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Editorial Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

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.

Critic Reviews

“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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • J.G.
  • L.A.
  • 09-12-11

I never wanted the stories to end.

I could listen to Paolo Bacigalupi for the rest of my life. I could just lock myself in my house and lay there, listening, (preferably with J. Davis narrating...he is fantastic) in a futuristic stupor...happily ever after.
I never wanted to leave the world of 'The Windup Girl', and gratefully returned through the stories of 'Pump Six' I wander aimlessly though other choices, from various authors...some of whom have been on my "to read" list forever, thinking, "I wish you were Paolo Bacigalupi".
This book is a rare and beautiful, brutal gift.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Noah
  • New York, New York
  • 05-12-11

Unrelentingly brutal, brilliantly imaginative

Paolo Bacigalupi write stories about bad people. Nearly everyone in the worlds he creates, including his protagonists, is a selfish, hardened, small-minded person frantically engaged in a Hobbesian struggle against nearly every other character. Trust, kindness, and friendliness are essentially nonexistent here. The ideas are wildly imaginative, the sci-fi cleverly crafted, and the worlds brilliantly realized. So if you like cool sci-fi and don't mind reading about brutal shmucks living hellish nightmares, this book is for you!

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Ryan
  • Somerville, MA, United States
  • 06-12-13

Scenes from broken futures

Among the current crop of hot science fiction writers, Paolo Bacigalupi is one of my favorites. To me, he's the latest to grab the grimy wheel of the "broken-down future" subgenre and steer it towards nightmares extrapolated from humanity's current dysfunctions. You know, destruction of the natural environment. Running out of fossil fuels. Carelessly gene-modified organisms run amok. Marginalization and exploitation of the poor by the rich and powerful. Agribusiness conglomerates that control humanity's food supply, plant viruses having killed all natural foodstuffs.

Readers unfamiliar with Bacigalupi might want to start with one of his novels, but if you're hungry for more, the pieces here are an interesting chronicle of a writer developing his ideas. Two, in fact, are set in the world of The Windup Girl, and give extra dimension to characters and issues in that book. The rest seem to take place in other future timelines (except for one set in the present day), but contain ideas that clearly influenced the direction of his novels. To me, it's always fun to read short stories that are preliminary sketches for an author's long-form work.

Though there could have been more variety to the settings, most of the pieces here are quite good, showcasing Bacigalupi's talent for description, world-building, and taut storytelling. What makes him worth reading, IMO, isn't so much that the science of his stories is totally plausible, but that they start with a few grains of truth about human nature and use the science fiction setting to craft nuanced moral parables. One of my favorite stories here is set in a post-apocalypse world, and turns the battle of wills between a young scholar and his grandfather into a smart commentary on the endless struggle between the forces of civilization and knowledge, and those of tradition and group identity. Another takes place in an all-too-plausible near future, in which small farmers of central California find themselves losing a water rights battle against the government and the water-hungry big cities. And there's the title story, which takes place in a vaguely Idiocracy-ish New York City, where people rely on sophisticated machines built long ago by now-defunct companies, but no longer understand the principles behind their repair (I liked that the ape-like "trogs" in that world aren't really explained, but the reader still gets a sense of how they came to exist).

Be warned, there's a lot of bleakness here (illuminated by a few slender rays of hope), so this may not be the collection you'll want to dive into after a funeral or a bad breakup. But it's bracing stuff, demonstrating the power of short science fiction to suck readers into another world, then gut-punch our minds. As always, audiobook narrator Jonathan Davis, with his languid, sardonic tone, is a fine choice for Bacigalupi's writing style. The other readers do pretty good jobs as well.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

All stories written in a minor key...

Very well written, however just not my cup of tea. Stories apocalyptic and minor key in tone... I was left with a "Slit My Wrists" feeling afterward.
Excellent sci-fi writer,(reason for the 4 stars) again, just a bit dark.
Beautiful, lyrical quality to the writing style. If you are into moody, dark, lyrical, sci-fi, then you will like this. If your tastes are more toward fast paced, tech, sci-fi, then I'd save your credits.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

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At the time of this writing this has received a 4.2 rating from us the readers. If you consider that this is a group of short stories that is a great rating. I like short story collections and I have found that most rate around 3.6 to 3.8 by the majority of listeners, so this 4.2 is a statement in itself and comparable to a 4.5 of a novel.

I am usually happy with a group of short stories if their is one story I really like. This collection had two stories that I loved, Pocketful of Dharma and Pop Squad. There were two that were excellent, The People of Sand and Slag and Pump Six and one that was better then average, The Fluted Girl. Yellow Card Man and Softer were good and The Tamarisk Hunter was average. I did not like The Pasho or The Calorie Man. None of these stories are uplifting, they are mostly dark and all futures are a dystopia. PB's writing style flows easily, is easy to understand even though you are in a world you are not familiar with and his imagination is interesting to explore. I especially liked the living building and I liked the Dali Lama in the computer and ...

The People Of Sand And Slag, was included in Dozier's Year's Best # 22.
The Calorie Man, was included in Dozier's Year's Best # 23
The Yellow Card Man, was included Dozier's Year's Best # 24 and Jonathan Strahan's The Best of Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume one, copyright 2007.


Opinions on narrators can differ widely, so this is just my irk, but I am not a fan of Jonathan Davis. Many reviewers have claimed they could listen to him all night. I did all right in one of the stories, but in the rest he irritated me. To me it sounds like he smokes a lot of pot before reading. Stevens and Chen were great. I especially like the Asian accents, since most of these stories take place in China or the Near East.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Dan
  • El Paso, TX, United States
  • 04-19-11

Great Stories

I believe this is the best set of short stories I've ever purchased. Outstanding underlying themes make interesting comentary of the path humanity has chosen.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Fantastic speculative fiction! Reasoned & subtle.

Would you consider the audio edition of Pump Six and Other Stories to be better than the print version?

The readers are among the best I have heard. Their phrasing and inflections are spot-on.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Dark fun! Tropical steampunk with a touch of Kafka

Would you listen to Pump Six and Other Stories again? Why?

I would listen to a few of the stories again because I enjoyed the unique flavor of Bacigalupi's future world and his organic technology. His characters are often so removed from the builders of their society that technology, religion and philosophy are a single concept to them. I like that part a lot. Nothing beats a good-hearted stoic faced with an unsolvable dilemma for character building.

Other stories are too violent for me, and I would not listen to them again.

What did you like best about this story?

The freshness of the writing combined with his mix of fun-and-new scientific concepts.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

The gore and violence grossed me out at times. Some passages seemed like they were from a writing workshop to explore trauma rather than written for publication.

Any additional comments?

Fun, rough, new. Definitely of a voice and style which is his own.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Enjoyable but very disturbing

I don't think this is up to the standard of "The Windup Girl" - few books are - but this has some interesting ideas. It's clear that the author used these as fuel for WG - so it would probably be better to read this one first.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • Davis, CA, United States
  • 08-25-10

Good, but not as good as Windup Girl

These short stories are some of Bacigalupi's earlier work, including two stories from the same world as the Windup Girl. They are almost all near-future dystopian, and while most were quite good individually, I found the collection as a whole felt a bit redundant after the first half. The variety of narrator voices made it a little more entertaining,and I found all the narrators to be pretty good.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful