Paolo Bacigalupi is fresh off of a Nebula Award win for his first novel, The Windup Girl, and his teen novel Ship Breaker is getting rave reviews. Now we're treated to some of Bacigalupi's earlier work in the form of Pump Six and Other Stories, a collection of short stories that will certainly feel familiar to those who love the dystopian settings of his longer works. The collection is narrated by a carefully matched set of three fine actors James Chen, Eileen Stevens, and Jonathan Davis who share a natural reading style that brings the storyteller's art to the tale.
The collection opens strong with "Pocketful of Dharma", narrated by Chen, who plunges us easily into the world of future China. A tale of moral dilemma, self vs. selflessness, and uploaded consciousness, "Pocketful of Dharma" is a satisfying and comparatively light story. It serves as a good introduction to the Eastern flavor of two stories found later in the collection, "The Calorie Man" and "The Yellow Card Man", both set in the world of The Windup Girl. "The Yellow Card Man" in particular seems to be almost a prototype of the novel.
The strongest pieces in the collection may be the ones furthest from Bacigalupi's Windup milieu. "The Fluted Girl" is set in a decadent future of fiefdoms, where fame is the only currency that matters to the wealthy, and their subjects are victims of their masters' aspirations and their perversions. Stevens ranges easily between the vulnerable Lidia suspended in an eternal pre-adolescence and her cold, ambitious mistress. The author's vivid world and the complicated, horrifying relationship between possessor and possessed come together in a story that the listener will find hard to forget.
In "The People of Sand and Slag" three nearly indestructible post-human friends discover a dog in the wasteland: fragile, mortal, needy, expensive, and the only one of its kind. Bacigalupi paints an original far-future landscape and peoples it with believable, relatable characters, voiced with the authenticity that Chen brings to all of his performances.
Narrator Jonathan Davis never disappoints in anything he does, but his true gift is dialog. In "Pop Squad" a story in which people live forever and babies are vermin to be exterminated Davis' talent brings each character to life, including the rebellious woman who dares to have a baby hidden away from the world and the population enforcers.
The weak link comes near the middle of the book. "The Pasho" lacks the intensity that we've come to expect from Bacigalupi, who has made a name for himself by covering new ground, both in setting and in his examination of human nature. Davis' compelling reading style carries the listener for a while, but in the end "The Pasho" fails to live up to the rest of the collection.
"Pump Six and Other Stories" is a strong collection by one of the rising stars of the speculative fiction field. Fans of his other work will find tales both familiar and fresh, and the book is a good introduction to those new to Bacigalupi's brand of dystopian fiction. Christie Yant
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 11 stories in Pump Six represent the best of 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". The title story is original to this collection.
With this book, Paolo Bacigalupi takes his place alongside SF short-fiction masters Ted Chiang, Kelly Link and others, as an important young writer that directly and unabashedly tackles today's most important issues.
©2010 Paolo Bacigalupi (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
“Bacigalupi’s stellar first collection of 10 stories displays the astute social commentary and consciousness-altering power of the very best short form science fiction…Deeply thought provoking, Bacigalupi’s collected visions of the future are equal parts cautionary tale, social and political commentary and poignantly poetic, revelatory prose.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Pump Six and Other Stories… quite strikingly positions Paolo Bacigalupi as one of the best young SF writers of our time: a writer who has already done first-rate work and who is ready, I feel sure, to really thrill us.” (SF Site)
“Paolo Bacigalupi is the best short-fiction writer to emerge in the past decade….He combines beautiful prose, startling imagery, and shocking ideas in unforgettable ways.” (Robert J. Sawyer)
"Three narrators perform the works individually, bringing the stories starkly to life. James Chen adds a special touch with his Chinese accent in the performance of “Pocketful of Dharma,” an odd melding of science and religion. The readers craft their performances to wring every ounce of drama from Bacigalupi's words." (AudioFile)
I like Jack Reacher style characters regardless of setting. Put them in outer space, in modern America, in a military setting, on an alien planet... no worries. Book has non moralistic vigilante-justice? Sign me up! (oh, I read urban fantasy, soft and hard sci-fi, trashy vampire and zombie novels too)
Considering that, for the most part, I don't like short stories, this was an exceptionally well-written, interesting and original collection. I have read some of Bacigalupi's works before (Wind Up Girl comes to mind), and I like the dark, depressing future bio-tech world the author has created. All these stories are set in the same world - or, if not the exact same, the same type of world - and they almost feel related, even though they all have separate plots and characters... it is the tone, pacing, and bio-tech I guess, that makes it feel like a single story.
I enjoyed some stories more than others, but as the ones I enjoyed the most are not the same ones that other reviewers enjoyed, I guess that is personal taste. Essentially, though, they are all clearly written by the same author and if you like the first story in the book, you should like all of them well enough. The stage is the same, just the actual characters change.
The stories have different narrators, and, while all of them are at least good, some of them are better narrators than others. I don't think you'll find any of them off-putting though. The stories are dark but not graphic or gory.
None of the stories in this collection were bad, and some I would rate 4 or even 4.5 stars individually, but nothing really impressed me like the The Windup Girl did. I think my greatest disappointment was the similarity of all the themes: Bacigalupi writes dystopian stories about humanity's greed and selfishness and environmental devastation, and that's all he writes about. Two of the stories in Pump Six are from the same world as "The Windup Girl," and most of the others easily could be. He's a good writer, but I'd really like to see him open up a bigger toolbox.
if you've read the wind up girl there is nothing more on offer here. I find this guys view of life too american. Everyone is either sad but virtuous victims or gritty power brokers. Maybe if you're fifteen you might find this titilating or confronting but if you've lived any kind of life you will just find it unrealistic and annoying.
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