Monday, July 29, 2013

The New New Thing: Paolo Bacigalupi, "Pop Squad"; "Yellow Card Man"; "Softer"; "Pump Six"; "Small Offerings"

I finally finished Paolo Bacigalupi's Pump Six and Other Stories; so this omnibus post will cover the final five stories and any general comments I want to make. I previously posted on Pump Six stories here, here, here, here, and here.

The last five stories I'll cover today are

  • "Pop Squad" (2006): in a future where humans are functionally immortal and procreation is illegal, some people go off their immortality meds so they can have kids; our protagonist is one of the cops whose job it is to track down these women and kill the kids. Bonus: people seem to live in a jungle that was once the tundra, complete now with lots monkeys.
  • "Yellow Card Man" (2006): once a rich man in Malaysia, the protagonist was forced out by nationalist riots and now tries to survive as one of the yellow card men (refugee immigrants), avoiding the white uniformed Environment Ministry cops/thugs. This takes place in the Wind-Up Girl universe; and is a novella in length.
  • "Softer" (2007): a man kills his wife, thinks his life is over, but when he gets away it, decides to rededicate himself to really living his life. The only non-science fiction story in the collection.
  • "Pump Six" (2008): reminiscent of The Marching Morons and Idiocracy, an average man tries to save the city of idiots by keeping the sewage system working. Bonus: the man and his wife are trying to have a baby, hoping the environmental pollutants don't give them an idiot; and the city is overrun with these monkey-like idiot hominids. 
  • "Small Offerings" (2007): in a polluted world, a doctor wants to leach the pollutants from her body to have a normal baby, which is a better alternative to having a dead baby just to clear the pollutants for a good baby.
"Softer" is an anomaly, focusing more on the character's thought processes than on any of the environmental factors that he's dealing with. I want to perform some literary analytic prestidigitation, where I turn the story inside out and show that the pattern is the same as his others... but it really doesn't seem all that similar.

All the other stories share a real interest in environmental/ecological issues, including pollutants. Whereas the protagonists of "The People of Sand and Slag" were physically impervious, normal humans in these stories tend to be undone by their environments. (Or by their parents' environments in the case of the idiot kids and troglodytes of "Pump Six.")

"Pop Squad" might be a slight outlier here, since what people are undone by are their own inbuilt urges to have kids. Although they are living in a post-climate change world, the problem isn't that; the problem is that they have two genetic imperatives warring: the desire to live and the desire to pass on one's genes. The environmental issues seems secondary. 

"Yellow Card Man," "Pump Six," and "Small Offerings" all tell the story of someone fighting the environment, whether that environment includes dangerous people; idiots and pollutants; or pollutants.

OK, fine, I told you what they're about; but how good are they? "Yellow Card Man" is clearly the standout here, not as a story--it's an almost structureless meander through the life and incidents of an old man--but as a world that he's building. It's hard to say since I've already read another Wind-Up story and know that was the world for his novel; but that world seems the richest and most interesting. 

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