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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark Stories from a Very Possible Future
I first read a short story by Paolo Bacigalupi in High Country News. It was "The Tamarisk Hunter" about a man named Lolo who removes the weed trees from a water hungry Southwest and who has a darker secret. It was well written and very plausible to those who know the tamarisk (or saltcedar, as it is also called) and the water problems of the southwestern border states...
Published on May 10, 2008 by David B Richman

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant writing, depressing stories
There are some books (and stories) that you want to like... but can't. Unfortunately, this collection of Mr. Bacigalupi's work falls squarely in that category for me. These stories are lush - many of them set in the same near-future dystopian world. There are a lot of good things in these stories as well. The storytelling is lush and skillful. The characters are NOT...
Published 23 months ago by Steven Saus


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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark Stories from a Very Possible Future, May 10, 2008
By 
David B Richman (Mesilla Park, NM USA) - See all my reviews
I first read a short story by Paolo Bacigalupi in High Country News. It was "The Tamarisk Hunter" about a man named Lolo who removes the weed trees from a water hungry Southwest and who has a darker secret. It was well written and very plausible to those who know the tamarisk (or saltcedar, as it is also called) and the water problems of the southwestern border states. I then found this collection titled "Pump Six and Other Stories" in the local library.

These are dark stories of a Dalai Lama in a datacube, a modified human, a world of scavengers, a cultural conflict, genetically engineered life forms, population crises, life in a future Thailand, murder and a polluted world, as well as the tamarisk hunter. To a large degree these are cautionary tales - tales of what might be, if we take no action or take the wrong action. The biggest fear is that they will happen despite anything we can do and the author does not relieve us of this fear. Finally, these are finely crafted stories of the very near and far futures of human existence and they will leave you very uneasy. For all that, they are well worth the reading.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ecology of Fear, February 14, 2009
Once in a while you stumble across a writer who isn't a big name, but you're convinced that he must have many existing books that are ripe for discovery, because in the first one you find so much experience and maturity. Well this is actually Paolo Bacigalupi's first book and I'm already salivating for more, as he has unleashed what has to be the most bodacious speculative fiction debut in recent memory. The short stories here are from Bacigalupi's periodic and consistently award-winning submissions to various magazines and anthologies. (Watch for his debut novel in late 2009). Bacigalupi's stories are mostly near-future dystopias, but he has a unique specialization - dystopias caused by current environmental problems or challenges in international relations.

For example, "The People of Sand and Slag" and "The Tamarisk Hunter" feature near-future humans who have gone to terrifying lengths to adapt to the ruination of the world by our current pollution patterns, and "The Calorie Man" shows a disturbing worldview based on the little-known current social problem of the creeping corporate control of farming practices. "The Pasho" and "Yellow Card Man" are allegories of globalization and the slowly developing misery to come from this modern ideological craze. Another high point here (in a collection full of high points) is the beautifully disturbing "The Fluted Girl," a tale of body modification gone mad. Bacigalupi's stories are consistently haunting but often with open-ended conclusions, giving the reader a feeling of possible hope amidst ecological and social chaos. If you're into modern speculative fiction and distressingly believable dystopian visions, keep an eye on Paolo Bacigalupi. A star is born. [~doomsdayer520~]
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Audio version, January 11, 2011
By 
Kat Hooper "Kat at FanLit" (St. Johns, FL, United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
In Pump Six and Other Stories, which won the Locus Award for Best Collection, Paolo Bacigalupi treats us to these ten excellently written biopunk stories:

"Pocketful of Dharma" (1999) -- a young street urchin finds a digital storage device which contains some startling data. This is Bacigalupi's first short story -- and it's impressive. I love the premise of this story and its ambiguous ending. It would be fun to see Bacigalupi extend this one into a novel.

"The Fluted Girl" (2003) -- a young girl is at the mercy of her cruel and ambitious mistress. There's a scene in this story that's eerie, chilling, and strangely beautiful. Another ambiguous but satisfying ending.

"The People of Sand and Slag" (2004, Nebula nomination, Hugo nomination) -- three colleagues are surprised to find an extinct species: a dog. Although this one was nominated for a Nebula and Hugo and has some fascinating ideas, it lacks Bacigalupi's usual subtlety and feels a bit heavy-handed.

"The Pasho" (2004) -- an educated and enlightened man returns to his primitive village. This one has a surprise ending that was really well done.

"The Calorie Man" (2005, Theodore Sturgeon Award, Hugo nomination) -- set in Paolo Bacigalupi's Windup world (the setting for his multi-award winning novel The Windup Girl), generipping and bioterrorism have destroyed the world's food supply, leaving an oligopoly of a few biotech firms. It took me a while to get the feel for this blighted world, partly because I was listening on audio and couldn't see the words (e.g., At first I didn't realize it was "joules" and not "jewels"). Once I read a couple of pages of the print version at Nightshade's website, I was fine and loved it. This is excellent world building.

"The Tamarisk Hunter" (2006) -- during Big Daddy Drought in Colorado, Lolo has found a way to make sure he keeps his job. This is the weakest story. It's well-written, but lacks the superior qualities of the other stories.

"Pop Squad" (2006) -- death has been conquered, human evolution is over, and breeding is now illegal. This story is incredibly disturbing, but wonderfully thought-provoking. The craftsmanship -- the symbolism, the imagery, and the juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness, evolution and decay, and life and death -- is sublime.

"Yellow Card Man" (2006, Hugo nomination) -- a once-proud Chinese shipping magnate who now lives on the streets of Bangkok finds that "fate has a way of balancing itself." Another Windup world tale, this one had me riveted. I must read that book!

"Softer" (2007) -- a man who just killed his wife experiences the world differently in his last days of freedom. Ironically, this is the only story which isn't set in a hellish dystopia, but it's the most disturbing of all. I actually had to fast forward through some of the tracks. Perhaps what was scariest is that the murderer's thoughts made complete sense to me!

"Pump Six" (2008, Locus Award) -- Travis, who works for the sewage plant, keeps the toilets running. This is another especially well-crafted piece which is slightly humorous, has an amazing stream-of-consciousness scene that comes across great in audio, and has a slow, chilling, inconspicuous reveal.

I listened to Brilliance Audio's version of Pump Six and Other Stories, read by James Chen, Jonathan Davis, and Eileen Stevens. Chen was a perfect pick for the Windup stories and Jonathan Davis, a favorite of mine, had some glorious moments (though he had a tendency to suddenly and inexplicably affect a bad Southern accent occasionally).

Every single one of these stories is disturbing, but they're also excellently written and unforgettable. Bleak, pessimistic dystopian literature isn't usually my thing, but Paolo Bacigalupi's stories make great reading due to their superior construction, moody immersive atmospheres, tantalizingly provocative ideas, and sometimes-subtle warnings. Everything Paolo Bacigalupi writes goes on my TBR list.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant writing, depressing stories, January 1, 2013
By 
There are some books (and stories) that you want to like... but can't. Unfortunately, this collection of Mr. Bacigalupi's work falls squarely in that category for me. These stories are lush - many of them set in the same near-future dystopian world. There are a lot of good things in these stories as well. The storytelling is lush and skillful. The characters are NOT the run-of-the-mill white, middle-class Americans you so often end up seeing... but are still so convincingly written that you empathize with them anyway. The future dystopia is clearly and thoughfully constructed without being the same old same old with a fresh coat of paint.

The problem I had is that many of the stories were... depressing. Not disturbing. I'm okay with disturbing. Instead, many of the stories were just sad. It often seemed as though a patina of hopelessness was washed over the pages. And I don't do sad very well, even though I recognize the skill both in the worldbuilding and writing itself.

As it stands, the skill on display made this collection worth reading, even if I didn't actually *like* it. But if depressing plots don't bother you, then Mr. Bacigalupi's writing in this collection will be a treat, and you should snag it ASAP.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunningly good collection, January 7, 2011
By 
This review is from: Pump Six and Other Stories (Paperback)
Paolo Bacigalupi burst onto the scene in a big way with his excellent SF novel The Windup Girl, which rightfully won both glowing reviews and major awards, and followed it up with a great YA novel, Ship Breaker. Both books are set in near-future dystopian settings in which the ruined environment plays a big role. Given all of this, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that Paolo Bacigalupi's first collection of short stories, Pump Six and Other Stories, is 1) also excellent and 2) continues the thematic thread from his first two novels.

Many of these stories work from the same starting point as the two novels: humanity is attempting to extract beauty, or at least a semblance of normal life, from the wreckage they created when forcibly turning the environment, their society, or both (as the two are inextricably connected in these stories) into something it was never meant to be. Meanwhile, the people who are directly or indirectly responsible for the chaos are either trying to leverage more gains from the destruction or trying to come to terms with what they've created.

In short, these are mostly environment-focused dystopias, but like all great science fiction writers, Paolo Bacigalupi is more concerned with the human impact of the scientific changes (be they sociological, environmental, political,...) he uses as starting points for his stories than with the hard science behind them. The end result is an incredibly strong but quite dark collection of short science fiction stories spanning the author's career. It's also interesting that, because the stories are arranged in the order in which they were published, you can actually see Paolo Bacigalupi become a better writer from story to story.

In the first two stories, "Pocketful of Dharma" and "The Fluted Girl", his style is still a bit hesitant and uneven, but that's easily balanced by the stories' concepts and surprise twists, which completely took me by surprise. Especially "The Fluted Girl" has a huge "reveal" that absolutely floored me.

In "The People of Sand and Slag", the Earth is ruined and humans have become indestructible, genetically engineered monsters. The story describes the reaction of a group of security guards when they find an actual living creature -- a dog, no less. This is science fiction with such a powerful psychological wallop that it has the same impact as horror.

"The Pasho" compares the power of knowledge to the power of physical strength, as it describes the return of a young man to his desert tribe. The man, now a "pasho" dedicated to preserving knowledge, quickly discovers he has become a stranger in his former home. This story, together with a few others in this collection, has a sufficiently interesting setting that it would be wonderful to see it developed into a full-length work in the future.

Not coincidentally, two of the stories in this collection ("The Calorie Man" and "Yellow Card Man"), were actually the starting point for Paolo Bacigalupi's celebrated debut novel The Windup Girl. They're set in the same fictional universe, and one of them can actually be read as the start of the story arc of one of its characters. Both are excellent and highly recommended to readers who enjoyed The Windup Girl.

Between those two stories, you'll find "The Tamarisk Hunter", a frighteningly realistic look at a near-future Colorado in the grip of a long-term draught, and "Pop Squad", which is easily the best story in the collection and one of the most memorable SF stories I've ever read. It's so tightly written, with such a horrid opening and such a stunning climax, that it affected me almost physically. Looking around on Bacigalupi's blog, I discovered that he used mannerisms from his own son to describe the children in the story, which adds a whole new layer of psychological horror to the story. Simply unforgettable.

The collection closes out strongly with "Softer", a terrifying look into the strangely calm mind of a murderer, and "Pump Six", about a devolved future version of humanity that has forgotten how to manage even their most basic necessities.

Pump Six and Other Stories is a stunningly good collection of short fiction by an author who's fast on his way to becoming one of the premier names in SF. Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever (if slightly repetitive) collection of the end of the world blues, December 2, 2010
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This review is from: Pump Six and Other Stories (Paperback)
ump Six (2008) is a collection of eleven short stories from the Hugo-nominated and Nebula-award-winning author, Paolo Bacigalupi. Mr Bacigalupi's particular method of storytelling fits neatly within the short story format, making this an impressive volume of his work.

Largely, Mr Bacigalupi is telling tales about resource deprivation. Imagine a possible world (generally Earth) in which we've run out of x (x = calories, water, space, whatever). What are the reprecussions of this state on the social order? Who wins? Who loses? How do they feel? The stories almost invariably feature a proletariat-class protagonist and their struggles. No one extraordinary, just people trying to struggle through both their generically awful lives and whatever awful thing is thrown at them by the author.

In stories like "The Tamarisk Hunter", "The People of Sand and Slag" and "Pop Squad", we can appreciate the plodding hero, but largely, these are tales about the world they live in - essentially parables about how we'd evolve if we ran out of water, food or space. When read in the same book, these stories feel a little same-y - a sort of Wayne Barlowe's Guide to Our Awful Future. I'm aware that this criticism is completely unfair - these stories weren't written to be read in this fashion, an inescapable problem with single-author short story collections.

It is with stories like the titular "Pump Six" and the amazing "Yellow Card Man" that Mr Bacigalupi really shines. In both cases, the hero is someone extraordinary. Or, at least, just extraordinary enough. Whereas the other stories conclude with a dawning realization of the awfulness of their world, these stories begin with that assumption. In "Yellow Card Man", our protagonist is a man that was - once - on top of the world. Now he's struggling to find scraps to eat, but still trying to maintain his last few standards of dignity. "Pump Six" features, essentially, the last intelligent man in the world - and, frankly, he ain't all that bright. He's just clever enough to realize that his society is built on a ticking time-bomb. But not smart enough to solve it. Eek.

As someone that grew up with boxes of flea-market-bought issues of Isaac Asimov's and Analog, I found Pump Six almost reassuringly familiar. Or is that reassuringly disturbing, given its content? These are short stories that outline a future, introduce a protagonist and, if there's space enough, give the reader a nifty little mini-quest with a twist ending. Short stories aren't meant for "epic" - these are meant to introduce personal perspectives and person-sized resolutions. Mr Bacigalpi's work in this space ranks up there with some of the best in my memory. His writing is cheated by being collected - these excel as individual tales, and, read together, can be taken for granted.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic, June 13, 2010
A collection of science fiction short stories, some but not all set in the same universe. Confirms Bacigalupi as one of the most effective writers of modern times, showing an incredible command of language, intensity of situation, and range of emotions.

Fairly dark stuff in here, with most of the stories concerning environmental collapse and the resultant suffering, austerity, adaptation and compromised morality that accompanies such an event. Even in a situation without hope the stories avoid simplistic moral censure or flat despair, instead pointing to the complexity and strong human connection that runs even in a self-inflicted apocalypse. The best story here by far is "The Yellow Card Man", but there's not a bad one in here, and a number of pieces deserve to stand as classics of the genre.

Similar to and better than: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. That novel is an expansion of several of the author's previous short stories, and brings similar virtues to play. However it's ultimately a lot less energetic and has a few dubious commitments in pace and theme, and only occasionally summons the same type of murky moral intensity commonly on display in these stories.

Similar to and worse than: Story of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. Ultimately Chiang's short stories show equal command of language and intensity while offering more variety, from hard science fiction to mythological fantasy. Each author is awesome in producing atmosphere along with and linked to story, but Chiang's pieces ultimately feature a more fascinating picture of human futures and alternate pasts.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous! "Dark" with an uplifting message., July 5, 2011
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This review is from: Pump Six and Other Stories (Paperback)
I can't say enough about this writer. I'll condense my praise to two points and an aside.

First, his "darkest" writing is the kind where, at the end, you look at your own life with added appreciation for your many blessings, including your simple humanity. This "dark" writing takes seemingly wonderful technology -- the ability of human bodies to self-repair, the ability to prolong youthful life, even the ability to create truly disease-free crops -- shows how easily it can be twisted, and makes you deeply grateful that you live in a world without such wonders. It's a darkness that, for me at least, is thoroughly uplifting when you look back at it. That's quite a trick, and I think it reflects a remarkably mature moral view. This writer thoroughly understands that science and technology are neutral tools, and they will be used for good or ill based on human morality.

Second, this writer appreciates that people need to work for a living. Part of the power of The People of Sand and Slag, for example, is that a key decision gets made, not out of cruelty, but just because it's too expensive to do anything else on relatively modest salaries. In the Fluted Girl, there is a whole business and economic model that the author believably creates, in the span of a few sentences here and there, that plays a nice supporting role to the central drama. In Yellow Card Man, the scarcity of resources is driven to harsh -- but again believable -- levels, and the story plays out against this scarcity. In Pump Six, again, an incredibly imaginative story is told through a character with a relatively ordinary job who is just trying to do it well.

By the way, I've seen Pump Six compared to a story from the 1950s called The Marching Morons, which is considered by many to be one of the "classic" science fiction stories. I liked Pump Six so much that I bought the anthology, The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (Volume 2A), just so I could read The Marching Morons too. It's rare for me to say this, but the "classic" story can't hold a candle to the new one. Everything about Pump Six -- the writing style, the characters, the details and sub-plots, the moral view and tone -- is far superior.

I'm looking forward eagerly to more from this author and hoping against hope that he can maintain his unique vision and moral bearings, rather than sliding into the easy political cliches that many of the reviewers try to project on him. Many thanks to the author and to Amazon for bringing this work to me.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars pre-Blade Runner, February 8, 2011
This review is from: Pump Six and Other Stories (Paperback)
This is a startling book of short stories. There are themes and scenes in here that will cause you to simply stop in your tracks.

A lot of movies and books deal with post-apocalyptical scenarios. This book is all about the pre-apocalypse. Think about _Children of Men_ if the story was set twenty years earlier. It ain't pretty but it seems terribly inevitable.

The framework of _The Fluted Girl_ was fascinating. Its opening sentence is one of the best sentences I think I have ever read. That sounds hyperbolic, I am sure. However, I read it several times over before I moved on to the rest of the story. Bacigalupi set up the entire short story in that sentence.

People with kids might struggle with the story _Pop Squad_. I know I did. I simply couldn't read more than a few pages at a time. _Softer_ grabbed me right away and kept me with him to the end.

While there are elements of superb writing, it isn't without its flaws. However, the author's ability to weave the same themes, and even the same companies, across the various stories built a world unfortunately as engaging as Tolkien or Philip Dick ever did.

Taken together, this book and its stories remind me of the movies and stories of the 1970's such as _Soylent Green_, _Planet of the Apes_, _Logan's Run_ and others.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Against the grain, April 7, 2008
I am not normally a fan of short fiction but I really love this book. Mr. Bacigalupi manages, in just a few pages, to create an engaging and intriguing story with a bit of spine tingling as an added bonus. His wonderfully acute social commentary and willingness to explore the margins of human behavior gives his work a level of integrity rarely matched in the world of fiction or non-fiction. These stories have stuck with me for weeks after reading them, providing a rich insight and perspective into many aspects of life. I look forward to the next collection.
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Pump Six and Other Stories
Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi (Paperback - November 1, 2010)
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