Ship Breaker

Ho scoperto Bacigalupi con The windup girl, grazie a un articolo del Tapiro (qui per chi fosse interessato). Il romanzo mi garbò assai, e in particolar modo mi garbò l’ambientazione: un futuro non troppo remoto in cui il Cambiamento Climatico ha innalzato gli oceani, sterminato le colture e ridotto l’umanità a grattare il fondo del barile.

E’ un buon libro, ve lo consiglio.

Quello di cui oggi voglio parlare è un altro romanzo di Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker.

La storia si svolge in un universo come quello di The Windup girl (lo stesso?): a Bright Sands Beach, una popolazione assortita campa smontando antiche petroliere e rottami, per recuperarne le materie prime. La spiaggia è un luogo di miseria e crudeltà, in cui ognuno cerca di restare a galla, tra trafficanti di organi, spacciatori, sfruttamento e uragani.

In questo vivaio, Nailer è un ragazzino che recupera filo di rame dalle budella dei relitti. Fa parte di una banda di altri marmocchi, impiegati da un magnaccia perché abbastanza piccoli da infilarsi in condotti e anfratti. Presto Nailer sarà troppo grande per infilarsi nei tubi, ma sempre troppo piccolo per lavorare con le squadre pesanti, e Bright Sands Beach non è posto per disoccupati. Di giorno Nailer striscia nel buio e nei fumi tossici, di sera torna alla sua baracca, dove lo aspetta un padre violento col cervello fritto dalla droga. La sola “famiglia” che Nailer davvero ha è la sua banda, e in particolare Pima, la ragazzina capoccia, e sua madre Sadna, una delle rare brave persone in circolazione.

La routine di fame e fatica cambia di botto quando un grande uragano colpisce la spiaggia: allontanatisi per cercare qualcosa da mettersi sotto i denti, Nailer e Pima trovano un relitto nuovo, un clipper ultramoderno! La nave apparteneva chiaramente a gente molto ricca, e tra cadaveri e macerie c’è un sacco di ricchezza da recuperare. E’ un vero colpo di fortuna, un Lucky Strike che può permettergli di sfuggire alla fame e ai mercanti d’organi!

Nailer e Pima si fanno strada nel relitto e in una stanza, sorpresa: non tutti i passeggieri sono morti! Una ragazzina è ancora viva. Ha anelli d’oro alle dita e un diamante al naso. Si chiama Nita ed è ricca. Può valere un buon riscatto, o può valere una sanguinosa punizione, perché un Lucky Strike non basta a salvarti, devi saperlo sfruttare, devi essere intelligente.

E difatti, prima di subito i nostri si trovano nei guai: gli adulti sono sul posto, guidati dal padre di Nailer. E si sa, quando gli adulti s’impicciano, è sempre un casino.

Sano lavoro all’aria aperta!

Ship Breaker è un romanzo Young Audults, e si vede: il target di riferimento è chiaramente più giovane di quello di The Windup girl. Non ci sono scene di stupro, e certi passaggi sono raccontati invece che mostrati. Non vediamo davvero gli adulti mettere le mani addosso a Pima, ne siamo solo informati.

Non che il libro sia “addolcito”: la società in cui i ragazzi si muovono è crudele, come è realistico supporre che sia. Immagino che Bacigalupi sacrifichi a tratti la tecnica per non calcare la mano. E’ un compromesso che non mi convince molto, ma passa tutto sommato bene.

I personaggi sono ben delineati e credibili nel loro contesto.

Nailer vive nel conflitto. E’ terrorizzato da suo padre, ma gli vuole anche bene e quando il pericolo arriva non può risolversi a lasciarlo morire. E’ cosciente di aver avuto fortuna in un paio di occasioni fondamentali, e non si monta la testa. Sa che le cose sarebbero potute andare diversamente, e che talvolta fai la scelta “morale” solo perché te lo puoi permettere. In questo è ben caratterizzato perché mischia bene tratti infantili con un modo di pensare quasi adulto (la spiaggia è un posto in cui la gente cresce in fretta).

Pima è una brava ragazza, affidabile, coraggiosa e generosa con quelli del suo gruppo. Ma deve sopravvivere, ed è pronta a prendere drastiche decisioni per l’interesse suo o dei suoi. Farebbe di tutto per il bene dalla sua banda, e non esiterebbe a mutilare una ragazzina inerme se questo vuol dire salvezza e sicurezza per loro.

Nita dal canto suo è una ragazzina di buona famiglia, coinvolta in una faida politica che oppone suo padre e suo zio (c’è anche un accenno ecologista! OMG!). E’ intelligente e piena di risorse, ma può essere sprezzante e ignorante per quel che riguarda i disperati della spiaggia. Non è una mocciosetta viziata, ma non ha i mezzi per cavarsela da sola in un ambiente del tutto nuovo.

Nell’insieme, la storia non è proprio originale. La struttura è piuttosto classica, ma l’ambientazione e i personaggi la rendono interessante. Il mondo di Bacigalupi è affascinante e il ritmo è ben gestito, come anche le interazioni tra i personaggi.

Mi piace anche il fatto che, pur essendo un romanzo per ragazzi, non sia buonista. Non per tutti finisce bene, perché nella vita non per tutti finisce bene. Non tutti si redimono. Nailer salva la pelle a suo padre: in un film di Hollywood il signore si sarebbe pentito delle proprie malefatte e avrebbe dato un taglio alla droga.

No. Richard Lopez ha i neuroni tostati e i neuroni tostati si tiene. Non smetterà di essere un pezzo di merda perché ormai fa parte della sua natura. Non lo è sempre stato, a quel che si capisce, ma la cosa non cambia: certe persone girano male e così restano.

Ma tiriamo le somme.

Talvolta il raccontato poteva essere evitato
La trama è a tratti prevedibile e certi colpi di scena un po’ telefonati
L’ambientazione
I personaggi
Le interazioni tra i personaggi
La storia
L’atmosfera
Il finale

 

Ship Breaker è breve e si legge in due o tre giorni. E’ una storia d’avventura divertente con dei buoni personaggi, a cui si perdona volentieri un frequente ricorso al raccontato.

Non sarà il libro dell’anno, ma è di sicuro consigliato!

Qualche brano per avere un’idea.

1

Nailer è stato rispedito nelle budella della nave per raccattare altro rame:

Bapi already didn’t like him. And Sloth was too damn eager to steal his slot. Her words still lingered in his mind: “I’ll get twenty times the scavenge he does.”

A warning. He had competition now.

It didn’t matter that Pima vouched for him. If Nailer failed to pull quota, Bapi would slash out his work tattoos and give Sloth a try. And Pima couldn’t do a damn thing about it. No one was worth keeping if they didn’t make a profit.

Nailer wriggled onward, driven by Sloth’s hungry words. More and more copper came down in his hands. His LED faded to black. He was alone. Nothing but a trail of loosened electrical cable to lead him out. For the first time he feared he might not be able to find his way. The tanker was huge, one of the workhorses of the oil age, almost a floating city in itself. And now he was deep in its guts.

When Jackson Boy died, no one had been able to find him. They’d heard him banging away on the metal, calling out, but no could locate a way into the double hull where he’d trapped himself. A year later, heavy crews cut open a section of iron and the little licebiter’s mummified body had popped out like a pill from a blister pack. Dry like leaves, rattling as it hit the deck. Rat-chewed and desiccated.

Don’t think about it. You’ll just bring his ghost onto the ship.

The duct was tightening, squeezing around his shoulders. Nailer began to imagine himself stuck like a cork in a bottle. Pinned in the darkness, never able to get free. He strained forward and yanked down another length of wire.
Enough. More than enough.

Nailer hacked Bapi’s light crew code into the duct’s metal with his knife, doing it blind, but at least making a stab at saving the territory for later. He tightened himself into a ball. Knees against chin, elbows and spine scraping the duct walls as he turned himself around. Folding tighter, letting out his breath, fighting off images of corks and bottles and Jackson Boy caught in the darkness, dying alone. Tighter. Turning. Listening to the duct creak as he squeezed against metal.

He came free, gasping relief.

In another year, he’d be too big for this work and Sloth would take his niche for sure. He might be small for his age, but eventually everyone got too big for light crew.

Nailer squirmed back down the duct, rolling the wire ahead of him. The loudest sound was his own rasping breath in the filter mask. He paused and reached ahead for the loosened wire, confirming that it was still there, still leading him out to the light.

Don’t panic. You took this wire down yourself. You just need to keep following it

A scuttling noise echoed behind him.

Nailer froze, skin crawling. A rat, probably. But it sounded big. Unbidden, another image intruded. Jackson Boy. Nailer could imagine the dead crew boy’s ghost in the ducts with him, creeping through the darkness. Stalking him. Reaching for his ankles with dry bone fingers.

2

Nailer e il suo gruppo parlano del tradimento di Sloth e di un incidente avvenuto in giornata.

“If you were Lucky Strike, you’d have figured out how to sneak it out, instead of wasting it. Be a big rich man now, owning the beach.”
The others grunted agreement, but Pima had gone still, her black skin a shadow. “No one’s that lucky,” she said bitterly. “Everyone daydreaming about being the next Lucky Strike is what made Sloth go bad.”

“Yeah, well”—Nailer shrugged—“I still feel lucky today.”

Pima made a face. “You weren’t just lucky,” she said. “You were smart. And Lucky Strike, he was smart, too. Half the crews out here find some cache of oil or copper or whatever and none of them figure out what to do with it. Crew boss grabs it in the end, and they get bumped off the wrecks. Shit.” She took another swig from the bottle and wiped her lips on her arm before passing it on to Moon Girl, who drank and coughed. “Luck isn’t what you need out here,” Pima said. “Smarts is what you need.”

“Luck or smarts, I don’t care, long as I’m not dead.”

“Cheers to that. Still, we get all excited about being like Lucky Strike and we lose our heads. We waste all our money throwing dice, trying to get close to Luck, trying to get the big win. We pray to the Rust Saint to help us find something we can keep for ourselves. Hell, even my mom puts good rice on the Scavenge God’s scale for a luck offering, and we just end up like Sloth.”

Pima nodded down the beach to where men from the heavy crews had started their bonfires. Nailshed girls were with them, laughing and teasing them, twining slender arms around the men’s waists, urging them to drink and spend. “Sloth’s down there now. I saw her. Dreaming about a Lucky Strike got her nothing except shame cuts through her crew tattoos, and a whole lot of bad company.”

Nailer studied the men’s bonfires. “You think she’ll come after me?”

“I would,” Pima said. “She’s got nothing to lose now.” She nodded at Nailer’s luck gifts. “You better find a good place to stash all that. She’ll probably try to steal it. Maybe she finds some sugar daddy down there to take her under his wing, but no one else is going to deal with her. Grub shacks won’t take her because the ship breakers won’t buy anything from someone with slashed crew tats. Smelter clans definitely won’t touch an oath breaker. Liar like that, she’s out of options.”

Moon Girl said, “She could sell off a kidney. Maybe tap out a couple pints of blood for the Harvesters. They’re always buying.”

“Sure. She’s got those pretty eyes,” Pearly said. “Harvesters would take those in a second.”

Pima shrugged. “Medical buyers can slice and dice her like a side of pork, but after a while everyone runs out of pieces. Then what?”

“Life Cult,” Nailer suggested. “They’d buy her eggs.”

“Just what we need.” Moon Girl made a face. “Bunch of half-men that look like Sloth.”

“Dog DNA would be a step up for her,” Pearly said. “At least dogs are loyal.”

3

Pima e Nailer trovano Nita

The girl’s eyes snapped open.

“Please,” she whispered.

Pima pressed her lips together, ignoring the words. The girl’s free hand brushed at Pima’s face and Pima swatted it away. Pima leaned on the knife and blood welled up. The girl didn’t flinch. Didn’t pull away, just watched, black eyes begging as the knife cut into her brown skin.

“Please,” she said again.

Nailer’s skin crawled. “Don’t do it, Pima.”

Pima glanced up at him. “You going to get squeamish on me? You think you’re going to save her? Be her white knight like in Mom’s kiddie stories? You’re just a beach rat and she’s a swank. She gets out of here, this ship’s hers and we lose everything.”

“We don’t know that.”

“Don’t be stupid. This is only scavenge if she’s not standing on it saying it’s hers. All that silver we found? All this gold on her fingers? You know this boat’s hers. You know it. Look at the room she’s in.” Pima waved a hand at the wreckage around them. “She’s no servant, that’s for sure. She’s a damn swank. We let her out, we lose everything.”

She looked at the girl. “Sorry, swank. You’re worth more dead than alive.” She glanced at Nailer. “If it makes you feel better, I’ll put her down first.” She moved the knife to the girl’s smooth brown throat.

The girl’s eyes went to him, starving for salvation, but she didn’t speak again. Only stared.

“Don’t cut her,” Nailer said. “We can’t make a Lucky Strike like this… It would be like Sloth was with me.”

“It’s not the same at all. Sloth was crew. She swore blood oath with you. She didn’t have morals. But this swank?” Pima tapped the drowned girl with her knife. “She’s not crew. She’s just a boss girl with a lot of gold.” She made a face. “If we pigstick her, we’re rich. No more crew for life, right?”

The gold glittered on the girl’s fingers. Nailer struggled with his conflicting emotions. It was more wealth than he had ever seen. More wealth than most of the crews collected in years off the ships, and yet it decorated this girl’s fingers as casually as Moon Girl pierced her lip with steel.

Pima pressed her case. “This is once in a lifetime, Nailer. We play it smart, or we’re screwed for life.” She was shaking and a glitter of tears showed in her eyes. “I don’t like it either.” She looked down at the girl. “It’s not personal. It’s just her or us.”

“Maybe she’ll give us a reward for saving her,” he said.

“We both know that’s not the way it works.” Pima looked at him sadly. “That’s for fairy tales and Pearly’s mom’s stories about the rajah who falls in love with his servant girl. We either get rich, or we die on heavy crew—if we’re lucky. Maybe we walk oil scavenge until our legs get sores and your dad beats your head in. What else? The Harvesters? The nailsheds? We can always run red rippers and crystal slide out to the wrecks until Lawson & Carlson string us up. That’s what we get. And swanky here? She goes right back to her rich girl life.”

Pima paused. “Or we get out. With this gold, we get out for good.”

Nailer stared at the girl. A few days ago, he would have cut her. He would have apologized to those desperate eyes, and put the knife in her neck. He would have made it a fast kill so she wouldn’t suffer—he wouldn’t hurt her the way his dad liked to hurt people—but still he would have cut her dead, and then he would have stripped that gold off her waterlogged corpse and walked away. He would have felt sorry, sure, would even have put an offering on the Scavenge God’s scale to help her get on to whatever afterlife she believed in. But she would have been dead and he would have called himself lucky.

Now, though, the dark reek of the oil room filled his mind—the memory of being up to his neck in warm death staring up at Sloth high above him, her little LED paint mark glowing—salvation if only he could convince her, if only he could reach out and touch that part of her that cared for something other than herself, knowing that there was a lever inside her somewhere, and if only he could pull it, she would go for help and he would be saved and everything would be fine.

He’d been so desperate to get Sloth to care.

But he hadn’t been able to find the lever. Or maybe the lever hadn’t been there after all. Some people couldn’t see any farther than themselves. People like Sloth.

People like his dad.

4

Nita e Nailer in viaggio

“Is this it?” Nailer asked. “Is this the Orleans?”

Nita shook her head. “These were just towns outside the city. Support suburbs. They’re everywhere. Stuff like this goes for miles. From when everyone had cars.”

“Everyone?” Nailer tested the theory. It seemed unlikely. How could so many people be so rich? It was as absurd as everyone owning clipper ships. “How could they do that? There’s no roads.”

“They’re there.” She pointed. “Look.”

And indeed, if Nailer scrutinized the jungle carefully, he could make out the boulevards that had been, before trees punctured their medians and encroached. Now, the roads were more like flat fern and moss-choked paths. You had to imagine none of the trees sprouting up in the center, but they were there.

“Where’d they get the petrol?” he asked.

“They got it from everywhere.” Nita laughed. “From the far side of the world. From the bottom of the sea.” She waved at the drowned ruins, and a flash of ocean. “They used to drill out there, too, in the Gulf. Cut up the islands. It’s why the city killers are so bad. There used to be barrier islands, but they cut them up for their gas drilling.”

“Yeah?” Nailer challenged. “How do you know?”

Nita laughed again. “If you went to school, you’d know it, too. Orleans city killers are famous. Every dummy knows about them.” She stopped short. “I mean…”

Nailer wanted to hit her smug face.

Tool laughed, a low rumble of amusement.

Insomma, dategli un’occhio se avete tempo.
Nel frattempo, MUSICA.

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3 thoughts on “Ship Breaker

  1. Sono contento di averti fatto scoprire Bacigalupi: tra gli autori contemporanei è uno dei miei preferiti! Penso anch’io che Windup Girl sia nettamente migliore, ma Ship Breaker è comunque un buon romanzo, e l’autore uno dei pochi – oltre ad Heinlein – a mostrare di trattare il target young adults con rispetto.

    Riguardo l’ambientazione, Bacigalupi non si è espresso, ma Ship Breaker sembra in effetti appartenere allo stesso universo di Windup Girl, solo in un periodo cronologico diverso: il primo è in piena crisi post-apocalittica, il secondo invece è già in fase di ricostruzione ben avviata.

    Se invece vuoi leggerti un’opera esplicitamente ambientata nello stesso universo di Ship Breaker (e anche nella stessa epoca), prova The Drowned Cities.
    Anche il romanzo che Bacigalupi sta scrivendo adesso, e dovrebbe uscire a breve, The Water Knife, sembra ambientato nello stesso mondo di questi ultimi due.

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