Paolo Bacigalupi presents a thought-provoking, dystopian picture of what life might look like after the effects of climate change and years of economic uncertainty take hold. Set in the Gulf of Mexico, Nailer, the protagonist, is a ship breaker, someone who breaks beached ships into their component parts for recycling by larger corporations. In essence, he’s somewhat of an indentured servant. Small enough to fit in the tiniests of cavities within ships, he detaches wire, which will be stripped and sold off to recyclers. OSHA would have serious doubts about his job description, but child labor laws no longer exist in his part of the country. If her performs continues living a hand-to-mouth existance. If he fails, his father will beat him and he’ll wind up doing who knows what? He’s a cog in a worst-cast economic climate where the haves and have-nots are eons apart.
One day, however, Nailer stumbles upon a private yacht that has run aground. He thinks he’s made a score that he might turn into his “lucky strike.” However, when he comes across the lone survivor of the wreck, his whole world is turned upside down. She’s the daughter of rich business tycoon; but a group of her fathe’rs enemies is after her. If they catch her, she’ll become a pawn in their negotiations to take over the company. Nailer must decide to hand her over for what could amount to huge profits or help her escape.
I thoroughly enjoyed Ship Breaker. The book presents opportunities to discuss indentured servitude, the effects of our ecological and economic short-sightedness, and our roles in society. I look forward to more from Bacigalupi.