Nicholas 's Reviews > The Drowned Cities

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
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May 01, 2012

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bookshelves: sci-fi, kindle
Read from May 01 to 06, 2012



Reading a truly impressive YA novel: Paulo Bacigalupi's The Drowned Cities. In a post environmental and civil collapse, The Atlantic seaboard south of Boston is a war zone of competing warlords and militia groups. Civilization still exists in China and the Northeast US, but Washington DC is a battleground of militias fighting over scavenge since the Chinese peacekeepers withdrew.

The author is doing a really, really good job of telling a story while showing kids what life is like in Iraq or Central Africa, but this time it is happening to people that look like they do. Ever since I noticed that one of the militia leaders is Lt. Sayles, I can't help but see this as a version of "Men with Guns" for kids. I think it is brilliant, but possibly too rough and brutal to be really popular. Jingoist patriots and Fundamentalist religious folks would probably call this one of the "I hate Amercia and everything is our fault" works by the leftist elite. But I don't think that is the point. I think, besides telling a good story, he's trying to show the rational outcomes of ideology trumping rational action. I think he's also trying to make horrors like child soldiers in Uganda or the Central African Republic and Iraqi civilians facing violence from both side around the Green Zone in Baghdad into something that they can empathize with. "There but for the grace of gaia go I" or something to that effect.

In any case, I'm not done with the book yet. It might make some sense to read Shipbreaker, another novel written in this same future first, but that isn't really necessary. There is one character: Tool, a bioengineered human-wolf hybrid super-soldier (the books are less sci-fi than this makes it sound) who connects the two stories. But if you haven't read Bacigalupi and are intrigued by post-peak oil future eco-catastophe stories check out any of his work from the short stories in Pump Six, to the amazingly awesome Windup Girl, to Shipbreaker to The Drowned Cities.

Upon finishing, I still really liked the book. It gets three start (plus) for being just a touch didactic. I think it is appropriately dark in a way that YA audiences can handle, but it is dark and rough. (Mean kids don't make you feel bad, they cut off your extremities.) It echos the final thoughts of The Windup Girl with a little less optimism. Our creations will not just rule the planet, but probably rule us as well. I had less of a sense that humans had created their hell in this one than I had a sense that humans *are* hell in the "War is Hell" and "Hell is other people" senses of the term. Mr. Bacigalupi no likey the peoples.
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05/05/2012 page 200
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