Damp dystopia with 'high seas' adventure,
This review is from: Ship Breaker: Number 1 in series (Paperback)I've seen Ship Breaker described as a dystopia. Well, it's certainly that, but in some respects there are plenty of people in the so-called developing world who already live this dystopian vision of life at the fringes of a technological society.
So, they're not tearing apart derelict oil tankers with their bare hands (near enough), but today's 'breakers' risk their health and well-being tearing apart our discarded computers, mobile phones and other electronic junk, with just as little regard from those of us living in the rich world.
Nailer is little more than a child but he is already a veteran of the 'light' crews. Small enough to crawl into the labyrinth of ducts on the dead ships, he strips out the copper wire that is then sold on to the big salvage companies. Of course, he sees little more than a pittance and this goes to pay off his debts to the gangmasters that control life and death in the ramshackle beach community that earns its subsistence of the wreckage of our drowned world.
The seas have risen. Coastal cities across the world are drowned ruins. The oil has gone, but sometimes a 'breaker' like Nailer strikes it lucky and finds a pocket of oil leftover that can buy them out of their servitude. Nailer shares the dream, but his more pressing concern is to make it onto the 'heavy crews' -- who dismantle the great ships' hulls -- once he grows too big for the duct work. It's that, or destitution and starvation on the beach -- perhaps an even worse fate.
Though it is never said in the novel, it is worth wondering if Nailer's ancestors weren't once citizens of New Orleans, or maybe one of its replacement cities built as the tides advanced, only to be themselves claimed by the rising waters, to leave the young man's forebears washed up on the edge of ruin and faced with a future that Nailer now dreams of escaping.
Escape for him comes with a storm. A so-called city killer that plunges Nailer into the heart of an internecine struggle within one of the great trading companies that dominate this brave new world. When he comes across the wreckage of a clipper ship, broken by the storm, he discovers the mother of all salvage strikes. It will change his life -- if he can stay alive that is.
From Nailer's beach existence and the grim story of his life on the fringes of the 'civilised' world, Nailer is thrown into a series of struggles and events that can only be described as a kind of high seas adventure. In the end, it's not the prize that sees him stay the course, but his own sense of loyalty to his 'crew', even though it means he often wonders if he is not risking his life for nothing. But then, the in itself reflects the life he has known as a breaker. It's a grim world where poeple live as best they can, any way they can, and loyalty and trust is more precious than the last dregs of oil.
The writing is vivid, the characters raw -- in the sense that they are flayed by the cruelties of their existence -- and Ship Breaker presents a saddening and maddening contrast between the brutal struggle for existence that is Nailer's life and the opulence of the trading clans. It's a saddening, maddening depiction of a world created by our own follies and short-sighted greed. And it's the Nailers of this world that are forced to pick up the pieces.