Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker Series

About the author:

Born: August 6, 1972 in Paonia, Colorado


B.A. – Chinese, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio


Thriller Sub-genre: Cli-Fi, Techno-thriller, YA

The Simon Review

This will be the fourth series that I have reviewed on climate change and I would have to say that, so far, it is one of the best. It is labeled as a young adult series mainly because some of the main characters are young, early 20s and maybe in their teens. It is, however, quite violent with a dystopian outlook on humanity’s future which may be too intense for younger readers.

The first novel, Ship Breaker, introduces us to a world that has been ravaged from climate change and it looks like the US of A has taken it pretty bad. It seems that the world has finally come to terms that dependence on fossil fuels is not a good thing and ships that had transported oil are now being abandoned into ship graveyards. Times have become rough on what is left of the US gulf coast. The abandoned oil rigs provide a treasure trove for the locals to scavenge and sell parts with the scavengers being known as ship breakers. One young ship breaker is Nailer and his world is turned upside down when a modern day ship crashes on the coast after a violent storm hits the area. The only survivor is a young girl, Nita Chaudhury, who happens to be the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Nailer sees this discovery as an opportunity to escape his harsh world of poverty and violence, but it requires a monumental feat to get Nita back to her father.

The second book in the series, The Drowned Cities, is quite different than Ship Breaker, as it focuses on only one character that was in the first novel, a genetic chimera known as Tool. In many ways The Drowned Cities is considerably more violent and harsh then the previous novel. Tool, who accompanied Nita and Nailer on their journey to find Nita’s father, leaves the couple part way through the journey only to be captured by a fanatic military group. Tool manages to escape but it tracked down and is nearly killed. The dying Tool is found by a local girl known as Mahlia who reluctantly nurses Tool back to health. The two end up developing an unusual friendship to face significant challenges in their attempt to rescue a friend of Mahlia that had been captured by the same soldiers that nearly killed Tool.

Mahlia and Tool’s adventures continue into the latest novel of the series, Tool of War. In this novel Tool faces his greatest challenge–to acknowledge the motivation behind his creation and to confront his creator. Tool’s life began in a laboratory designed to be a warrior and a slave to his creator. Tool must fight his inner feelings that have been genetically ingrained in him in order to save his life. The events of Ship Breaker and Drowned Cities come together in this novel making the series more unified.

Dark and foreboding yet never boring, the Ship Breaker series is an exciting read. Even if you don’t believe in climate change, Bacigalupi’s series is quite entertaining. Both Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities could be read as standalones, but both books should be read before reading Tool of War.

Simon’s pick:

Most Favorite Novel in the Series- Ship Breaker- liked the story-line better than the other two

Least Favorite Novel in the Series-Tool of War- was a little too unbelievable for any living thing to survive what Tool had to endure, unless, of course, you are Arnold Schwartzenegger

What about the science? Even though Bacigalupi alludes to scientific concepts, such as flooding from climate change and genetic engineering, he doesn’t really discuss any of the science behind it. So would a genetically engineered chimera like Tool be possible? Tool is created from multiple genes from different species which would be a monumental feat technically to accomplish. Engineering one or two genes from one species into another has been done quite successfully, but complications mount as the number of genes increase especially when the genes are from multiple species. Getting those genes to work together to create a viable organism would be incredibly difficult. Additionally, even if all of these genes worked together, I can’t really see any creature that could evade all of the destructive forces that Tool manage to avoid. I think that a robotic creature like Tool would be a more likely possibility.

The Tool Technical Word in Review: Solar panels – It may not be too far into the distant future that we all will be using solar panels in one way or another. So how do they work? To really understand how they work one must understand the photovoltaic effect. In 1839, Edmond Becquerel, a French physicist, was the first to observe the photovoltaic effect. Becquerel, at the age of 19, set up the first photovoltaic cell by placing platinum electrodes coated with silver chloride and placing them into a bath of acid which was then exposed to light. The result was the generation of voltage and electrical current. The reason that this occurs is because solar energy interacts with the molecules on the electrodes causing their electrons to become excited or energized. At this point a couple of things can occur. One, the energized electron can move to a lower energy state releasing its energy in the form of heat. Or, in the case of solids where molecules are packed closely together and have multiple energy bands with the highest energy band being known as the valence band. Some of the photo energized electrons in the valence band will move into what is called a conduction band. In the conduction band, electrons, which have a negative charge, do not associate with any particular atom but can move freely from one atom to another propelled by the positive charge of the atoms’ nucleus. When an electric field is applied these free electrons will flow rapidly from atom to atom, and this flow of electrons is what we call electricity. Copper metal has an electronic configuration that allows for electrons to flow easily which is why copper wiring is used in electronics.

Edmond Becquerel was the first to observe the photovoltaic effect (Wikimedia Commons)

Copper wire is known as a conductor, but with solar cells semiconductors are used. A semiconductor has less ability to conduct electricity than a conductor. The best semiconductor is silicon which is how Silicon Valley got its name. Semiconductors are useful in electronics such as computers, cell phones, etc. because the flow of electricity can be controlled unlike that of a conductor. With the advances in computers and other electronics, semiconductors using silicon became quite sophisticated. So when solar cells were first being designed it was natural to gravitate using silicon as the semiconductor because the technology was already in place. Unfortunately silicon is actually quite poor in absorbing photons. So engineers used what is known as ‘dirty silicon’ which is silicon that is doped with other materials which enhances the conductivity of the silicon. But even with the use of ‘dirty silicon’, solar cells are not as efficient as they could be, so engineers and scientist are now looking into different materials to use in solar cells to make them more efficient.  Solar panels are a series of solar cells working together.

Out in the bay, fragments of the city’s Orleans poked up through lapping waters–buildings and neighborhoods swallowed by rising oceans and lack of preparation. Farther out, the company’s floating docks and freight transfer stations were busy with commerce. Sheathed in solar panels, they glinted in the sunlight. – The Drowned Cities

Books in the Series by Order:

Most Favorite in the series: Tool of War with a score of 4.07

Least Favorite in the series: Ship Breaker with a score of 3.74

Based on overall ratings from Goodreads, Library Thing, Rakuten Kobo, and Amazon

#1-Ship Breaker- 2010

First Line:

Nailer climbed through a service duct, tugging at copper wire and yanking it free.


Nailer: A young male ship breaker

Pima: A young female ship breaker and Nailer’s friend

Sadna: Pima’s mother

Richard Lopez: Nailer’s father and violent drug addict

Nita Chaudhury: Daughter of a wealthy business man and soul survivor of a ship wreck

Tool: Half man – half beast, a genetic chimera

The Setting

Along the gulf coast of the future and near what would have been New Orleans, now underwater

America’s flooded Gulf Coast region, oil is scarce, but loyalty is scarcer. Grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts by crews of young people. Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota–and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or by chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life.

And wherever the huge ships lay, scavenge gangs like Nailer’s swarmed like flies. Chewing away at iron meat and bones. Dragging the old world’s flesh up the beach to scrap weighing scales and the recycling smelters that burned 24-7 for the profit of Lawson & Carlson, the company that made all the cash from the blood and sweat of the ship breakers.

Looking for a review of Ship Breaker?  Check out:

Fistful of Wits

Off To Read Some More

Just Dusty

Only Summertime

Books, Teens, and Magazines

A Land of Rum and Writing

Minimac Reviews

Amazon Rating: 4.31 out of 5 stars based on 516 ratings

Rakuten Kobo Rating: 4.24 out of 5 stars based on 25 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.73 out of 5 stars based on 40,299 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.86 out of 5 stars based on 863 ratings

Total Score 3.74 (Updated 10/21/20)

#2-The Drowned Cities- 2012

First Line:

Chains clanked in the darkness of the holding cells.



Mahlia: A doctor’s assistant and a ‘castoff’

Mouse/Ghost: Mahlia’s friend who is ‘recruited’ to be a soldier boy

Ocho: Sergeant in the United Patriotic Front militia

Doctor Moufouz: Doctor that took Mahlia under his wing

The Setting

Near what would have been Washington D.C.

Soldier boys emerged from the darkness. Guns gleamed dully. Bullet bandoliers and scars draped their bare chests. Ugly brands scored their faces. She knew why these soldier boys had come. She knew what they sought, and she knew, too, that if they found it, her best friend would surely die.

In a dark future America where violence, terror, and grief touch everyone, young refugees Mahlia and Mouse have managed to leave behind the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities by escaping into the jungle outskirts. But when they discover a wounded half-man–a bioengineered war beast named Tool–who is being hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers, their fragile existence quickly collapses. One is taken prisoner by merciless soldier boys, and the other is faced with an impossible decision: Risk everything to save a friend, or flee to a place where freedom might finally be possible.

The doctor looked up from where he’d been studying an old Accelerated Age Map, from before the Drowned Cities had drowned. “Because the Army of God burns books, and we are going to save them.”

Looking for a review of The Drowned Cities?  Check out:

Books and Lesser Evils

Rhapsody in Books Weblog

The Bookstop

Children’s Book Cellar

Writing ‘Bout Reading

Amazon Rating: 4.38 out of 5 stars based on 274 ratings

Rakuten Kobo Rating: 4.11 out of 5 stars based on 9 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.90 out of 5 stars based on 10,011 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.85 out of 5 stars based on 240 ratings

Total Score 3.91 (Updated 10/21/20)

#3-Tool of War- 2017

First Line:

The drone circled high above the wreckage of war.


Tool, Mahlia, Nailer, Ocho, and Nita Chaudhury

The Setting

Seascape which had once been Boston

Tool, a half-man/half-beast designed for combat, is capable of so much more than his creators had ever dreamed. He has gone rogue from his pack of bioengineered “augments” and emerged a victorious leader of a pack of human soldier boys. But he is hunted relentlessly by someone determined to destroy him, who knows an alarming secret: Tool has found the way to resist his genetically ingrained impulses of submission and loyalty toward his masters… The time is coming when Tool will embark on an all-out war against those who have enslaved him. From one of science fiction’s undisputed masters comes a riveting page-turner that pulls no punches.

Looking for a review of Tool of War?  Check out:

Lovely Loveday


Confessions of a Serial Reader

Smith Public Library: Teen Machine

Amazon Rating: 4.57 out of 5 stars based on 127 ratings

Rakuten Kobo Rating: 4.17 out of 5 stars based on 6 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 4.04 out of 5 stars based on 1,711 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.94 out of 5 stars based on 35 ratings

Total Score 4.07 (Updated 10/21/20)