Fiction by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Posted on Nov 19, 2010 in Awards, Blog, Ship Breaker, The Windup Girl | 10 comments

Some thoughts after the National Book Awards

Above: Myself and Jennifer Hunt, my fabulous editor; My agent extraordinaire, Martha Millard, myself, and Anjula, the one who believed in me before anyone; and finally, Sara Zarr, NBA judge and previous finalist, along with myself and Jen, throwing the Little, Brown salute.

I had a ridiculously good time at the National Book Awards. Lots of readings and signings and fancy dinners and fabulous company. Alas, SHIP BREAKER did not win. But, you know, I’ve won a lot of awards this year, so I’m not complaining. When you’ve eaten as much cake with as much icing as I have, it’s hard to whine about not getting a third (or maybe fifth?) smearing. I’m fine with having been in the running. For real. I’m feeling just fine.

And that’s sort of an interesting feeling. As a science fiction writer, I’m delighted to have had a chance to represent the genre in an area of literature that doesn’t normally delight in stories of the future, but the National Book Award was never the award I grew up dreaming about. It was the Hugo. Always the Hugo. When fans chose THE WINDUP GIRL for the Hugo this year, that was the moment when I felt like my cup had more than run over. It felt like it was gushing and spilling and slopping all over the place. It was more than a little overwhelming, which also meant that even as I was feeling grateful, I was also feeling afraid.

“One hit wonder” has a certain terrifying ring to it.

So that’s what the NBA nomination did for me. It put me back on track. Gave me some perspective. It put some attention on SHIP BREAKER, a book that I have always been very proud of, but also felt like was being overshadowed by THE WINDUP GIRL’s phenomenal run. Now SHIP BREAKER has some bragging rights, too, and I’m glad. Not just for the book, but also because it reassured me that people seem to like it when I explore ideas that are interesting to me, and that’s cool, because I’ve got a few more ideas I’d like to explore. So I’m grateful for the reminder of why I write, and what pleases me about science fiction, and grateful to be back on track again, writing.

Which brings me to something I’ve been meaning to say for a long time. It started with the Nebula Award, and kept rolling along, getting bigger and bigger all through this year, to the point where it seems too small to say it, because it doesn’t represent enough of what I feel, but…


Thank you to readers and fans, for reading my stories and for passing them along and for voting for them. For seeing something in them that I sometimes can’t see myself. Thank you to all the booksellers who read the books and evangelized on their behalf. To the librarians who stocked the books and the reviewers who saw them first. I owe my editors Juliet Ulman and Jennifer Hunt, who made my books so much better than they were initially, and made sure that they got out into the world and got attention. And I owe my acquiring editor Joe Monti, now an agent extraordinaire, for seeing SHIP BREAKER sitting on Jen’s desk, stealing it, and then advocating for it with all his passion. I owe Night Shade for taking risks, and Little, Brown, for taking on a book that wasn’t automatically a seller, but had potential, and for taking the long view with it.

The list goes on and on, because even though I did a lot of work to write the books and get them out, I’m awed by the number of people who have helped me along the way. Authors like Robert J. Sawyer, who advised me and shared his expertise and experience. Writers like Tobias Buckell who gave me the idea for the SHIP BREAKER’s clipper ships. Writers like Sarah Prineas, who guided me when I wanted to tell a story for young adults, and shepharded me past more than a few pitfalls. I owe editors like Lou Anders, who didn’t just buy my short stories, but also went out of his way to find me an agent. I owe Gordon Van Gelder, who bought my first story “Pocketful of Dharma” years ago, and then reminded me that science fiction might be my best bet when he queried me a couple years later to see if I was working on anything new and because of that, I wrote “The Fluted Girl,” and then I owe him again because he introduced me to Lou Anders, and Juliet Ulman, years before I knew how big a role both of them would play in my life. Gordon also introduced me to Charles Coleman Finlay, aka C.C. Finlay, who started the Blue Heaven workshop, and who then invited me to join that group of professional dreamers, which then helped me figure out why my first draft of THE WINDUP GIRL was so incredibly broken.

I did the work of writing, but damn, there are a lot of people who stood along the road, and helped me. I can’t name them all, because it seems like they’re all around. People like Daniel Abraham, who took me in at my first convention, and asked me “What do you want to get out of your writing?” It took me two more years to figure that out and actually do something about it, but when it did, the light bulb glowed bright. Authors like Maureen McHugh who pushed me to work on the book that was big and scary, instead of the one that was easy and available. People like Bill Tuffin who combed over The Windup Girl for errors and invited me into his life on the far side of the world. People like Matt and Wang Fang Roberts, who, fifteen years ago in Beijing, let me sleep on their couch for far too long, when I was trying to figure out how to be an author and an adult and was failing at both, but who called me an author, anyway, and helped prod me into following through on my dream. Again and again, I see this pattern. At each stage of my writing career, I went a little further down the road, and then someone else showed up and helped me walk a little further.

I’m so grateful. Thank you, everyone.


  1. I’m sure it’s been a remarkable year for you and it’s most definitely deserved. Can’t wait to see what else you have up your sleeve.

  2. It’s been fun to watch, Paolo. I hope things continue for you on an upward spiral for a long, long time.

  3. Hey Paolo,

    Just found out about you and your writing when I won Ship Breaker on my buddy Karen’s blog the other day. I’m about two thirds of the way through and I just wanted to stop by to say that your writing is incredible. The characters, plot, pacing, story and all the normal writing aspects are great, but what I really love is the voice. The lingo in your world, the slang, feels so real that it throws me immediately right into the story every time I pick the book up. Let me just say that I’ve lived a life full of experience, and terms like “sliding high”, “grind that”, “blood and rust”, “lucky strike” … and many more? They’re phenomenal. Amazing writing and ridiculously authentic language. They’re original phrases, but they still feel like every day slang.

    Thanks so much for telling the stories you do.

  4. My first dark YA fantasy was a silver medal NBA finalist and shortlisted for other awards. I was so encouraged! I just want to add my voice to yours: the kindness of people who read early work–or kindness from those who just assume it’s good because they like us, the input and guidance of editors, agents and friends, the word of mouth recommendations from people we never meet—all encourage authors, validate us, help us take the next leap.
    I love your work, it really is brilliant. Please write more!!

  5. My God. My best friend handed me The Windup Girl. It sat on my shelf for three months. It is easily the greatest sci fi novel I have read since Ian Banks “The Bridge.” Thank you.

  6. So for months I wanted to read the Wind Up Girl and the other day I finally bought it. I never read a book that I didn’t want to finish because I enjoyed it so much. I actually felt a great loss to finish reading it.

    It was most excellent and so rich, I haven’t read a good book in a long time :) kudos !

  7. Windup Girl
    A fantastic Science fiction with lots of details on the author’s vision of the future of our earth. I share the same vision in which I believe (18 years ago) that humans will be extinct if we do not find a way to leave this planet- cause of the way we are destroying our natural resources and environment and the increasing new diseases.
    The difference is that the author is finding new ways of human continual existence in all these difficult environment and even the possibility of self evolution (in the human race) to face such challenges. All instead of finding ways to leave earth to find a new beginning. Showing once again the human’s survival instinct and inventiveness. Fantastic and congratulation to the author for his super imagination and his understanding of the human nature.

  8. I started reading The Windup girl a couple of weeks ago. I am close to the end, and I must confess I do not want the book to end. I love your version of the future, of how humankind has almost destroyed itself and is about to do it again, not learning from previous mistakes.
    I do believe such future is possible, seeing the state of things these days.

    Have you considered writing a series of short stories based on the Windup Girl’s world? Because I really would enjoy reading more of it, spending more time in that world…
    Thank you, Paolo, for such an excellent book!!

  9. Fantastic, fantastic book, and needed to be written. Couldn’t agree more with the praise that has rightly been heaped on it.

    Just one question, however – why is there no solar power in your setting? The question kept tugging at me the whole way through, and I’d be grateful indeed to get a line or two from you on the subject.

    Thanks again, and please keep writing stories.

  10. Just finished reading The Windup Girl. Brilliant, moving, fascinating, fearsome, engaging. It’s so hard to find really good hard science fiction (Dan Simmons, where are you?) there days. It all seems like spin-offs of popular films or tv shows, or futures based on martial cultures. Boring!

    You’re book brings interesting, imperfect characters into a chilling and believable future world that reflects many current concerns. The ending is tragic and appropriate, but leaves everything open, which begs the question — what’s next for the windup girl’s world? I’m not necessarily a fan of sequels but, c’mon, you had to have something in mind when you ended the story.

    Whatever you produce next, I’ll be anxious to read it no matter what. You may be compared to Gibson and Banks, but I think you have a unique voice, and I’d love to hear more of it.

    BTW, congrats on your recent and past awards. You deserve it.


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