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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)

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  • Overall

A Fine Story; Not The WindUp Girl

On it's own, this is a likable book. The characters in Ship Breaker are fine and appropriately likable/hatable, but Bacigalupi has engaged me more deeply with less time and words in previous work. Also, I'm not a YA reader, for whom this book is intended. There are elements here reminiscent of RLS' Treasure Island (without being derivative), but I picked this up because I wanted to know more about the world I saw in The WindUp Girl. There's too little of that here for me, but if you liked Bacigalupi's The Alchemist, I think you'll be happy with Ship Breaker.

I read WindUp Girl less than a month ago, and then proceeded to DEVOUR everything else published by the author over the last few weeks. I read that Ship Breaker was set in the same dystopian future of WindUp Girl and wanted more of that. If you too are looking for more of that, you're better off reading and re-reading Bacigalupi's short story collection Pump Six. Indeed, shorts like 'Pop Squad', 'The People of Sand and Slag' and 'Pump Six' will stick with me longer than anything in Ship Breaker.

Still, I do leave this book thinking more about its big theme –the ties that bind people together– into families (genetic and impromptu), gangs, corporations, and the nature of loyalty, and what we do with all those things when everything else breaks down.

I'm sad there's no more Bacigalupi to devour at the moment, but interested in reading something like Cormac McCarthy's The Road that may give me what I'm looking for.

* NOTE - While I'm used to Jonathan Davis reading Bacigalupi, Joshua Swanson does a great job handling the voices of men, women, children, and even dog-men.

36 of 37 people found this review helpful

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Very good

Really fun listen. I wouldn't call this a "teen" book by any means. The main character is teen-aged, but he basically lives an adult life. Well written, well read, good pace.

27 of 28 people found this review helpful

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  • Ryan
  • Somerville, MA, United States
  • 10-16-11

More conventional than his other stuff, but great

I enjoyed Bacigalupi's "adult" novel, The Windup Girl, but felt that its convoluted plot and lack of easily sympathetic characters made it hard to recommend outside speculative fiction fan circles.

Shipbreaker, however, a young adult novel set in a vividly grimy, frightening future, trades some intellectual complexity for a more accessible, visceral reading experience. Though apocalyptic fiction seems to be all the rage now, even in YA, this book is certainly near the top of the class. From its relatable characters to its convincing scenes of action and danger to its sense of a complex, lived-in world, Shipbreaker offers plenty that will genuinely speak to adolescent readers (though the uncompromising violence, scary adult characters, and modest amount of profanity might be a little too much for children) and grown-up ones, too. Of course, there are "messages" here, as well, in Bacigalupi's vision of a world environmentally and economically decimated by capitalism run amok, but he presents them in a smart, unobtrusive way, without talking down to his audience.

Totally recommended, and a book that puts Bacigalupi into the "young speculative fiction writers with something to say" category. Compared to the Windup Girl, this novel is a bit more conventionally plotted, but perhaps a better intro to Bacigalupi. If his vision draws you in, that book offers a richer experience.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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"The Windup Girl" for YA readers

Paolo Bacigalupi is destined to be one of the Grand Old Masters of science fiction in another couple of decades. His books are uniformly excellent and capture perfectly the aesthetic of modern SF. His pet theme is environmental and economic catastrophe creating an impoverished, post-oil world. Ship Breaker reads very much like a YA version of his Hugo and Nebula-winning The Windup Girl. Although it's never explicitly stated that Ship Breaker takes place in the same world, it is similar enough that it very well could.

The main character, Nailer, is a ship breaker, a teenager who lives his life crawling around in old vessels trying to salvage anything that will earn a little coin. It's a dirty, dangerous job, yet he considers himself lucky to have it, because the alternative is worse. The dystopian element is not an oppressive government, but a nonexistent government, in a world of drowned cities.

When a storm washes an expensive ship and a pretty girl ashore, Nailer and his friends have to decide whether to help the girl or strip her ship (and her) for parts. Obviously we know which way Nailer must choose for the story to go further. The rich girl turns out to have been fleeing from enemies of her wealthy and powerful family, and so Nailer is dragged along on an adventure that will take him far beyond any horizons he'd previously imagined.

You can tell this is a YA novel by the fact that Bacigalupi tones down the violence a little (but there are still some pretty gruesome deaths), and sex is only implied. The story is kept fast-paced and adventurous, with Nailer going from one close call to another. I'd compare Ship Breaker favorably to one of Heinlein's juveniles; its science and worldbuilding is (of course) more contemporary, but the story is very much a boy's adventure, with a pretty girl (who has plenty of will of her own) as a motivating factor.

Highly recommended: if you liked The Windup Girl, you should like this somewhat lighter story told in a similar vein, and it's better than a lot of adult SF.

27 of 29 people found this review helpful

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Ship Breaker's dystopian world not hard to imagine

The scary part of this book is that the dystopian world is not that hard to imagine. Bacigalupi has drawn on all kinds of contemporary problems and followed them through to create a disturbing picture of life in the future. I've seen footage of children working as ship breakers in Bangladesh; it is not a pretty picture. This is a dark tale; on the other hand, the conditions of poverty, violence, scarcity of resources and drug abuse give rise to some interesting moral questions which the author explores in a compelling manner. The narration was okay, but not my favorite. I didn't find his Caribbean accent convincing and with a couple of the central characters having that accent, it was at times a little irritating. He was otherwise good.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Would you listen to Ship Breaker again? Why?

Definitely. In this book, as in his book "The Windup Girl", the author has a very interesting take on the that is believable and not out of the realm of possibility (for the most part).

Who was your favorite character and why?

The half-man Tool. I really liked this character because he was hard-edged on the one hand, but also was intelligent and trying to break out of the stereotypical role of his people in society.

Any additional comments?

This is the first book I've heard Joshua Swanson read and I thought he did a superb job. As we all know, the narrator can make or break an audiobook and Swanson definitely made this one with his outstanding voices and style of reading.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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What the heck? This book won so many awards. I don't get it. Simple, characters were ok, plot was very thin...

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Joki
  • Helsinki
  • 02-24-14

Enjoyable - But I've Read it Before

Ship Breaker is a solid story with a complex and well described world. Yet oddly enough, this never gripped me - I was reminded so much of authors such as Homer Hickman who write about boys coming of age with good hearts who have to overcome the evil that humans do - and deal with a frustrating, confusing, inscrutable girl as well. It's almost become a cliche and I've read this so much that I never invested in the characters or story of Ship Breaker as a result.

Story: Nailer is a scavenger in the lowest dregs of a weather-ravaged, dystopian gulf area shanty town. He spends his day crawling derelict oil tankers to get enough scrap for a few bites to eat every day, and hopefully avoid his vicious, drugged father. Then, after a category 6 hurricane, a luxury yacht washes up in front of him and he may have the find of his life. But then he finds a girl his age alive inside and everything that seemed so easy just became very difficult.

Certainly, the author doesn't pull punches and shows just how mercenary society can be (or really always is) with the breakdown of order as in a dystopian milieu. And as with so many of Hickman's novels, the boy and his family are virtual slaves of corporations (or mining companies, etc. etc.), given just enough to survive but never enough to break free. This is the gravitas in which the characters find themselves and circumstances will force them to break free in a do or die gambit.

But along with the 'family enslaved' trope, there is always the somewhat upper class girl who drives the boys nuts. We have to go through all the motions of the love/hate relationship, the bickering, and the boy wondering why girls have to be so difficult and opaque. Yes, boys just can't figure out girls and it's because the girls are just weird. At least the authors give the girls backbones. But at the same time, completely and utterly unlikeable. In Ship Breaker, I wish the girl had been quiet and intelligently thoughtful, rather than cagey and unreadable.

The heaviness of the society and dog-eat-dog world are quite depressing. I know many prefer this dose of 'reality' in their books, and as such, I certainly can see why this was so highly rated by so many. Ironically for me, if the boy had actually been more mercenary (i.e., smart) I would have enjoyed this story a bit more. Saving one person's life at the expense of 10 others never makes much sense to me but I leave that for the philosophers; certainly, it means the boy retains his soul intact.

So yes, a solid read with a few problems that I wish an editor had fixed (repeated words and choppy sentence structures became annoying, especially with me listening to the Audible version).

Note that I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did an excellent job.

10 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Great book, couldn't stop listening!

If you liked Hunger Games, try this one. Another view of humanity's future, in a world shaped by "City Killer" storms, where people struggle to survive by salvaging the relics of the past.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Engrossing Dystopian YA Fiction

This marked the second fictional audiobook that I have listened to. At first, the narrator’s voice felt stiff, and almost computer-ish - but once the story itself became more interesting, the narrator’s voice started to sound more dynamic. Though some of Swanson’s “voices” for the dialogue blended together (causing moments of confusion), the writing itself retained its clarity so I never felt overly lost in Bacigalupi’s dystopian, flooded world.

Though this book would most likely be a one-sitting-read for me, by listening to it only at work, I really drew out the experience and I think savored it a lot more. I could easily see why comparisons were made to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, but this felt like a very different sort of dystopia - and one that answered a lot more of those questions concerning the transition between modern civilization to this fictional breakdown. Bacigalupi strayed a few times onto a soap box (the importance of diversity, global warming, differences between class), but the YA market often leads to those kind of PSA-feeling topics. Overall, those moments don’t detract from the strength of the overall story. A few repetitive phrases (pain always “blossomed” or “exploded”) distracted me a bit - but that might be more due to the audio version than something that I would actively notice in a printed version.

Bacigalupi created likable characters - I especially liked Tool and Nailer. Of all the characters, Tool was felt the most intriguing to me. He was enigmatic and genuinely fascinating. It is mostly due to him that I already purchased to listen the sequel, The Drowned Cities. Tool reminded me a bit of Ron Pearlman’s Beast - at least that was what he looked like in my head, anyways... And this crumbling society and land utterly captivated me, too, so I am also looking forward to hearing more about it as well. It’s dark, but age-appropriate and I think a book that would definitely interest younger, male readers.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful