I was really looking forward to reading this, since it is a boy book—a marked change from the other young adult literature I’ve been reading, but even though Ship Breaker
is an award-winning novel, I must say that I’m quite disappointed by it. Take away all of the action, blood and gore, and suspense, and there’s little else. Ultimately, this is a book that at the outset seems to boast a lot of promise but in the end, doesn’t give. The book’s all talk and no show. As readers, we’re left feeling like that exchange between Pima and Nailer near the end: “ ‘It’s a damn strange world out there,’ Nailer said. ‘Yeah,’ Pima agreed. ‘You about ready to go see what’s in it?’ ”Ship Breaker
is like a jigsaw puzzle. At the beginning, you’re given the box and are asked to put all the pieces together. However, as you’re arranging the puzzle pieces, you realize that the box only contains half of the pieces you need to complete it. Because of this, I found the book truly frustrating, even though I did realize this book was part of a series.
What truly upset me was the lack of world building, especially since this is one of those post-apocalyptic novels set in the future. In other post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels that are part of a series like Ship Breaker
, namely The Hunger Games, by the end of the first book the reader’s given a good foundational understanding of that futuristic world—the history—linking past with the present, how the current government works, how the people are set up, the various changes in the customs and traditions, etc. After finishing this novel I was left with so many questions that were as yet left unanswered. Like the landscape Bacigalupi paints for his readers, his story’s just as torn up and full of holes. For instance, we’re not really given a time frame as to when this book is set. Is there a government, or are countries now controlled by the various corporations that are briefly mentioned? There’s a brief mention of war and warfare, but is it war over capital headed by those corporations…or is it about gaining new territories to seek better resources and supplies, or even a bit of both? Where did these grounded oil rigs come from? Were they beached because of natural causes—hurricanes, the rise in sea level, or were these ships towed in as spoils of war…so workers could have better access to them when stripping them for parts? At book’s end, none of these questions are really explored or even explained. Like Nailer, we’re left in ignorance.
The genetic engineering aspects of the book—the half-men, giant men with canine features—are also not explained very well. When they’re first mentioned, I was immediately reminded of that Dean Koontz novel, Watchers, which describes two genetically engineered creatures who’ve escaped from a laboratory. One creature is a dog that was given a humanlike intelligence…he can understand speech, as well as read and write by moving blocks—the dog’s means of communicating with humans. The other creature is some monstrous human hybrid, that’s grown to hate the human race and especially that dog, and seeks to destroy everything and everyone that comes across his path. In a way, Bacigalupi’s half-men seem to be hybrids of both creatures.
But, his back-story about these creatures—how they’re trained and then sent off to various patrons—seemed a bit sketchy. The narrator states that when these creatures are created, they’re immediately trained for their specific purpose to be a soldier or a bodyguard. In both cases the half-men are being taught to express a specific genetic engineered trait: to feel a fierce loyalty to one specific “master” and the family and friends of that particular master—a kind of imprinting. OK…but since they’re engineered to imprint, wouldn’t the half-men be imprinting that loyalty to the first person they meet, i.e. to the trainers teaching them, ultimately undermining the exclusivity Bacigalupi’s trying to portray? One of the half-men we’re introduced to in this book, Tool, is portrayed as being “unique” in his situation—a half-man who feels no sense of that fierce loyalty or obligation to anyone other than the brief encounters he makes with others. I just don’t understand why Tool’s situation is so rare…I’d think there’d be many more like him. As a side note, I thought it rather ironic that the half-man Tool seemed more human in terms of world wisdom than his fellow men, especially Nailer. I hate to say this but when considering Nailer’s attachment to Nita, aka, Lucky Girl, he’s like a little dog that keeps coming back no matter how many times he’s been abused, stepped on and lied to.
For a novel that won the Printz award for best young adult novel for 2011 and was named a finalist for the 2010 National Award, I expected a lot more. I find it all truly upsetting, disappointing and clichéd, especially with the inclusion of those two—possibly three Cape Fear
moments. Given my suspicions and the fact that there’s a sequel in the works, I’m heavily leaning on the three…. ;) But, regardless and despite the book’s limitations, I’m sure boys would love all of the action.