Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Paolo Bacigalupi

Today is the birthday of Paolo Bacigalupi, a very interesting writer of pretty hard SF, one of the most environmentally committed of our writers. Here's a look at my Locus reviews of his short fiction.

Locus, February 2004

I was very excited by two stories from newer writers in the February F&SF. Paolo Bacigalupi has already drawn attention with stories like last year's "The Fluted Girl". He is also showing considerable range -- each story I've seen has been different from the others. I think "The People of Sand and Slag" is his best so far. It's about a threesome of miners in the near future, and their encounter with a dog (thought to be extinct) in the environmentally devastated area about their mine. Stated so the story seems quite conventional, but Bacigalupi slowly springs some surprises, which I won't spoil -- but the effect is impressive.

Locus, October 2005

Paolo Bacigalupi remains one of the most consistently interesting young writers in the field. “The Calorie Man” (F&SF, October-November) is set in a future following a disastrous famine, which resulted in food production dominated by genetically modified new crops controlled by large corporations. This biotech dominated future is strange in other ways – “calories” are central to all energy, as fossil fuels have been replaced by kinetic energy generated by genetically engineered “mulies”. The hero travels up the Mississippi to Iowa to track down a man the agribusiness companies are very interested in, for all the obvious reasons. It’s a fun and thought-provoking story, though I confess one of the thoughts it provoked in me was that while corporate (and governmental) behavior is often scandalous, I wasn’t convinced that it would reach quite the murderous heights implied herein.

Locus, October 2006

Paolo Bacigalupi returns to the future of his celebrated story “The Calorie Man” with “Yellow Card Man” (Asimov's, December), about a once successful businessman, a Chinese man in Malaya, who has been expelled to Thailand, where he must grub daily for scraps of work. His feelings of degradation are sharpened by his interaction with a now more successful younger man, a man he had fired for fraud in his earlier life. This is a convincingly dark story, with redemption of a sort on offer but not easy for a fallen man to grasp.

Bacigalupi is also on hand in the October/November F&SF, with “Pop Squad”, a strong story about a man whose job is to eliminate illegal babies born to women who have foregone immortality treatments (which also cause sterility). The story is effective in depicting a future of unchanging immortals, but the emotional impact is blunted by a certain forced feeling to the protagonist’s brutality. I couldn’t believe society would accept this – I thought the author created this brutality to shock the reader. And, it must be said, the whole situation felt dated. In the end, a good story that I enjoyed reading, but not great.

Locus, May 2007

Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Tamarisk Hunter” (F&SF, May) is an effective and bitter look at water conflicts in the future, when California is more or less bleeding the mountain states dry, and the few who remain there eke out a living by such stratagems as accepting bounties for eradicating the stubborn, water-wasting, tamarisks.

Review of Fast Forward 2 (Locus, November 2008)

Paolo Bacigalupi is a must-read writer, and his new novelette “The Gambler” closes this book quite well. A young man from Laos escaped his country’s political upheavals and came as a boy to the US. Now he is a journalist, quixotically going after knotty political stories in a culture obsessed with celebrity. Under pressure to up his ratings, he agrees to interview another Laotian refugee, a young woman who has become an international pop star. She’s not quite the shallow person he expects, but she’s still much more of the culture than he is, and he finds himself forced to choose between his principles and the honeypot of great ratings and a potential relationship with a beautiful countrywoman. Good stuff, but a bit too moralistically obvious, and not quite as SFnally intriguing as Bacigalupi at his best.

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