Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Publication Date: 3/11/08
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Blurb(GR): Paolo Bacigalupi's debut collection demonstrates the power and reach of the science fiction short story. Social criticism, political parable, and environmental advocacy lie at the center of Paolo's work. Each of the stories herein is at once a warning, and a celebration of the tragic comedy of the human experience. The eleven stories in Pump Six represent the best Paolo's work, including the Hugo nominee "Yellow Card Man," the nebula and Hugo nominated story "The People of Sand and Slag," and the Sturgeon Award winning story "The Calorie Man."
This volume makes me remember how much I love short stories. I love how they sneak up and punch you right in the eye, then leave abruptly without even explaining themselves. They don’t have much time, so they have to be blunt. I can really appreciate that.
I won’t summarize all of the stories, but they are all intense. They are all set in not so distant futures, but are all chillingly related to present day events. The calamities taking place in these stories are exaggerated (a bit), but what’s universal is the human reaction to these events, and human nature. All the horrible truths about us are faithfully represented here. We’re not really a fun bunch as it turns out.
My favorite, unbelievable as it may seem, is Pop Squad, which follows a conflicted, slightly sadistic killer of children in a world where procreation is illegal. After the discovery of a pharmaceutical treatment which renders all humans immortal (as long as they keep getting it), part of the authorities’ job becomes tracking and killing all prohibited children. Part of the reason I love this story is that it is one of the few written in first person, which gives it a much more forceful, intimate feeling. It is also one of the most powerful motherhood stories I’ve ever read, and definitely the only one I’ve ever come across that’s narrated by a baby-killer. This story made me want to vomit (I can’t forget that damn dinosaur either, buddy), while simultaneously flooding me with motherhood-affirming emotion. It also made me chuckle a few times, which was weird. I kept thinking, “I can’t believe he just killed a baby and now I’m laughing.” But it’s true; that story took me by surprise.
I think that Paolo Bacigalupi is one of the most skillful storytellers I’ve ever come across. He amazes me with his ability to convey only the bare essentials of what is necessary, without ever overloading the reader with anything
superfluous. He lets his worlds build slowly, as the story progresses, and never resorts to long introductions. He trusts the readers to understand, without hitting us over the head with his ideas. Reading his stories feels like a compliment.
None of these stories are easy or light. I listened to this one, and I had to take many music breaks throughout the 12 hours. I highly suggest Radiohead's Kid A: “I’m not here…this isn’t happening….” You said it, Thom! If you can get past the extreme situations and imagery, this collection is not to be missed.