Paolo Bacigalupi has won every science fiction award possible, some of them more than once. His crisp, articulate writing draws you in and holds you fast, only releasing you after the final word on the final page. The Drowned Cities, his companion novel to Printz award winning Ship Breaker provides yet one more example of why he belongs in such company as William Gibson, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein. Drawing from current socio-political trends and events, Bacigalupi weaves a tale that is as bittersweet and tragic as it is gripping and intense.
Mahlia and Mouse are two youths caught in the armed conflict raging through what was once the mid-Atlantic and southern United States. The United States has long since crumbled, crushed under its own weight and now a third world country resembling modern Somalia: ruled by warlords and battling factions, each claiming to more patriotic than the other, and China has become the dominant world power. After attempts to bring peace to the troubled region fail, the Chinese peacekeeping forces leave, abandoning the people of the once mighty nation to its fate. Also abandoned is Mahlia, a half Chinese "castoff," reminiscent of the children left behind by soldiers at the end of the Vietnam War. Mahlia and her best friend, a young boy named Mouse, encounter bio-engineered super soldier Tool, and before long they begin to plan their way out of the region of the Drowned Cities. However, before they can enact their plan, tragedy strikes and the two become separated. Continuing with the theme of family and loyalty encountered in Ship Breaker, the choice presents itself: rescue a friend despite seemingly impossible odds, or flee to a region of safety, security and peace.
Not a word is wasted by Bacigalupi as he propels the reader endlessly forward through this magnificent story towards its end that is both heart-rending and full of hope. From Little, Brown Books and available at your local, independent bookstore. (Want to make a genuine difference? Shop and buy from your local, independent businesses!)