This is an anthology of eleven short science fiction stories written by Paolo Bacigalupi. They were all set on Earth, in the future, and they all reflected a pretty bleak future. The book is only 240 pages, so it’s a quick read. It was also an easy read in that the stories usually grabbed my attention quickly and held my interest through the end.
The subject matter was pretty dark. This is not a book you should read if you aren’t in the mood for a heavy dose of bleak and disturbing. However, this book is very inspiring: at the end of finishing various stories I was inspired to go hug my cat, to go look for some fresh fruit and vegetables in my fridge, and to run to the nearest sink, wash my hands, and take several gulps of good, clean water. If I was married or if I had children, I’m sure I would have been inspired by other stories as well.
Short story writers seem to write ambiguous or disturbing endings more often than not, at least in my experience. Maybe they think it will help make their stories more memorable. This author was no exception. There were very few stories that I thought ended with a happy or hopeful note, and fewer still that had a clear-cut ending.
For those reading this review who are already familiar with the stories in it, below are a few generic comments about the stories I found the most memorable. There are no spoilers here for the people who haven’t read them.
* The Fluted Girl was the second story in the book, and the first one to really grab me. I was annoyed by the ambiguous ending, though. I wanted to know what happened as told by the author, not what happened as imagined by my own familiar and unsurprising (to me, at least) brain.
* The People of Sand and Slag was the first story in the book that I found really disturbing. Really I think “The Fluted Girl” should have been more disturbing to me in terms of content, but this was the one that bothered me more. Not just the ending, which I was expecting but still hated, but the entire story bothered me. I thought the people were very disturbing.
* I thought the story Softer was the most bizarre and gross of them all. Yuck! Eeew! Blech.
* Pop Squad was also quite disturbing but I think made slightly less so for me just because at least the main character was also disturbed. But, then again, he was the one doing the disturbing stuff so it was still pretty horrifying!
* Pump Six was my favorite in the anthology, and I really would have enjoyed seeing it expanded into a full-fledged novel following the main character beyond the point where we left him.
* Small Offerings was so short that it might not have stuck with me if not for the fact that it was the last story. Somehow I failed to grasp exactly what was going on until about 10 seconds after I read the last word and then it hit me and I said “Oh no!” out loud.
I don’t think I’ve ever used variations of the word “disturbing” so many times in a single review but, despite that, I did enjoy the book. I wouldn’t have minded a few lighter, happier, more hopeful stories mixed in though. The author has a good writing style and I’ll likely try some of his full-length work in the future -- perhaps The Windup Girl since a couple of the short stories in this anthology were based on that setting. I’ll just have to remember to prepare myself for an ambiguous or unpleasant ending if his full-length work is anything like his short work!