than making someting up.

Great interview! And thanks for the contest.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

The half-men sound so interesting. Loved the interview and would be super interested in being entered in this giveaway! Thanks Lenore!

journey through books @ gmail.com

Julie said...

Great interview - the MT Anderson recommendation especially, although Feed wasn't one of my favorites.

cla37619 at gmail dot com

Sab H. said...

I had no idea there would be a book 2, nice to know. Can't wait to read this :)

Krista/Tower of Books said...

It's interesting how Paolo Bacigalupi got interested by environmental journalism, and I agree on his response to the last question.

towerofbooks(at)gmail(dot)com

Serena said...

I really loved how he said that he didn't even know dystopian lit existed until his book was categorized as such. I hope I win this book, especially after your great review.

savvyverseandwit AT gmail

hunterofartemis said...

After seeing that Ship Breaker was on a list of books similar to The Hunger Games, I've been wanting to read it.

hunterofartemis @ yahoo.com

ibeeeg said...

I have had my eye on this book for a few weeks, would love to win a copy.

I found it interesting as to how he gets his ideas, goes from those ideas by turning them into something that he thinks could happen all from an environmental change. Interesting.
Very good interview.

ibeeeg(at)gmail(dot)com

Rebecca said...

I'm always intrigued by science fiction that springs from actual science, and dystopias that develop naturally from a story rather than Stories That Are Comments On Society. (Don't care for those, it's why I had trouble with Doctorow's Little Brother.)

allreb(at)gmail

kmgraha2 said...

I also love dystopian novels, especially ones that have a hint of truth to the scenarios, ones that sound plausible and I think Ship Breaker sounds like a good one :)

kimsloggett (at) yahoo (dot) com

vokalchick said...

I liked how he thought of the environment and wrote this book. It's very realistic with all the environmental issues these days!

vokalchick@gmail.com

Christina said...

I am now even more excited to read this book than I was before. He sounds like an amazingly intelligent guy, which definitely increases the chances of the book being well-written. He mentioned the fact that dystopias may just be the shtick, the trend, of today and then disappear to be replaced by something else. While the fact that they are a trend of sorts is true, I, for one, honestly hope that they stick around. Some authors are just leaping on the bandwagon and writing a dystopia because people like me will read it, no matter how awful it is, purely because it's a dystopia. Nevertheless, it is all worth it when I read one of the good ones. Plus, what is better than finding one that manages to have an original thought and make you consider a possibility you have never before imagined?

Christina said...

You can contact me at cynicalsapphire@gmail.com.

Sorry about the two posts. I am still new to this active blog reading and participation thing!

Linda Henderson said...

I haven't read any dystopian novels, that I can remember anyway. This book sounds very interesting. I would love to read it.

seriousreader at live dot com

Melissa R said...

I've never heard of dystopian genre till now....I would love to read this book


giveawaymommy at yahoo.com

Laura said...

I like how he said that we'll see more of Tool!

laurabt @ cox . net

Maddie M. said...

Too bad he's not sure when the next one will come out...:( great interview! you had really awesome questions!
maddie.mcphail@gmail.com