Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker is on the shortlist for the Cybils YA Fantasy/Science Fiction Award.

Ship Breaker was a finalist for 2010 National Book Award in the category of Young People’s Literature. (The winner was Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine.)

Ship Breaker won the 2011 Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.

And, having just finished reading this award-winning piece of dystopian fiction, I would say it deserves the nominations and awards and accolades it’s recieved. I would also say that the PC setting and themes in the book didn’t hurt its chances in the running for awards. The world in Ship Breaker is a world destroyed and reconfigured by climate change and the greed of oil hungry corporations and industries. By the time the story opens, oil is an extremely scarce commodity, and the world’s transportation systems run on other forms of energy, for the most part. Our hero, Nailer, is one of the lowest of the low in the New World Order, a scavenger who works the light crew on wrecked oil tankers and other useless hulks washed up on the beach where Nailer lives. The best Nailer can hope for is a place on another crew when he outgrows his ability to crawl into the small spaces where copper wiring and other “scavenge” can be found on the wrecked ships. Nailer’s mother is dead, and his father is mean, violent and drug-addicted.

Ship Breaker becomes a story about loyalty and heredity and the limits of trust when Nailer finds a “lucky strike,” something that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. Will he take advantage of his luck and run with it, or will he choose to save the life of a worthless and dangerous captive at the risk of his own? This story was exciting and spell-binding. It will appeal to Hunger Games fans and other readers of dystopian science fiction and technofiction.

I had only one problem with the book, not a problem that made me consider quitting the book, but a problem, nevertheless. Why does Nailer make the choices he makes? Nailer is a classic hero. He chooses right, no matter that he stands to gain riches and save his own life by making other decisions than the ones he makes. Why? He’s loyal to his friend, Pima, and her mother, Sadna, because they have taken care of him in the past, given him a place to stay, food, and a job. Tit for tat. Pima is Nailer’s crew leader, and Nailer has sworn a blood oath to “have her back”. Then, other people enter the equation, and although Nailer has no rational reason, and no real sense of morality, to give his loyalty to anyone else, he does. Why? Nailer himself doesn’t know, and the reader is never given any good insight into Nailer’s core allegiance either. He’s realistic about the cruelty of the world he lives, somewhat superstitious, and highly intelligent inspite of his lack of education and opportunity. So why does he turn quixotic without Quixote’s code of knightly honor to sustain him?

“The blood bond was nothing. It was the people that mattered. If they covered your back, and you covered theirs, then maybe that was worth calling family. Everything else was just so much smoke and lies.”

If that’s so, then why does Nailer sacrifice himself for someone who has done nothing for him and very likely never will?

Still, it’s a good book, and you may find answers to my questions that I didn’t see. Warning: Lots of violence, very little or no language or sexual situations.

8 thoughts on “Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

  1. I totally agree – it’s deserving of all it’s acclaim. I’m looking forward to it’s companion that’s coming out next year.

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