Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

Bacigalupi, Paolo

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

Icon made by Freepik from


(1972-    ) US author who began publishing work of genre interest with "Pocketful of Dharma" for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in February 1999, a noir Cyberpunk-coloured tale set in an Asian city about to be transformed into an AI-controlled habitat in a World War Three context; it was assembled, with much of his best early work, as Pump Six and Other Stories (coll 2008), which won a Locus Award. Though different outcomes are posited according to the premises of individual tales, most of Bacigalupi's work is unremittingly set in a world of radical Climate Change, where environmental collapse and turbulent economic shortsightedness and greed malignly interact, a planet whose dire condition is the central occupational hazard of the various protagonists who try to make a living in the swelling ruins. In "The Calorie Man" (October/November 2005 F&SF), a rogue Biologist is temporarily saved from an energy-depleted "calorie"-obsessed inner America given over to the savageries of agribusinesses and their forced Genetic Engineering of all food production; this story won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. "The Tamarisk Hunter" (26 June 2006 High Country News) is set along a Colorado River whose every drop is owned by California; "Pop Squad" (October/November 2006 F&SF) presents life-extension procedures as causing sterility, but less convincingly suggests that children born illegally of fast-lifers will be exterminated by the police. Two tales are outstanding: The People of Sand and Slag (February 2004 F&SF; 2006 ebook), set some time into the future, portrays three members of a private army whose (to us) enormities of body modification (through profound advances in Genetic Engineering) are rendered as a perfectly natural fit with their Ruined Earth planet; and "The Pasho" (September 2004 Asimov's) articulates in Planetary Romance terms his frontal assault on the central issues of living in a century of extinction.

Although his early stories were influential, Bacigalupi first became widely recognized as a central writer of the early twenty-first century with his first novel, The Windup Girl (2009), which won Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards, plus the John W Campbell Memorial Award. Set in the same distant Near Future Bangkok of an earlier story, The Yellow Card Man (December 2006 Asimov's; 2007 ebook), it focuses on the strategies required if the human race is to survive the consequences of deep Ecological degradation and Climate Change: with savage new plagues a constant threat, the oceans rising, and – now that almost all natural resources have been exhausted, including oil – a near-total dependency on muscle-generated Power Sources, including gengineered elephants (see Genetic Engineering) who replenish great "king-springs" that serve as energy coils, energy again being measured in calories. The windup girl herself has been fabricated out of human stock, and her characteristic "heechy keechy" movements mark her as sub-human, a creature made for use (see Feminism; Imperialism; Sex). The story, which is technically overcomplicated and perhaps underpowered, does in the end provide a series of linked angles of view, through the assembly of which a terrible new world, at the brink of further Disasters, can be almost literally tasted.

Set closer to the present time, though in a Near Future that clearly anticipates the world of The Windup Girl, the Young Adult Ship Breaker sequence comprising Ship Breaker (2010), which won a Locus Award, The Drowned Cities (2012) and Tool of War (2017) focuses on an America riven by Disasters and Climate Change mostly due to the Technology-driven lunacy of the Accelerated Age (ie now); the southern states are under water, and warlords skewer each other in the Drowned Cities. The protagonist of the first volume, who breaks up grounded oil tankers for a living, and who has adventures, on the high seas, in a clipper ship, is supplanted by an initially minor character, a Genetically Engineered warrior "half-man", whose misanthropic take on the species he half-shares is confirmed again and again, and who is the protagonist of the third volume, where his violent confrontations with the powers-that-be focus his mind (and the reader's) on the central obscene allure of power itself. The series, by devolving into action sequences, lacks some of the shared recognition that tie the disparate strands of The Windup Girl together, but is highly competent. Zombie Baseball Beatdown (2013), also addressed to the Young Adult market, sidesteps direct confrontation with the kind of Near Future Bacigalupi has focused on, though the protagonists' discovery that cows have been chemically transformed into Zombies – the stench has interrupted their Baseball game – darkens markedly from its spoofish beginnings, and exploitative neoliberal capitalism is again indicted. The young protagonists of The Doubt Factory (2014) have analogously been damaged by Drugs manufactured by the father of one of them.

The Water Knife (2015) returns to a fully adult setting, in a very Near Future Arizona where Climate Change and self-destructive late capitalism have balkanized Western America, with the rich living in arcologies (ie Keeps) and the poor killing for water. Altogether, Bacigalupi, an occasionally cold writer who deals with warm worlds, is one of the few contemporary authors who seems capable of telling tales of how we will live soon. [JC]

see also: Seiun Award; Yinhe Award.

Paolo Tadini Bacigalupi

born Paonia, Colorado: 6 August 1972



Ship Breaker

  • Ship Breaker (New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010) [Ship Breaker: hb/Bob Warner]
  • The Drowned Cities (New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012) [Ship Breaker: hb/Neil Swaab]
  • Tool of War (New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2017) [Ship Breaker: hb/Cliff Nielsen]

individual titles

  • The Windup Girl (San Francisco, California: Night Shade Books, 2009) [hb/Raphael Lacoste]
    • The Windup Girl (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2011) [exp of the above as coll: with two added stories: illus/hb/Vincent Chong]
  • Zombie Baseball Beatdown (New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013) [hb/Neil Swaab]
  • The Doubt Factory (New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2014) [hb/gettyimages]
  • The Water Knife (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2015) [hb/Oliver Munday]

collections and stories

  • The People of Sand and Slag (no place given: Fictionwise, 2006) [story: ebook: first appeared February 2004 F&SF: na/]
  • The Yellow Card Man (no place given: Fictionwise, 2007) [story: ebook: first appeared December 2006 Asimov's: na/]
  • Pump Six and Other Stories (San Francisco, California: Night Shade Books, 2008) [coll: hb/Claudia Noble]
    • Pump Six and Other Stories (San Francisco, California: Night Shade Books, 2008) [coll: cut version of the above for trade release, lacking "Small Offerings": hb/Claudia Noble]
  • The Alchemist (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2011) [chap: hb/J K Drummond]
    • The Tangled Lands (New York: Simon and Schuster/Saga, 2018) with Tobias S Buckell [coll/anth/omni: assembling the above with a further tale, plus The Executioness (2011) and a further tale by Buckell, all connected: hb/Krzysztof Domaradzki]


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies