Night Shade Books
Reviewed by Guy Salvidge
Fresh from finishing Bacigalupi’s debut novel, I went out and bought myself a copy of his debut collection, Pump Six and Other Stories. Two of these stories, ‘The Calorie Man’ and ‘Yellow Card Man’, actually provide backstory for The Windup Girl (these two stories are freely available for download on the Night Shade Books website). The ten stories collected here are arranged in chronological order of publication, giving us an insight into Bacigalupi’s development as a writer, as well as the development of his Windup Girl universe.
In ‘Pocketful of Dharma’, Bacigalupi gives us a future Chengdu (capital of Sichuan province, China) as experienced by a street urchin called Wang Jun. Fresh from the discovery of an expensive pair of glasses, the young beggar happens upon something even more valuable: a data cube containing a very important personage indeed. Beset by hostiles at every turn, Jun ends up in Huojianzhu, the organic architecture covering old Chengdu. This is a very auspicious debut story and one that demonstrates the author’s world-building powers most ably.
Most if not all of this author’s stories are set in ravaged futures, but none is more ravaged than that of ‘The People of Sand and Slag’. Here what remains of humanity has been completely transformed into near-immortal, god-like creations. Earth’s original flora and fauna is all but gone, which makes the appearance of a mangy dog in a tailings pit all the more surprising.
‘The Calorie Man’ is the first of two stories set in the Windup Girl universe, which must have served as primers for the novel itself. Here Indian-born Lalji must sail down the Mississippi River in a kink-spring powered boat in search of a calorie man, Charles Bowman. Bowman might be able to unlock the secrets of agriculture that have been stolen from the world by the tyrannical calorie companies, but the intellectual property police think otherwise. The idea at the heart of this story is a fascinatingly paranoid one.
The other Windup Girl story, ‘Yellow Card Man’, features a Malay Chinese refugee named Tranh who bears more than a passing resemblance to Hock Seng from The Windup Girl. An incident at the end of the story confirms that in fact Tranh is Hock Seng after all. I had a do a bit of internet skullduggery to find out why this is (it turns out that Tranh is too much of a Vietnamese name, hence the change in the novel). That aside, ‘Yellow Card Man’ is essentially a prequel to Bacigalupi’s novel, and it’s a good one.
The last two stories aren’t science fiction at all, which isn’t to say they aren’t worth reading. All in all, Pump Six and Other Stories is a worthy collection by an up-and-coming writer in Bacigalupi. If anything, I’d recommend reading this before The Windup Girl. Now I’m on the lookout for Bacigalupi’s third book, a YA novel called Ship Breaker.