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Pump Six and Other Stories: 04/16/11

cover art

I've wanted to read Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi since I read the titular story in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2008. I finally found a copy via Link+ and got it read over the holidays.

The book has ten stories, two of which are in the same world as The Wind-Up Girl, a book I bought over the holidays and plan to read this year. Those two stories are "The Calorie Man" and "Yellow Card Man."

Although not all of the stories are set in the same universe or timeline, they work together like an exquisite corpse, building a dystopian novel told in ten episodes across ten out of order time periods.

If one is to take the stories out of the book and place them in chronological order, the first would be "Softer." It's not really science fiction but it reiterates the themes of the book. In this story a man ponders the why behind the decision to kill his wife as he washes her body in a bubble bath. The themes of life, death, immortality and amorality run all through the book but it feels like this man could be patient zero, the person who sets things into motion that will in turn lead to corporations running the world, people being allowed to live forever but not being able to breed, becoming cyborgs who can eat mud and inorganic items and regrow limbs at will but don't know what a dog is, and other people who turn children into living instruments for their own entertainment.

All of this happens in a world where that declines and rises and declines again. For instance, in the Pump Six story, the main character is one of a handful of people who still knows how to keep the aging city's infrastructure running. In "The Calorie Man" the corporations have taken over and the main character travels through the remains of cities along the Mississippi river. It feels as if the pump mechanics of the world have died off now, even though they aren't set in the same time line.

It's a great collection of short stories. Some are nightmare fuel. All of them are thought provoking.

Four stars.

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