Pump Six and Other Stories
by Paolo Bacigalupi
First collection? Yes
Awards: 2009 Locus Award for Best collection; Pump Six won 2009 locus award for best novelette.
Paolo Bacigalupi is a multiple award winning writer
from Colorado, the author of various short
stories plus the critically acclaimed novel The Windup Girl
with Paolo Bacigalupi
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"I went over to Pump Six’s
control panel ... all covered with dust, but it glowed when I ran my
hand over it. Amber signals and lime text glowing authoritatively,
telling me just what was wrong ... Raw data had stopped piping up to
the control room at some point, and had instead set in the dark,
waiting for someone to come down and notice it"
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi
It took me almost two thirds of this book
to convince myself that I would been able to properly review it.
be told I’m not very fond of SF, but the almost unanimous choir of
praise for Bacigalupi’s work (incidentally this book has won the Locus
Award for best collection) and the fact that, like me, he has an
Italian name prompted me to give it a try.
Terry Bisson’s comments on the book jacket
especially struck me as remarkable:
hate this guy. All of a sudden he comes out of nowhere, writing like a
weird angel and knocking us old pros out of the box with stories about
stuff we hadn’t gotten around to thinking up yet. Plus he’s young and
good looking. Luckily, he has an unpronounceable name." (I find the
name quite pronounceable, but never mind...)The fact is that
in the present volumes the stories are arranged in order of
publication, so that, rather predictably, they became more accomplished
and mature as I kept reading.
For instance, the very first story Pocketful of Dharma,
a technological adventure set in a future Asia, in which the Dalai Lama
risks to become for ever a disembodied soul, remains somehow not quite
convincing. Moreover some of the more strictly SF pieces (and usually
the more celebrated by SF critics) are placed in the first half of the
book, hence my initial difficulties.
A fine example is the Hugo & Nebula
Award finalist The
People of Sand and Slag,
depicting a post-human future where the discovery of a surviving dog -
an impossibility - puts off balance people unaccustomed to the very
concept of having a pet.
Bacigalupi’s bleak view of the future
and pessimistic attitude towards the evolution of mankind reach their
peak both in the Theodore Sturgeon Award winner The Calorie Man, portraying a grim world, based on a new
economy order, where energy is produced from genetically modified food
and in Pop Squad where people are continuously rejuvenated ,
leaving no room to younger generations.
Not exactly my thing, fascinating as the stories may be.
I’ve enjoyed much more the delicate The Fluted Girl,
an offbeat, captivating fantasy tale featuring the slave of a rich
woman, whose body has been transformed by multiple surgery into a
musical instrument and the horrific Softer
(a real departure from the author’s usual writing style), a solid piece
of fiction where a man murders his wife and then coldly plans how to
reschedule his own life.
To me, however, the best stories are the
Hugo Award nominated The Yellow Card and the Locus Award winning Pump Six,
not only the most recent in the volume (a sign that this young writer
is getting better and better with the passing of the time), but also
tales where the human race is closer to what currently is and people
exhibit human feelings and behaviours.
In the first, superb
story, an old Chinese refugee in Bangkok - formerly a wealthy and
important man in his country - fights hard to survive, experiencing
poverty, hunger and painful humiliations in an hostile environment
where there’s no room for pity.
The excellent Pump Six,
set in a polluted future world, describes the honest efforts of a
worker to reactivate the city’s out-of-order sewerage system by trying
to fix an old machine that nobody knows how to work because no-one has
been trained in engineering. For a fan of dark fiction like me, that’s
scarier than most horror stories.