Sarah Sammis's Reviews > Pump Six and Other Stories

Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi
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's review
Apr 16, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: borrowed, read-in-2010, exwishlist
Read from December 13 to 28, 2010

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.


"Pump Six" is a near future tale of a water treatment engineer just trying to live his life and keep the sewage pumps running in a city that is slowly but steadily falling apart. The city happens to be New York but it's a New York in a time when the stock exchange is no longer running, skyscrapers are crumbling from a lack of maintenance, the last taxi was spotted years ago and blackouts are common.

The engineer protagonist knows something is amiss with the world and when pump six finally fails beyond his ability to repair it, he begins to wonder why and more importantly if the rest of the cities ills are interconnected.

The story takes place in the 22nd century based on the age of pumps. The technology that keeps the sewage from backing up is about one hundred years old and it has outlived the company that built it. It's a frank but chilling reminder of the legacy technology that modern day cities function with. Take for instance the New York subway system; it first opened for business in 1904. Or for a much older city, consider the many layers of history and legacy structures in London as described in Underground London and London: The Biography.

If you enjoy urban dystopian tales, I also recommend:

* Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison
* The Galactic Pot-Healer by Philip K. Dick
* Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
* Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
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12/26/2010 page 10
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message 1: by Jamie (new)

Jamie I met Paolo briefly while I was at Readercon in July. Sat in one a few panels he was one. He's a great writer.

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