Pump Six and Other Stories, Paolo Bacigalupi

I’ve been a big fan of Paulo Bacigalupi’s work for quite some time and have been sitting on this book for a while now, hoping a paperback edition would be released so that I could make it a Book of the Month Club selection. Well, I finally broke down and read it, and what a treat it was. Comprised of ten stories, Pump Six and Other Stories offers up a thought-provoking combination of powerful social commentary and provocative future visions that bleed through various genres: SF, fantasy, and horror. Many of the tales that make up the collection touch on a similar theme, the dehumanizing nature of social and technological progress, challenging the reader with unsettling ideas and images – the surgically altered human/musical instrument hybrids of “The Flute Girl”, the infant-eradicating authority of “Pop Squad”, the casually indifferent judgment passed on a living relic of the past in “The People of Sand and Slag”. Although at times it makes for admittedly difficult reading, Pump Six and Other Stories is engaging and intellectually satisfying.

The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury

I read this collection of short stories way back in high school. I enjoyed it then and, despite the fact that some of the elements feel a bit dated, I enjoyed it that much more when I read it earlier this year. One of the things I appreciate about Bradbury’s writing style is the economy of his language. We are spared the endless, meandering descriptions of local fauna and decrepit architecture in favor of a narrative that is concise yet no less informative or entertaining. The Illustrated Man is chock full of memorable tales, from the horrific response of two young children to their parents’ attempts to reign in their playtime (“The Veldt”) to the poignant efforts of an impoverished junkyard owner to treat his family to an outerspace adventure (“The Rocket”). Other stories that leave a lasting impression include “Kaleidoscope” (in which a group of astronauts, separated from their ship following a massive malfunction, converse over radios as they float and free fall to their inevitable deaths), “The Rocket Man” (in which an astronaut’s commitment to his job puts incredible pressure on his family life – with tragic results), and “Zero Hour” (in which aliens make use of a most unlikely ally in their bid to invade the planet). Granted, some of the stories feel somewhat forced by contemporary standards (“The Other Foot” and “The Man”), but the “hits” far outweigh the “misses” here.

In the Country of Last Things, Paul Auster

When done well, nothing resonates stronger with me than dystopian fiction. At its best, it elicits a dual emotional response, touching on the primal fears associated with mass extinction and the basic struggle for survival while, at the same time, stirring hope for us, as individuals, in the face of global catastrophe. And, in this book, author Paul Auster crafts a breathtaking tale that delivers on both. The narrative is delivered in the form of a letter written by a woman in search of her missing brother as she navigates a region decimated by some never-fully-explained calamity. Whereas once she enjoyed a comfortable existence, she now spends her days foraging the streets for tiny treasures, discarded items that will fetch a price no matter how meager. And yet, amidst the overwhelming tragedy there are triumphs as our heroine perseveres and, through her experience, impresses upon us the value of the many things we take for granted – a warm meal, a comfortable bed, the company of a loved one. In the Country of Last Things is bleak and haunting and frighteningly plausible, yet evokes an appreciation for life’s smaller gifts. And it resonates strongly.

Earth Abides, George R. Stewart

Even though this book was first published in 1949, it is hands-down the greatest work of dystopian fiction I’ve ever read. After a plague wipes out most of the human population, the few remaining survivors attempt to remake their lives in the face of unimaginable odds. Whereas many works in this post-apocalyptic sub-genre of SF tend to focus on the dark and tragic, Earth Abides is surprisingly positive. Stewart’s emphasis is less on the horrors of the disorder and more on the potential devolutionary aspects of the event – the fall of society, transformation of the natural order, and the gradual yet inevitable resurrection of both. We follow Ish, our protagonist, as he journeys through dead and decaying communities. At first, his sole concern is mere survival but, eventually, he begins to rebuild, seeking out companionship and community. Ish’s efforts to re-establish some semblance of societal order are dealt recurring setbacks in the form of unforeseen complications: an alarming rise in the city’s rat population, the loss of running water, the deterioration of basic education. And yet, time and again, Ish finds a way to, if not overcome these setbacks, then, at the very least, to readjust to them. And, throughout, Stewart intersperses the narrative with accounts of the disaster’s far-reaching effects: dogs become both hunter and hunted, cats fare far better, cattle seek out greener lands while horses take to dry open plains, sheep perish, boars survive, only the human louse – of half a million insect species – are threatened with extinction. A brilliant book.

30 thoughts on “February 2, 2009: January’s Top Reads

  1. Ahh, a way to utilize the prophets of my ill gotten gambling. I remember Illustrated Man, and your description of Earth Abides jogs some very faint memories. I believe it was one of the books on the whole five shelf section that counted as the Sci Fi part of the library in my childhood. I’ll add them to the collection when I head up to gather the BotM club titles that should arrive daily. Thanks for the suggestions. Now, if you could only advise me how I’ll ever manage enough time to read those and all the other titles I have backlogged(while managing to stay employed) I’d be in your debt.

  2. Your dogs are so Kool….they seem happy and content when you walk in the door do they all run right up to you and start yelping??..would like to see more doggy pics please.

  3. Hi Joe,

    I have The Dark Beyond the Stars, The Empire of Ice Cream, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress all sitting on my nightstand waiting to be read. Any suggestions on which one I should dig into first?

  4. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for the suggestion to read Ender’s Game. It was excellent. I was up until after midnight finishing it and I had to be at work at 8am. I wasn’t quite ready for the ending because I didn’t guess it and now I want to finish the series. Today I started In the Cities of Coin and Spice, the second book of The Orphan’s Tales, so if you do pick it as a Book of the Month pick , I’m already ahead. Have you already read it?

    All I want to do right now is read. To enter a world where I don’t have to be as stressed as I am right now. I think tonight I have decided to quit one of my jobs because my boss is a complete idiot and I think he’s punishing me for getting a second job. Every Monday, we get our tips at Starbucks, but tonight for whatever reason mine weren’t in the safe even though I was on the list. I keep telling myself that no job is worth the stress. I feel so lucky to have two jobs in this struggling economy when my brother has been without a job for 6 months. It sounds like my boss will be losing his job because so many of the baristas are upset, but it makes me wonder if I should stick around to see if he gets fired but also at the same time, how much more can I handle before I break down.

    Sorry I’ll stop. I just needed to vent to someone. I should be excited this month. I turn 27 on the 27th (go figure) and instead of being excited for my birthday, I’m stressed and depressed and hate my life. I want to crawl under a rock and never leave. Things’ll get better. Think positive, right?

  5. Was I mistaken yesterday…or did I see RDA in a commercial yesterday??? Some spoof of Macguyver or something like that…

  6. I’m very happy to see you promote Ray Bradbury’s stories. Years ago I had the good fortune to work on a movie called “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit”. It was adapted from an autobiographical short of his growing up in east LA. It’s such a sweet story, and surprisingly considering all of his other works, was one of his favorites.

    He’s an amazing man who never seemed to stop laughing. Still can’t figure out where all his darker stories came from.

  7. @Thornyrose wrote:
    Now, if you could only advise me how I’ll ever manage enough time to read those and all the other titles I have backlogged(while managing to stay employed) I’d be in your debt.

    For those who want more time to read (wouldn’t that be all of us?), I have a friend who swears by audiobooks. There are many free or relatively inexpensive download sites online. Some sites will allow you to download their entire catalog, hundreds of hours’ worth, for a small amount. In major metro areas, you can check out an audiobook from the library and download it in an MP3 or MP4 file. Pop it in the car’s audio system, and voilà, you have an extra hour – or more – of reading time a day.

    My friend listens during her morning and evening commute between home and work, and while running errands. As a busy working mom and wife of a priest, she says it’s one of the few opportunities she gets for time to herself. And she’s going to read!

    Actually, I’m thinking of loading up some children’s audiobook CDs for another friend with young children. Listening to stories might calm down their three-way roar in the back seat. A free web site is mentioned at the bottom of a link that is auto-suggested today on Cap’n Joe’s blog. How co-inky-dental. 😀

    One place to start looking:


    Sitting in a traffic jam might never be the same…

  8. Bradbury Yay! Any chance of Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban being a BOTM selection?

    “Walker is my name and I am the same. Riddley Walker. Walking my riddels where ever theyve took me and walking them now on this paper the same. There aint that many sir prizes in life if you take noatis of every thing. Every time will have its happenings out and every place the same. Thats why I finely come to writing all this down. Thinking on what the idear of us myt be. Thinking on that thing whats in us lorn and loan and oansome.’
    Composed in an English which has never been spoken and laced with a storytelling tradition that predates the written word, RIDDLEY WALKER is the world waiting for us at the bitter end of the nuclear road. It is desolate, dangerous and harrowing, and a modern masterpiece.”

    Of course It isn’t the easiest book to read if you’re not too good at dialects but once you get into the swing it’s a masterpiece.

  9. I had a phone call from my eldest boy last night to say he and his girlfriend were snowed in and they were going out to indulge in some snow festivities, an hour later I got a call asking what to do with a broken leg, seems the dozy pillock had been showing off with a running start with a bum board and his leg went under him (and the board) and went SNAP! he’s now got a temporary cast on a broken tibia and can’t get it sorted properly until the hospital staff can get back into work. Don’t you just love rural snow? its only about 2ft deep where they are which is 15 miles away from me and we only just had our first snow at 7.30 this morning. Oh Joy

  10. Hi again Mr M!

    Mmm, fantastic choices re: book selection. I have often thought of you as a “speed reader”. Is this an accurate description? Do you skim or read every word? And, are you a book-elf? It’s a term a teacher applied to me many moons ago…I would usually have a small pocket size paperback in a coat pocket and when things got dull I pulled out the book and started to read. Leading to siblings still calling me “Hmmm?” still to this day!!

    What news from Carl Binder? How goes the SG1 movie script? Is there a title yet? Is it going to be “latin-esque” (Continuum) or more traditional blockbuster title? (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty)

    @DasNdanger : *bows*, Deirdres are great people!! There are 10 Deirdres in my girls school!! You should pop over to the “old country”…this place is choc-full of ’em!! And if you think Deirdre is a rather “left of field name”, you should try Deirbhile, Fachna, Oisin, Donal and for good measure Sadhbh. These are all relations of mine!! Yep, I know, I have trouble pronouncing these too!!! You should gather to our table during the holidays….Sounds like some one is ordering from a distant take-away in some far flung eastern empire.

    Best to all


  11. Oh…I remember Illustrated Man too! Going to a Catholic all girls High School (yes, complete with plaid uniforms), I was one of the few students who adored Bradbury! And still do!

    My schedule has finally loosened up, so I may actually be able to participate this month!!

    Yay…bookstore on the lunch hour!!!! (Although, I may never come back!)


  12. Ahhh the Illustrated man. I read that way back when I was in grade school. An excellent read! I read that one about the same time I read Ender’s Game and the Grey King etc…

    The was good book I read when I was younger about children with extrasensory powers or something like that. I think it was call Pegasus’ Children or the Pegasus Project…something like that. I can’t find it on the net but if you stumble across it I suggest a read.

  13. I know you have been asked this question many times and have also answered it many times, but, hey, one more time?

    What route should a senior in high school take who wants to write and direct? What major in college, etc.

    Advice would be appreciated.


  14. Hello!

    As Richard Woolsey once said: This is a historic day… (no not because the Wraith won’t have to feed on humans from now 🙂 ) I have wrote my first post on this blog.

    I would ask some questions about SGU, if you don’t mind:

    1. You have mentioned before that “a re-imagined SG1 Gate Room, bearing the new stylistic elements of Universe” will be in SGU.
    Can you tell us some information about this re-imagined Gate Room?
    2. Will the base personnel wear BDUs(like at the SGC), or unique uniforms(like on Atlantis)?
    Will we can see some other military uniforms like, ACU(US Army) or MARPAT(USMC, e.g.: on Sergeant Greer)?
    3. How many major races will be in a galaxy?

  15. Joe, based on some discussion over on GW, I’ve come to the conclusion that you guys just never got the whole appeal of the Wraith. Otherwise, we would have had a scene something like this…

    Uglyass Masked Wraith: *raises hand to feed*

    Easy Earth Girl: “No, wait!! Uhhh…Take me to your leader!”

    Uglyass Masked Wraith: *hesitates and cocks head to the side, as if trying to comprehend*

    Easy Earth Girl: “You heard me! Take me to your leader! I have information of great value to him! (Gawd…I hope it’s a ‘him’ and not one of those bitchy queens…ugh) I have information about…erm… Atlantis! Uh…information on how to defeat the Lanteans, once and for all! (What’s a Lantean or two? Heck…I’d sell my own mother’s soul right now!)”

    Uglyass Masked Wraith: *hoists EEG up by the underarm, and carts her off to his commander*

    Wraith Commander: “I understand you possess information about Atlantis…”

    Easy Earth Girl: “(Oh, thank you, God…this one is simply beautiful! I will die a happy death!)” *looks at ground and kicks pebble* “Weeelll…to tell you the truth…I really don’t know anything more than you do…”

    Wraith Commander: “Then WHY do you bother me!”

    Easy Earth Girl: “I…I can’t help myself! Arrrgghhh!! I can’t stand it anymore! I NEED you!!” *rips shirt open and exposes chest* “FEEEEED on me, PLEEEAASE!!!!

    Wraith Commander: “ … ” *looks at Uglyass Masked Wraith…Uglyass just shrugs*

    Easy Earth Girl: *groveling on knees* “Oh… comeoncomeoncomeon… you’re just one little sucky palm print away from making me the happiest woman ALIVE (for now)! PLEEEEAAASEE! Ohpleaseohpleaseohpleeeaase!”

    Wraith Commander: 🙄 *to Uglyass* “Throw her in with the rest – it appears we have another female infected with Mad ‘Cow’ Disease!”


    Ah yes, a missed opportunity, indeed. (Either that, or I’ve just been cooped up in the house too long… 😛 )


  16. Earth Abides has elements that could be included in SGU, i dont know what do you think? stargate always had a positive theme to it.

    and one more question about stargate atlantis:
    –in the upcoming atlantis movie, will Rodney take Keller on ride on a jumper and go to San Fransisco to get married?

  17. Coucou Joseph =) Vous allez bien?

    Moi oui trés bien. Il ne reste plus que 2 semaines et 3 jours avant la Stargate Convenrion à Paris, je suis stresser j’espere vraiment que tout sera réussi =)

    Passez une trés bonne journée. Bisou

  18. It was great today when I ventured out to do some grocery shopping, there was bugger all traffic on the road except from the 4x4s that were being driven by MEN for a change, (they must have stayed home from work to go play with their toys) I got one or two odd looks for being out in a bog standard Vauxhall Astra estate but hey, its not WHAT you drive but the WAY you drive it, there were very few shoppers at the supermarket which was a big bonus and now I’ve got food for the kids and the animals the weather can do its worst….which apparently it will.

  19. @ Shirt’n’Tie – I’ll be over the day they build the bridge! Alas, I gave up flying years ago (1980, to be exact)…out of a sheer hatred (not fear) for it, which limits my travel destinations…and keeps most of the world a much safer place. 😀 But before I gave it up, I did go to Hawaii, Jamaica, France, Switzerland and Italy…nice experiences, just hated the means to get there.

    About those names – they are amazing! I love unusual names, and languages – although I totally suck at learning/pronouncing them. I’m quite familiar with Donal, but the others are new to me. Of course, I do get to hear a quite few Gaelic names watching all the rugby I do, but mostly the one that always cracked me up was good ol’ Danny Grewcock. 😆

    YES! I am 12-years old!! 😛


  20. I LOVE the Illustrated Man! I wish my tattoos told stories like that! Haha! The movie is good, but I would love for someone to re-do it.

  21. Dear Mr.Mallozzi,

    1. I was wondering if ZPMs will play a part in the Stargate Universe Story plot?
    2. Also, I was wondering how much time will transpire in the Stargate timeline between Atlantis season Finale and the movie?


  22. By the way

    there is a rumour Gateworld forum in the that the Odysey’s special secret mission that is refered in the SGA finale has to do with SGU? Do you think this is credible.

  23. Thanks for the dystopian book recommendations-I’ve been looking for some new reads in that category. I’ve always thought it was odd that I had a strange fascination with this genre of sci fi, but have learned to embrace it and appreciate it.

  24. @das: Great drabble! But I think EEG is infected with WDC disease. 😉

    @Joe: Whoohoo! The Honorverse books just arrived. Looks like I have a lot of reading to do. Thanks again! “The Illustrated Man” is classic Bradbury and I love it. That man had a real gift for painting a picture with words. I really should go back and read some of his books again. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” was one of my favorites. Back in my younger, artistic days I was so inspired by Ray Bradbury that I did a watercolor of him surrounded by scenes from some of his stories. And das you will no doubt be interested to know that Ray Bradbury would never fly. Strictly ground transportation for the man who wrote about astronauts and travel to Mars.

    shiningwit: I hope your son is o.k. and the snow stops soon!

  25. @ suziesbluefeather & Sparrow_hawk – Thanks! Glad you enjoyed! As far as what EEG is infected with…well, you’ll have to ask ciannwn – I really did it for her first at the WDC. Though we are a bunch’a mad cows over there, I think she has a special illness considering her attraction to Sateda‘s UberWraith. I mean…that really takes some hardcore thunkage. 😉

    Didn’t know that about Bradbury. Interesting! At least I’m in good company (he wasn’t nuts, was he??? ).


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