Jamie Reviews: Paolo Bacigalupi—"Ship Breaker"


Ship Breaker is a cautionary tale of both climate change and class disparity, both of which it handles masterfully.

Plenty of novels have emerged over the last several years predicting just what kind of change will befall the earth due to the climate change we – and nature itself – has wrought.  Few have held my attention as well as Bacigalupi’s work, Ship Breaker.

The novel starts strong, with the protagonist – named Nailer for reasons known to his father – stripping wiring from a salvaged ship in order to sell for scrap. Much like my earlier review of Trash by Andy Mulligan, the setting of Ship Breaker is one of a community of scavengers. In this case an entire beachfront society in North America is devoted to the salvaging, smelting and recycling of ships in a world run short of raw natural resources. Oil is all but gone; fossil fuels are banned throughout the world for fear of future flooding; most of the world’s major ice shelves have already melted; many of the great cities are already undersea.

Luck plays a major part of this story, or, as the characters put it, “luck and smarts.” Nailer falls into a compartment flooded with waste oil and is abandoned by one of his work crew with whom he had shared a blood oath so she could quietly sell the oil off herself. And it is with both luck and smarts that he saves himself from drowning.

Soon afterward he stumbles across a wrecked clipper ship with another of his crew and discovers, amongst the many treasures worthy of salvaging, an injured girl who is either their key to freedom from a life amongst the ship breakers or a terrible accident waiting to happen.

The story of Ship Breaker stays strong throughout the length of the novel, with vibrant characters and well written action from cover to cover. This isn’t a story that grows cold in your hand; you will want to keep turning the pages to see what the plot holds.

Paolo Bacigalupi—Ship Breaker

Published 9 May, 2010, by Little Brown

Paperback, 323 pages

  • ISBN-10: 9780316056212
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316056212

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