Paolo Bacigalupi’s writing has appeared in High Country News,, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. His debut novel The Windup Girl was named by TIME Magazine as one of the ten best novels of 2009, and his short story collection Pump Six and Other Stories was a 2008 LOCUS Award winner for Best Collection and also named a Best Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly. He currently lives in Western Colorado with his wife and son, where he writes full-time.

Short Story Collections

Pump Six and Other Stories
(Nightshade Books, 2008)

reviewed by Mario Guslandi

Interview with Paolo Bacigalupi

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

PB: The first, Pocketful of Dharma was written in 1998, the last was written in 2007, so... 9 years? I wrote one or two stories a year, and spent the rest of the time writing novels that I couldn't sell.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

PB: No. I was just writing and selling the stories individually when the publisher for Nightshade Books - a huge ex-marine, and generally thuggish bastard - caught me outside a hotel I was staying at and demanded a collection from me. I went along, mostly to avoid having my legs broken. True story.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

PB: I used the kitchen sink approach. Pump Six and Other Stories represents every story that I'd published, plus the title story which was original to the collection. I arranged them chronologically, in order of creation. Probably not the strongest way to arrange the stories when you consider their varying tones and quality, but it's honest, I think. You can see where I began and what I focused on at the very beginning of my writing career, and you can see the changes in style and substance over the years. 

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

PB: LOL. I have no idea. This sounds like a trick question. I can tell you what I try to accomplish with stories now, which is that I try to carry the reader through a series of fictional events which should affect both the characters and the reader, though often in very different ways.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

PB:  It depends. Sometimes it's sort of a misty theoretical reader. Sometimes it's me. Sometimes it's very specific. I just wrote a novel called Ship Breaker which was clearly aimed at 13-year-old boys. In some ways, in the back of my mind, I think I'm always considering how my wife or my mother would experience the story, and I try to craft the story to answer the questions they might have, and hope to guide them successfully through the drop points and reveals. Writing is a manipulative process, so on some level there's always someone out there that I'm trying to reach out and grab and drag into whatever experience I want them to have.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

PB: I like to ask which story they liked best, or remember the most. It's really interesting to see who connects with which stories. The person who loves The Fluted Girl, is often very different from the person who loves The People of Sand and Slag, or Pop Squad.

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

PB: I feel a little surprised, actually. It's a bit like the group mind has taken hold, and I don't really have any control over it. But it's certainly flattering. Pump Six and Other Stories just sold out of its second hardcover print run and will be released next in a trade paperback edition. A lot of that sales activity is because of the release of my novel The Windup Girl, but it's interesting to see people digging back into my earlier work as a result. I find myself wondering who these people are, and what they're like and what inspired them to pick up the collection. The numbers at this point are large enough that it's not just my mother buying extra copies, so I wonder quite a lot about who I'm spending time with, and where they're at, and how the stories touch them.

TSR: What are you working on now?

PB: Mostly, I'm working on novels now. I've got a young adult novel called Ship Breaker, coming out in May, and I'm contracted to write a sequel to that. And I'm also contracted to write two more novels for my adult (that sounds dirty, doesn't it?) publisher over the next couple years.  In terms of short fiction, I'm working on a novella, set in... call it a Copernican fantasy world. Its very different for me, as I've never written any sort of fantasy, but it's quite a lot of fun.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

PB: To be honest, I very seldom read fiction, and even when I do, I very seldom finish. If I was recommending someone, I'd say Ted Chiang and Kelly Link are both interesting short story writers, and I've read a few stories by a guy named Nathan Ballingrud that have blown me away. 
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