Friday, 12 April 2013

Watchin' The Ships Roll In [Review: Ship Breaker]

[Old-school clipper Cutty Sark.
Photo: Sci-Fi Gene]
"Ship Breaker" is a short YA novel or novella by Paulo Bacigalupi, the author of the award-winning "The Wind-Up Girl." It's set in the near future in a world where oil has become scarce. Nailer (whose nickname is extremely rude in future-slang) Pima and Sloth are teenage members of a "light crew" who live in shanty towns and make their living by scavenging the abandoned, beached oil tankers for metals and anything else of value. Nailer's talent is for crawling through the exhaust ducts and bringing back copper wire. Far out to sea, new, sleek sailships - the clippers - have replaced the old oil-powered ships and Nailer and his teenage crewmates dream of being rich enough to sail in them.

The first part of the novel is set amongst the shanty town folk where your allegiance to your light or heavy crew matters the most - families aren't so great. Nailer experiences betrayal by a member of his crew, but then makes an extraordinary discovery within the ship - this in turn leads to a meeting with someone from a different background entirely.

In the second part of the novel events lead Nailer and his new friends to a sailship and an apprenticeship and this becomes a naval adventure. The new clippers are fast, hi-tech sailships that can harness both sail and solar power. When conditions are right they can fire kite-like high sails into the upper atmosphere for extra speed, a tactic which also has implications for combat. On the other hand the culture of the sailors is more or less Age Of Sail, with piracy, mutiny, privateering, boarding parties and prize crews very much on the agenda. If this was the first in a series of futuristic naval adventures I personally would be extremely happy to read them.

"Ship Breaker" is short but it's simply a great read from cover to cover. While I loved the setting, this is mostly down to some great characterization - not only Nailer and his friends but all the characters are fully three dimensional. There are the romantic plot lines that seem to be essential to YA fiction but the author handles them with a light touch and so they never overpower the central themes about allegiance and friendship.

[embarrassing mistake corrected 17.4.13]


Anonymous said...

Love Paulo Bacigalupi, he's an amazing world builder, but minor correction, his previous book was called "The Wind-Up Girl".

"The Clockwork Girl" was actually written by two other schmucks.

-kevin hanna

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Thanks Kevin - embarrassing error...