Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Small and scrappy, Nailer works as a ship breaker on “light crew” in a post-apocalyptic version of America’s Gulf Coast. It’s a dangerous job, and everyone is looking for that one “lucky strike” that could take them away from all the poverty and struggle and set them up for life. Nailer proves lucky, not once, but twice and has to decide the best way to parlay his luck into a better future for himself and those he cares about.


SHIP BREAKER pulsates with energy from page 1 as we follow Nailer into the narrow, claustrophobic passages of a dead freighter on the search for copper wire to make his quota and justify his place on his work team. As Nailer confronts challenge after challenge in a series of escalating cinematic action sequences, we also really get inside his head and root for him unabashedly.

Because this is much more than a post-apocalyptic adventure novel – it’s also got great characters. Nailer is not perfect, but he’s clever and retains a certain level of basic human decency and compassion even when most of the world’s population seems to have abandoned such luxuries. That he wants so badly to do the right thing – the good thing – is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. And the cool thing is – that instinct pays off.

The other major character here is Nita, and she’s a great counterpoint to Nailer. She grew up rich and pampered, but that “swank” life doesn’t do her much good on the run, and she learns to admire Nailer’s resourcefulness and survival skills. Nita represents a possible improvement of Nailer’s lot in life, but she’s characterized to be so much more complex than a mere golden goose. Her relationship with Nailer is fascinating to watch develop.

Supporting characters are also diverse and well-drawn. Tool, the” half man” is especially noteworthy and ties to the theme of loyalty that is thread throughout the narrative (as does Pima, Nailer’s friend from the light crew, albeit in a radically different way). And Nailer’s father? One of the most terrifying fictional guys I’ve come across lately.

There are a few places where the plot disappoints a bit, devolving into a sort of panicked “run for your life” mode that I never can totally get into, but those bits aside, this is an ambitious, rollicking ride that sparkles with originality and complexity.

Oh, and there is a sequel planned! SHIP BREAKER II – THE DROWNED CITIES will be out sometime next year. I can't wait! Find out more about it and the author, when I post my interview with him later on (which includes a book giveaway!)

My Rating – 4 Zombie Chickens: An Excellent Example of the Dystopian (Post-Apocalyptic) Genre


See index of all dystopian reviews on Presenting Lenore

16 comments:

Zibilee said...

It sounds like this book was pretty good all around, and it's cool to know that there is also a sequel in the works! Glad you liked this one Lenore. I am putting this on my list!

Trisha said...

Great characters and a post-apocalyptic world? Well, I must go get this right now. Thanks for the review!

bermudaonion said...

I'm not sure this is for me, but I bet Carl would love it.

Staci said...

This type of story is right up my son Marc's alley...he loves this stuff!

Aarti said...

This book was recently recommended to me, but I wasn't sure about Bacigalupi as it seems his newer book (or older book?) gets fairly mixed reviews. Seems like this one is more well-liked, which is great!

Lenore said...

Aarti - I think you're talking about The Wind-up Girl, an adult novel of his. That's not one I've been aching to pick up, actually. Ship Breaker seemed more my thing.

Janicu said...

Sounds good. I keep being told that I should start with this book by this author because I do have THE WINDUP GIRL, but I haven't read Paolo Bacigalupi before.

Lenore said...

Janicu - Yes! Start here. I hear it's more accessible for first-timers.

Alyce said...

Ooh! Ooh! A giveaway?! I'll be back for that! :) I've already got this one on my wish list.

Darren @ Bart's Bookshelf said...

I absolutely loved this one, going to be one of my favourite reads this year for sure!

Lenore said...

Darren - It's up there on my list too! Great reading experience.

Donna Gambale said...

Definitely interested in this one --- relieved that you really enjoyed it!

Lily Child said...

Ooooh. Man. I am sooooo looking forward to reading this one! Great review Lenore! :)

Ladytink_534 said...

I've loved post-apocalyptic since I first watched The Postman. This one sounds interesting!

Sandy Shin said...

I've never heard of this book before, but after reading your review, I will definitely check it out soon. It sounds really good.

Serena said...

I hadn't heard of this book before, but I definitely will check this one out!