How have I not heard of Paolo Bagigalupi until right now? A colleague of mine recommended “Pop Squad,” and it was life changing. I had to go out and find the whole collection. Bagigalupi’s writing is an amazing mix of darkly twisted but heartfelt prose. His short story collection, Pump Six & Other Stories, covers eleven forays into his speculative imagination. My favorites were “The Fluted Girl,” “Pop Squad,” and “Pump Six,” but all the stories in the collection share a new look on post apocalyptic worlds and the price of immortality.
Speculative short fiction is hard to get right; so much time can be spent on building the world that it becomes a slag, or it becomes so much about plot that it feels rushed or unfinished. But Bagigalupi strikes the right mix of both character driven plot and world-building in twenty-five pages or less. I think his greatest strength is he lets the world emerge through an almost happy accident as we read. He doesn’t explain anything, or feel the need to clarify information. In “Pump Six,” the characters all keep talking about concrete rain. No one explains what it is, what it looks like, whether they mean it literally or figuratively, and the rain never comes on page. But he gives enough clues about what the world looks like that we just take concrete rain as a thing that happens in this world and we move forward. He does similar things in “The Fluted Girl,” alluding to surgeries and her brittleness, but it’s not until the end, through clever descriptions that we understand the full breadth of what’s happening. We accept and move forward as the story progresses.
They’re dark tales, with even darker undertones, all pointing to the big questions of our society in a way that never feels contrived or preachy. Lovers of both Neil Gaiman and N.K. Jemisin will really enjoy Paolo Bagigalupi.