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Friday, May 06, 2011

Review: Pump Six and Other Stories

Pump Six and Other Stories is Paolo Bacigalupi's collection of short stories. You can buy a DRM-free ebook version from Baen's Webscription website. I reviewed Bacigalupi's novel The Windup Girl last year, just before it won the Nebula Award for best novel of the year.

The stories in this collection are varied: two of them, The Calorie Man and Yellow Card Man come from the same world as The Windup Girl. Many of the stories are dystopian, covering mankind's recovery from or descent into a darker age, with either technology being lost, or being slowly doled back to humanity as it "matures." Conflicts over water, food, and loss of knowledge are common themes. No stories come from the "space flight meet aliens" genre of science fiction.

One unusual story, The People of Sand and Slag, depicts a world of nano-technology made real, where humanity gains freedom from the ecosystem and body plans the evolution provided us. The result is not pretty, and in this case I think Bacigalupi's vision is too pessimistic (something that's an unusual accusation from me!). The title story, Pump Six by contrast drags us into a world very similar to that of Idiocracy, where giant sewer systems built by corporations of years past can no longer be repaired because such corporations built themselves out of business. As someone very familiar with bit-rot, I can assure you that we are not at risk of something like this ever happening.

Two stories cover the nature of childbirth. Pop Squad postulates that in a world of immortality, the only way to prevent overpopulation would be to tie the immortality to sterility. The consequences as depicted in the story seems false though. Small Offerings takes us into a world in which environmental toxins are so rampant that unusual measures have to be taken for normal reproduction.

There's only one story that's not science fiction. Softer is a character study about a murderer about to turn into a serial killer. It's also by far the weakest story of the collection.

All the stories are well written with good characters, though as pointed out above, the postulates are sometimes suspect, and perhaps the consequences as well. As with The Windup Girl, use of non-English languages, etc., is done to perfection. All in all, while not as good a read as The Windup Girl, this collection is still recommended.

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