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Editorial Reviews

Nebula Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi has made a name for himself writing stories set in a bleak near-future following an environmental collapse. A more timely novel could not exist than his latest, Ship Breaker, his first Young Adult offering and possibly his strongest work to date. Narrator Joshua Swanson brings precisely the young, street-wise performance needed to carry this story.

Nailer Lopez is fighting to survive in a devastated world, doing the only work a boy on the verge of manhood can do — "light crew" duty as a ship breaker, salvaging copper wire from the rusting hulks of tankers left wrecked on America's Gulf Coast. Every day is a struggle to make quota and find the best salvage to stay in the good graces of his crew. There is always the hope of the big score: a pocket of petroleum, precious fuel in an age of exhausted wells, drowned cities, and risen seas, where any energy source is precious.

When Nailer and his best friend Pima come across the find of a lifetime, a salvage that could buy him freedom not just from the brutality of light crew but from his abusive father as well, there's only one problem — it comes with a swank, a rich girl named Nita. Nita has value just like everything else, and Nailer is faced with a choice: keep her ship and buy his independence, or he can go the far more dangerous — but possibly more profitable — route and help her. Nailer, Pima, and the identity of newly nick-named "Lucky Girl" are always on the edge of discovery by Nailer's drug-addicted father, his crew, and the genetically augmented "half-man", Tool.

Joshua Swanson was well cast. His style is wholly appropriate to a dystopia, and he is completely convincing as he takes us through Nailer's dilemmas and perils. This is a fast-paced story of adventure and suspense, and Swanson's narration — while careful and precise — carries the tension well. He skillfully handles the voicing of the story's main female characters, Pima and Nita, without slipping into the narrative pitfalls of falsettos or needless breathiness. Bacigalupi's cast is vast and varied, but Swanson manages to keep the listener oriented through adept pitch and passable island dialects here and there.

This is a performance that draws the listener into the dark recesses of a rusted and starving world. Though marketed as Young Adult, there is plenty here for any lover of near-future dystopian literature to enjoy. —Christie Yant

Publisher's Summary

In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota - and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life.

In this powerful novel, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future.

©2010 Paolo Bacigalupi (P)2009 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

  • AudioFile Earphones Award Winner

"Narrator Joshua Swanson makes this harsh dystopian world all too believable. He adjusts the pacing to fit the intensity of the action and gives each character a voice that fits his or her personality. This is superb listening for teens—and adults too—even those who aren’t big fans of science fiction." (AudioFile)

What members say

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  • Jason
  • Amarillo, TX, United States
  • 11-10-15

Poor boy meets rich girl.

I bought this one as a daily deal from Audible.com; I found that this is a great way to try books that one might not every try otherwise. Ship Breaker is set in a dystopian future where a poor boy meets a rich girl. Although there is nothing new with this kind of plot, It was still a great book about how they were thrown together and the adventures they have together. I would recommend it to any fan of dystopian si-fi. It makes a great teen reader as well.

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Good stuff

Don't let the whole "YA" thing turn you away from a good book; it almost did me.

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Great Story, mediocre reading

Bacigalupi has an incredible gift for letting you see a view into what could happen, and maybe is already.

Unfortunately, Joshua Swanson gives a reading that at times is very wooden.

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  • Dubi
  • New York, NY
  • 10-26-15

Clear Sailing

In the crowded field of YA post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction, overarching metaphors trump realism. The title contest in The Hunger Games is a fascinating fantasy about young people sent off to die in war, but the games themselves are far-fetched, to say the least. Faction life in Insurgent is a nice road map to human nature, but Occam would dull his razor arguing that this is a credible path to rebooting society. The maze in The Maze Runner? OK, you get the point. And credibility is not part of it. Not that it lessens the impact of those series, especially to the legion of YA devotees who have turned them into major multimedia franchises.

But the strength of a lesser know entry into the field, Ship Breaker, is precisely its credibility. No symbols or metaphors needed -- Paolo Bacigalupi builds a post-apocalyptic near-future where ecological disaster has flooded coastlines, man-made income inequality has created a wretched underclass serving the privileged super-wealthy, and corporations run what's left of a world in which the only thing of any value is making a buck (or in this case, a Chinese red).

That said, there are nevertheless some solid metaphors, secondary though they may be to the straight-ahead storytelling and world building -- a father-son conflict that symbolizes how the future has been mortgaged for the benefit of the here and now, a genetically engineered servant class that touches on the racism of the elite (in contrast to gender and race equality that regular people accept as part of the natural order), and a not-so-subtle message that education is the best path to rising above the station you were born into, as well as loyalty and basic goodness.

Bacigalupi delivers all of this succinctly, showing rather than telling -- for example, when the main character ruminates on what life would be like on a super-sleek clipper ship, his visions of running the polar route signal that the arctic ice cap is gone, and his admiration of its sails inform us that fuel is no longer readily available, not even for the upper class. And the arrival of a storm called a "city killer" rather than a hurricane is an immediate reminder of the threat posed by climate change. All of this while keeping the story moving along on a straight line.

This is good stuff. This deserves a higher place in the echelon of the YA dystopia genre. This deserves more sequels -- I'm ready to plunge right into the only one Bacigalupi has written so far, The Drowned Cities, hoping for more to come. I've learned that the sequel follows a different set of characters along a different storyline, which makes me regret that Ship Breaker wasn't 15-20% longer, with more scenes from other aspects of this wrecked world (some of the corporate intrigue that figures into the plot, for example).

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Hard to get through

This one one of the hardest books to listen to. I kept wanting to fall asleep. There are a couple exciting parts but mostly slow.

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Good Bacigalupi, mediocre reader

I've read several of Bacigalupi's books and really enjoyed them. This one is in the same vein as his others, and I'm not sure if it was the slightly stiff reader or problems in the book itself that bothered me. Joshua Swanson, whose enunciation is faultless, was rather stiff and stilted a reader for this book. His Island accents were ... ok ... but all in all a looser reading would have been less bothersome, I could never forget about him delivering the text. Also, I hope to never hear the word gunwales pronounced "Gun-walls" again. If you're on a ship it's "gunnels".

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Too violent!!

Quit in the middle, too much hateful violence! Liked the story but can't take all the hate.

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not a big fan

Hated the narrator. made the mistake of not listening to a sample before picking the book.

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Not an Adult Read

Started out interesting but quickly went down hill. Might be of interesting for a teen but certainly not for an adult.

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  • J. Wilson
  • Franklin, PA United States
  • 10-15-15

Interesting, but way over dramatized

I enjoy a well told story and this book had the makings except that a whole number of scenes just go on and on and on.
When I already can deduce the outcome of the current situation then it is painful to sit though pages of attempts of building useless suspense.

Yes, it is very predictable and the author should therefore have paid more attention to telling the story rather than the futile attempts at suspense building.