Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Science Fiction of Paolo Bacigalupi

Science Fiction is a genre that truly goes beyond the veil, speculating on what can happen based on the various threads of real life. It is also a very misunderstood genre. On film it seems to be a rarity, as what gets called science fiction is often more mythological and fantasy based. The obvious example is the Star Wars series - the technological trappings lend them the SF label, but the worlds created are pure fantasy. There are exceptions, but cinema as a whole does not seem to do justice to the genre.

And the genre, containing what should be thought exercises as to what the future may hold, works best for me in literature. Plot and character drive film, but science fiction is often about setting and ideas. The intrigue for me has always been the intellectual game being played, extrapolating possibilities of both the physical and social sciences. A film about such ideas may not often interest the ticket-buying public, but for the right reader, such stories can provide a lot to think about.

Through the dim light of memory, Arthur C. Clarke comes to mind as someone whose work always inspired me with new ideas. As with the best science fiction, Clarke's future always provided me with new ways of looking at the world today. It also opened my eyes to how politics, technology and social structure contribute to creating new developments. As I haven't read any of his work in a very long time, I can't comment on how I would feel about it today. But there is a new collection of short stories being released soon by an author whose work, as different as it is from Clarke's, puts me in the same mind set when I read it.

Paolo Bacigalupi is the author's name and his work bears close attention. I have read three of the stories included in the upcoming collection titled PUMP SIX. They rekindled memories of the best of the science fiction I have read even as they presented absolutely new visions based on some of the problems our world faces going forward.

I first discovered his work in The Magazine of Fantasy & SF, mentioned in a previous post here. Bacigalupi writes tales infused with extrapolation of the future based on possibilities taken from our current economic and environmental trends. As you may guess, it isn't always pretty. But like the best science fiction, the real genius of the genre, it makes you think about your current world. And it makes you think hard.
The tales can be somewhat grim. For me, the only recent film dealing with any similar territory for comparison might be CHILDREN OF MEN (I have not read that book, so I can't comment on it). The settings and conditions are often harsh, but the characters are well drawn. Their situations are always engaging and thought inducing. What more can be asked for?

There seems to be a perfect storm of publicity rising up around the author in light of his first collection, but in this case, I believe it to be fully justified. If you don't read science fiction, try this out.

To help convince you -
1) A recent AP News Story about a looming problem which is typical of those Bacigalupi explores. AP News Story on Western US Water Crisis
2) One of his stories, The Tamarisk Hunter
3) An excellent, three part interview with the author PBS Wired Science
4) A review of Pump Six by Gary Wolfe, one of the best reviewers of the genre today at Locus Magazine's website
5) Bacigalupi's official website,

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