Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When looking at a collection of short stories, it’s sometimes hard to come to a conclusion about a recurring theme. With Pump Six and other stories, however, it’s easy: Paolo Bacigalupi thinks we’re horrible and we’re ruining everything.
Each story in this collection is pretty much an example of a planet where we’ve screwed it up, and I think they possibly get even more cynical as they go on. The first story, “A Pocketful of Dharma,” is probably the most playful, a gangstery tale with a pretty interesting Macguffin.
I was creeped out by the second story, “The Fluted Girl.” It’s a bit of a fuck you to celebrity culture, and there’s almost a casual cruelty to the whole thing that’s quite confronting. “The People of Sand and Slag,” darkly comic, is probably the farthest future out of any of the stories, with the characters having a casual sociopathy that’s pretty funny. Very much a Transhumanist story, the three main characters are all far beyond our current morality.
“The Pasho” is about as far as the collection goes into fantasy, a reasonably straightforward tale of a homecoming, anda rumination on the gulf between generations and changing relationships between cultural groups.
“The Calorie Man” and “Yellow Card Man” are set in the same universe, where large agri-corps have pretty much created a monopoly on food and we’ve well and truly run out of fossil fuels, powering everything by stored kinetic energy. I preferred Calorie Man, as it had more sympathetic characters, and it’s possibly the most hopeful out of all of the stories in the collection, or at least ends on a more hopeful note. Yellow Card Man is a much more cynical tale, with desperate people doing despicable things to survive.
“The Tamarisk Hunter” is my favourite out of the whole collection. Being from South Australia, the driest state in the country, water rights and flow from upriver is a central issue, and even though the titular hunter is upriver it really struck a chord. It’s a nightmare to think that one day we’ll have to shut down communities so that there’s enough water to go around.
“Softer” sticks out to me as a bit of an odd addition, as it contains no speculative elements. It’s disturbing, but slight.
Bacigalupi is also fixated on birth, or at least on population control and the effects of the environment on children. “Pump Six,” “Small Offerings” and “Pop Squad” all deal with babies in a way, and they’re all doomed in one way or another.
Bacigalupi is a very good writer, with a poetic turn of phrase and some fantastic SF concepts. I get the sense, however, that he’s a pessimistic man. The whole collection seems to be a warning about how we treat the environment, and that if we keep going the way we’re going we’ll be in trouble. It’s a very good collection, and I’ll be seeking out his novel.
I don’t however, share his cynicism about the future- the idealist in me hopes that we’d be able to overcome some of these grim fates.
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