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Literature / Pump Six and Other Stories

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Pump Six and Other Stories is Paolo Bacigalupi's debut collection of short stories. It's full of social criticism, political parables and environmental advocacy, while often indulging in extremely black humour.

Almost all stories contained in the collection were at least nominated for prestigious awards in sci-fi literature. With a massive helping of Bio Punk, they feature different but closely related visions of a bleak future, in which Earth is/was ravaged by different kinds of cataclysms or has been taken over by amoral MegaCorps, with a focus on how human society has adapted to the changes and how advances in technology could effectively rob us of our humanity - and nobody would care.

The collection contains following stories:

  • "Pocketful of Dharma"
  • "The Fluted Girl"
  • "The People of Sand and Slag"
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  • "The Pasho"
  • "The Calorie Man"
  • "The Tamarisk Hunter"
  • "Pop Squad"
  • "Yellow Card Man"
  • "Softer"
  • "Pump Six"
  • "Small Offerings"

Many of them would be later expanded into full-length books (for example, "Yellow Card Man" and "The Calorie Man" were combined into single setting and recycled into The Windup Girl). "Pop Squad" got an Animated Adaptation with the same title as part of the second season of Love, Death & Robots in May 2021.


Pump Six and Other Stories provides examples of:

  • After the End: A recurring setting for various stories, but most explicit in Pasho. It's about 1500 years since unspecified event, most likely a global war, known as "First Cleansing". As a direct result, the world regressed into Stone Age, then slowly started to rebuild from the ruins.
  • Aggressive Categorism: In Pasho, Jai are this by default, always dividing people according to their tribe and affiliations. Taken to the extreme by the old Gawar, who is obsessed about keeping Jai and Jai ways pure, exterminating everyone else. He's eventually assassinated by his grandson, Raphael, to prevent yet another bloodbath.
  • Alternate History: Whatever happened in Pump Six's past, it left bunch of chemicals that were retired due to their toxicity in the 70s and 80s still in use. And somewhere, something really weird had happened, because Kali-Mary is a thing.
  • And I Must Scream: Naed Delhi is trapped for years within cybernetic emptiness. He's perfectly aware of the time flow, but he is deprived of any sensory stimulation aside knowing he's in some featurless void. Until he is contacted by outside world, he was there alone. Worst part is the fact he can't reincarnate, being trapped inside the data cube indefinitely.
  • And Man Grew Proud: In The Calorie Man, humanity managed to reach astonishing advances in genetics and then proceeded to spend the remaining resources and manpower on vanity projects. After the collapse of civilization as we know it, things like plastic plaques and ads are considered valuable artifacts and testimony to the hubris of the old world, where oil could be wasted on such useless things as making toys.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: You can't just cleanse mother's body from cancerogenic and toxic residues and then make her give birth to a healthy child, since her ova are already messed up. Ironically, this could work with semen, but the treatments from Small Offerings are explicitly about the condition of mother's body.
  • Artistic License – Physics: The Calorie Man has complex, wind-up mechanism used to store mechanical energy and calories derived from grain are being used specifically as means to power cranking mechanisms by bio-engineered draft animals. Such set-up would be extremely inefficient mechanically, wasting almost all of the energy during transfer and "storage".
  • Artistic License – Ships: The concept of barges hauling grain downstream with no additional speed than current just can't work. To have any form of maneuverability, a boat must move faster than the waterflow. Just moving with the current would put a barge on a shore at the first bend in the river and make it act like a spinning top.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Yellow Card Man is foreshadowing future issues with The Windup Girl. It has almost no relation to actual Malay-Chinese names. Or Thai ones, for that matter. It's especially jarring, given how in other stories, at least names are properly researched for the supposed ethnicity of the characters.
  • Beware the Cute Ones: Right before committing suicide, Lidia The Fluted Girl decides to instead offer the poisoned strawberry to lady Berali. While the story ends with a Cliffhanger, it also establishes early on how the lady loves strawberries and sweets.
  • Bio Punk: All over the place. Augmentations, transgenic organisms, body modifications, MegaCorps based around genetic engineering and so on.
  • Bittersweet Ending: While most stories end up with outright Downer Endings, in The Calorie Man, while Bowman is killed and his research data accidentally destroyed, Lalji realises the grain he's hauling is patent-free and fertile, so there is still a chance to plant it and make the old man's dream come true.
  • Black-and-White Morality: What the old Gawar in Pasho claims to be "Jai way". Raphael corrects his grandfather it's "his way".
  • Black Comedy: Softer gets the full mileage out of a wife-killer trying to sort out what he has done and what should he feel about the murder he commited.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Dimitri is slowly dying, but since he's tending terminal patients and the hospital is short-strung for qualified manpower, nobody really minds the fact he coughts blood, especially since he's not contagious - it's "just" his own cancer.
  • Body Horror: It's Bio Punk, what else did you expect?
    • The titular Fluted Girl is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. This includes having brass playing keys installed over the orifices. If that doesn't take it, then most of the servants are altered one way or another to satisfy the whims of lady Belari.
    • What passes as humanity in The People of Sand and Slag is so heavily augmented it's barely humanoid, not to mention human in contemporary sense. And they employ various "biojobs" as their pets and auxiliary guards, which are freakishly modified mash-ups of animal genes and robotic mechanisms. And they always have hands.
    • Trogs from Pump Six are barely human mutants that are routinely (but not always) hermaphrodites, have primate-like appearances and for whatever reason, yellow eyesnote . Since they don't have enough brains to wear any clothes, their twisted bodies are at full display.
  • Brainless Beauty: Maggie is nice-looking and dumb as bricks. The story opens with her checking for an ongoing gas-leak in a kitchen stove with a lighter. It takes her few minutes to realise what could have happen and that's only after brutally assaulting Travis for interrupting her "repair". And previously she tried to fix an electric outlet with a fork.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: What Pasho Raphael tries to do with his grandfather, slowly breaking to him how much hypocrisy and contradictions is in his beliefs. It doesn't take in the slightest.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: Invoked verbatim in Small Offerings, when the two orderlies show up once the patient is already restrained and under control. As always.
  • Chameleon Camouflage: Thanks to his augmentations, skin of Burson from The Fluted Girl does this on its own. He has zero control over the ability, it just happens.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: One of the early bits of Pasho circuits is about distillation of mez and Jai traditions related to it. The importance of Internal Reformist is also heavily stressed in their teachings, as people are more likely to follow their own kin.
  • Child Soldier: Creo is working as Lalji's bodyguard. He's somewhere between 12 and 16. Nobody sees anything wrong with it.
  • Cliffhanger: The Fluted Girl ends with one, just as Lidia is about to poison lady Berali.
  • Clueless Aesop: Pasho, big time. The aesop is as convoluted mess of contradictins as are the Jai ways. The story is about the importance of own cultural identity and how technology never really is neutral, but instead affects people and their way of life, often drastically changing them, until they are just part of the crowd, losing their original identity. It also tries to talk about the dangers of globalisation. Problem is, the mouthpiece of all those concerns is a brutal Proud Warrior Race Guy that could be a poster boy for the most extreme forms of violent nationalism (tribalism, really, because that's how small and narrow his scale is) and comes with absolutely zero redeeming qualities, being just a maniac warlord with obsession about wiping out anyting else than his own culture and closest kin. Which Gawar would then gladly use to assimilate others into his "true ways" and rewrite history to completely remove his enemies from consciousnes of the people. We are supposed to take his speeches as a way against the evils of foreign technology and influences, along with unrestricted exchange of ideas. And then, of course, he gets poisoned by Raphael, to make sure Jai culture will be changed anyway. This isn't just Broken Aesop, it meanders in such twisted ways and gives such unsympathetic and just plain evil counter-viewpoint, the message of "every culture should be respected, regardless of anything" falls flat.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Lidia has been put into so much training and conditioning that she ends up quite confused why her extensive bio-augmentation could be considered bad or, dare anyone say it, immoral. After all, the benevolent lady Belari paid for it all with her own money!
  • Crapsack World: All the stories take place in different versions of future Earth, which share one thing in common - humans managed to destroy it and now are either living on scraps left by the previous civilization or have augmented themselves so much that they no longer need a hospitable planet. If somehow the planet itself survived untouched, then it's at least a Dystopia Is Hard type of deal. Cruelty and indifference are the main themes of the collection.
  • Creepy Twins: Lidia and Nia from The Fluted Girl. Not due to their behaviour, but thanks to what was done to their bodies. Even if the fluting itself is ignored, they were still leached of all pigment, are perpetually stuck in the appearance of twelve-year-olds (despite being adult) and got their eyes replaced with those of others', completely not matching the rest of their ethereal appearance for in-universe shock value.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: By the dozen. The world-building is almost entirely done with off-hand remarks in dialogues and tiny snippets of information in the narrative.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: All the MegaCorps could make a real profit if they used their patented grain to get even more precious high-grade alcohol - a perfect fuel. Or even simpler, just get vegetable oil for diesel engines (which are weirdly absent). Instead, they prefer to use their monopoly simply to oppress everyone around the world.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Lady Belari not only used to be just a commoner like everyone else as a child, but went through the entire cycle of abuse herself. This includes almost being snatched by a paedophile wearing a brainwashing cologne. However, as traumatic as her past has been, she's still an unsympathetic character.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Every story thrives on this trope. All the horrific and outright wrong elements of them are treated by everyone in-story as something perfectly natural and normal, if not boring. Be it extreme cruelty, wanton environmental destruction, widespread poverty or absolute lack of empathy.
  • Domesticated Dinosaurs: Not exactly dinosaurs, but the megodont is a bio-engineered organism combining elephant and mastodon DNA and used as a beast of burden.
  • Dying as Yourself: Rather than silently enduring another round of cruelty and sexual abuse as her living sex toy, Stephen tried to kill lady Belari with a knife. As the story opens, her wounds still didn't heal properly despite all the future medicine has to offer. He also handles a vial of poison to Lidia if she ever wants to be "truly free", rather than being just another slave with a slightly longer leash.
  • Eat the Dog: The conclusion of The People of Sand and Slag.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Travis from Pump Six can't stop eyeing at Maggie in her nightie, which exposes more than it covers. In fact, he's so distracted by her after waking up, it takes him a while to realise she's about to blow up their flat.
  • Enfant Terrible: Fertility is a big issue in Pump Six. Most people just can't have a child. Those who do, usually go through entire string of miscarriages until giving up. The "lucky" few give birth to malformed, animalistic mutants.
  • Eye Scream: Lidia and Nia had their own eyes removed and replaced with the dark eyes of some Indian girls. It's implied the owners of the black eyes were left with just a white stick.
  • Evil Old Folks: The grandfather from Pasho. He's an obsessive xenophobe and hates with passion everything that isn't from his tribe and follow traditions of his tribe. In his youth he organised a disastrous crusade that almost wiped out the rebuilding civilization. And he's preparing another one, just to assure a lasting legacy of a conqueror and keeping his people "pure".
  • Extreme Doormat: The "commoners" of The Fluted Girl have been put through so much shit (or their ancestors were) that they happily accept all the mistreatment and essentially being bonded slaves, for the sole fact they are kept fed and the local lord doesn't beat them too hard. And everyone standing up is not only brutally cut down by the top, but the society reverted to the point of giving rebels Tall Poppy Syndrome for just questioning the horrible abuse they are put into on day-to-day basis.
  • Fantastic Drug:
    • Tingle, a "soft" stimulant from The Fluted Girl. And it gives you munchies for sweets.
    • Whatever "Effy" is, Alvarez in Pump Six trips out on it so hard, his Inner Monologue turns into barely coherent rambling, as he tries to make sense out of his hallucinations and task at hand. There are other people going in the drug-inducted bliss non-stop, but since the whole society is on a verge of a complete collapse, nobody cares - and those who do care drug themselves out specifically to forget.
    • Mez is some sort of alcohol distilled by Jai from a poisonous desert shrub. They never purify it fully, as the small dose of the toxin cause euphoria and may give hallucinations.
  • Fatal Flaw: Gawar is so extremely prideful and stubborn it's amazing he didn't trip over his own ego yet. This makes him completely and absolutely incapable of even trying to grasp world outside his own, intentionally narrow-minded perspective.
  • Feudal Future:
    • The Fluted Girl is about lords and their servants, managing the fief. Only this time around, everyone is bio-augmented into Body Horror and constantly fearful about stock prices failing.
    • The Calorie Man has shades of it, with people working on company-owned fields in form of serfdom.
  • First-Person Smartass: Played With in Pump Six. Travis Alvarez is narrating the whole story from his point of view. While he's just an average Joe, by the standards of society around him he has genius-level intellect and is the sharpest guy in the town.
  • Future Food Is Artificial:
    • Brekkie bars (essentially a MRE ration in form of a bar), pockets of pre-brewed (and chemically heated) coffee and soda from Pump Six consists of nothing, but long list of chemicals. Not just as some additive or preserver, that's all that is in the package aside raw glucose and water. While there is still bacon (almost always in short supply, but so is everything else in the story), it's implied it's just as bad and deep-frozen with some quick-thaw liquid activating while taken out of the wrapper. Bagels are already made with plastic wrapping around them, that dissolves in your mouth. Anything even resembling regular food is nowhere to be seen.
    • Not exactly food itself, but the only plants still growing are heavily-modified GMO crops in many stories. When Creo is given a real, natural tomato in The Calorie Man, he finds the concept of taste disgusting. Meanwhile Lalji, who is old enough to remember food before MegaCorps destroyed all non-GMO food, is in heaven when finally eating something other than tasteless corn and soy.
  • Future Imperfect: In Pasho not much of original knowledge about pre-Cleansing world remains, even less about the dark age that followed. A lot of things were also reduced to semi-religious rites and tradition behaviours. Quaran is nothing more than a superstition-influenced quarantine, with rites around it mimicking a separation process of a contaminated individual.
  • Future Primitive: Trogs from Pump Six are dumb, primitive, malformed and lacking any cognitive capacity beyond most basic needs. In winter they just freeze to death, unless they migrate south prior to first snows. It's implied they are the result of all the pollution and cancerogenic "food" damaging DNA of everyone still alive. The real kicker is that everyone born in last couple decades is a trog, just less malformed and slightly more functional.
  • Future Slang: Entire conversations full of it. It also lampshades how society has changed in each story, by no longer using specific terms or even knowing them.
  • Gaia's Lament: Almost all of the stories have shades of it, but three stand out the most:
    • In The Calorie Man, most of the world's crops and foliage were destroyed by bio-engineered plagues and pests while a few corporations were battling each other over the monopoly on the seed market. While it takes place in Post-Peak Oil, the world is far from clean or green - most plantlife was destroyed and the remaining edible plants are all sterile, so most of the world is barren aside corporation-owned mega-farms. Most of animals went extinct due to prolonged famine and the ones remaining were freakishly redesigned genetically to survive on minimal feed, while providing maximum energy.
    • By all accounts Earth from The People of Sand and Slag is a toxic, barren wasteland that's unable to support any contemporary lifeforms. But since the characters in the story have been modified in a way that allows them to survive on the sand and slag of the title (and much worse things), they are absolutely unaware of how bad things around them are. One of the scenes takes place on a Hawaiian beach, describing in lovely detail the glistening of the oil in the dark ocean and the beach itself covered in so much debris there is barely any sand left - yet everyone treats it like a perfect Beach Episode, with great weather and all.
    • World in Small Offerings is so heavily polluted, everyone is wearing gas masks constantly, even inside buildings. Despite said buildings being equipped with their own sets of filters. Most food is too contaminated to eat at all and the rest is still going to make you sick. Pregnancies go in two stages: first the mother goes through a "prenatal" treatment that uses the fetus as a sponge for toxins within her body, then the mutated mess of tissue is euthanised (if it's somehow alive) upon birth and then the actual, heavily supervised pregnancy happens. Who and why would ever want to bring children into a world like that is anyone's guess.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Literally. Lady Berali from The Fluted Girl has green-eyes (possibly even her own) and absolutely hates any sort of competition in anything she does.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Played With in The Fluted Girl. Some characters simply learned to pretend they are happy with their predictment. Others act in fear of punishment or retribution from other servants. And some are content with their position within the manor, because they know it could be much, much worse type of servitude.
  • Hate Sink: There are various evil characters in the collection, but most of them are either cogs in the bigger system, very impersonal threats or government-tier organisations that are also just doing their job. Enter old Gawar from Pasho: an obsessive Proud Warrior Race Guy that just can't stand the sheer concept that something might be different than his own set of believes or serve other purpose than making his tribe the greatest and toughtest warriors ever. He's very, very old and won't live for much longer, yet does his very best to Salt the Earth for futute generations, just to make sure they will be just as tough as he is. Any non-Jai people? Slaughter those worthless weaklings, who even cares, compassion is not Jai way. His irrational hatered is so fierce and revolting, it's hard to just read his lines.
  • Hope Spot: Widespread to the point some reviewers call it "Paolo Bacigalupi plot template" when talking about his short stories. Notable examples include:
    • In Pump Six Travis figures out what's really wrong with the titular pump. He reads all the print-outs and collects long list of information needed to fix it. Despite the producer going out of business before he was even born, he has an "Eureka!" Moment to simply contact the engineering department of the Columbia University to help him out, as this is emergency and all the blueprints are public domain anyway... until he visits the campus. All the buildings are deserted, the faculty is long retired and dead, while "students" are just scions of the rich families having a never-ending orgy on the university grounds. And he learns there that everyone is a trog at this point.
    • In The Calorie Man Bowman is revealed as one of the old geneticists, who spent the last few years recreating fertile seeds, while giving them all the positive capabilities of the patented variety. He has all the knowledge and his computer stores all the data in case anything happens to him. Cue a random sweep by the corporation guards - Bowman ends up dead, while the computer is accidentally thrown overboard during the short fight.
  • Hypocrite
    • The many, many traditions of Jai and their point of view are ripe with hypocrisy, as they both condemn various actions of other tribes, but do the exact same thing (or worse) without batting an eye. Gawar takes it to logical extreme.
    • Stephen tries to call Lidia out on her loyal, head-down-mouth-shut serviture, but she eventually lashes back, pointing he's as much of a "toy" for lady Belari as she is. Maybe even more so than she is. He comes to his senses almost instantly.
  • I Let You Win: Raphael let his grandfather into a lull, by pretending that he surrenders to the superior ways of Jai traditions and they share a drink over this. The mez he serves is a poison and the young man was from the start on a mission to either placate Gawar, or simply kill him if he won't drop his crusade against Keli.
  • Ignorance Is Bliss: The reason why nobody does anything about their falling-apart society and infrastructure in Pump Six is because those few people left to care and know what to do prefer to be consciously ignorant about everything around them. When Alvarez gets called out on his own ignorance, he gets genuinely scared by reality around him, realising how many things he allowed to just slide by as "someone's else problem".
  • Imagine Spot: Jonathan has one about rest of his life and all possible scenarios (often contradictionary) awaiting for him and Pia when he starts to asphyxiate her.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Those wicked Keli eat fishes and their women wear silver belts rather than golden bracelets. Better murder them all to preserve the purity of Jai.
  • Internal Reformist: Raphael's mission in Pasho is to either convince his grandfather to change his ways, or kill the old man and start to influence Jai from the inside, using the esteem surrounding Pasho. Both rely on him being a Jai and knowing Jai, thus allowing him effortless infiltration, rather than being cast away or killed on sight.
  • Irony:
    • Pump Six is probably the least known and most definitely the least praised of all the stories, while it provides the title for the anthology.
    • In Small Offerings a woman is giving a birth: under heavy sedation, with so much anesthesia she's numb chest-down and with all her contractions being induced by another drug. Then this line comes up.
    Lily: Let's just relax now and let nature take its course.
  • Irrational Hatred: Gawar in Pasho compulsively hates anything that doesn't follow (and follow them strictly) traditions of his own tribe, to the point he sees nothing wrong in complete extermination of other peoples if he feels they threaten Jai way of life.
  • The Last DJ: Pump Six has Mercati, the very last actual maintenance worker of the pumping station. Always focused on the task and always doing his best to keep things running, against the complete indifference of everyone else. He's long dead by the time the story opens, but thankfully, managed to train Travis a bit before being eaten by cancer.
  • Last of His Kind:
    • Bowman is the very last geneticist alive in The Calorie Man.
    • The stray dog from The People of Sand and Slag might be the very last specimen living in the wild, bordering on Dying Race. The sheer damage and toxicity its body sustained makes it too weak to survive weeviltech implants, making it even more unique.
  • Lost Technology:
    • Pretty much all technology from Pump Six. With crippling levels of idiocy and apathy, the whole economy relies entirely on things that still didn't break down, with nobody left to even do basic maintenance on any meaningful scale. The few repairmen that are still left around are unable to do anything beyond just hoping for the best, because they have no replacement parts, no organisation to rely on and no experts to ask for help.
    • Heavily implied in The Calorie Man about bio-engineering. All the old genetic specialists simply died out due to old age or were actively hunted down by seed corporations. And due to the collapse of education system, the lab workers are trained to do specific tasks, but can't perform any modifications because they don't have any actual knowledge beyond their station training. It becomes a plot point when Bowman provides a huge supply of fertile seeds - there is literally nobody left that can stop it once the seeds are planted, nor can they engineer a new plague to kill the fertile variety.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Thanks to "weeviltech", humans from The People of Sand and Slag are virtually indestructible. The story opens with the main character jumping off a speeding aircraft without a parachute, breaking half of the bones in his body and smashing most of his internal organs... and getting up, as if nothing happened. The story then examines how this kind of ability would affect humanity as a species.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Raphael serves Gawar poorly distilled mez, which is pure poison. Since mez poisoning is something that just happens from time to time, nobody is going to expect an assassination.
  • Meaningful Name: Weeviltech. Sure, a technology based on bio-engineered weevils... now read it syllable by syllable.
  • Might Makes Right: One of the pillars of Jai culture, to the point where Gawar points out Raphael should just kill him if he feels insulted or fed up with their discussion, as that's the Jai way. In the end, that's exactly what happens, but rather than open murder, the young man poisons his grandfather.
  • The Needs of the Many: Gawar, the informal leader of Jai from Pasho, gets poisoned to make sure he won't organise another crusade that could potentially destroy the rebuilding civilization. Not only Keli will survive due to this, but Jai can be reformed into more peaceful and productive ways.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: One of the main themes of The People of Sand and Slag is how, by gaining the ability to survive pretty much anything (we are talking about breaking their spines, eating sand for food, and regrowing lost limbs within few hours), humanity lost absolutely any interest in or desire to preserve the world around it. Soon after, people became completely indifferent to each other, as the concept of causing harm no longer exists.
  • No Dead Body Poops: Averted. Pia's bladder empties when she's smothered to death with a pillow. Jonathan proceeds to give her dead body a bath due to this.
  • No Points for Neutrality: The titular Pasho are given this treatment, since everyone assumes they have their own game and/or serve the other side of the ongoing conflict. Thus everyone has a mixture of respect for their knowledge and distrust due to claiming complete neutrality in any fight. Ultimately, Raphael is forced to take a side and kill his own grandfather.
  • Not Growing Up Sucks: Lidia and Nia are deliberately kept with Revitia treatment "frozen in the first throes of adolescence". In reality, they are in their mid-20s and at least Lidia is jealous of a girl that was hired along with them years ago, due to being allowed to have an adult, (probably) unaltered body. Lady Belari herself is implied to be a very, very old person, stuck in a body of a late-twenty-something girl, also against her will.
  • Not So Different: For all her ferocity and ruthlessness, lady Belari from The Fluted Girl is as much of a toy in hands of someone higher-up as her servants are to her. And she's painfully aware of her Gilded Cage.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The reason why women go through "prenatal" in Small Offerings, while alternative treatment exists? Bunch of government committees pushing paper between each other. For years. Considering the state of the world itself, not really that surprising, as it's implied being also the result of their stellar, governmental job.
  • One Steve Limit: Played straight with each separate story, but there is still Maggie and Travis, the couple from Pump Six and then there is Maggie the camel and Travis the other tamarisk hunter, from The Tamarisk Hunter.
  • Our Souls Are Different: In Pocketful of Dharma, a data cube accidently acquired by Wang Jun contains consciousness of Naed Delhi, the 19th Dalai Lama. And there will be no 20th one, ever, as long as his soul remains trapped in the electronic medium, thus being unable to reincarnate. Only the destruction of the cube can release him free. The data cube becomes a MacGuffin that everyone wants to get for their own schemes.
  • Post-Peak Oil: Shows up here and there in the stories. Not all of them share it as a background, though.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Jai culture runs on this and constant evocation of Testosterone Poisoning. It is also a deconstruction of the whole concept: when you are rised in society that relishes in combat and believes there is nothing better than slaughtering people you disagree with, you eventually become a burden and threat to everyone around you, while leaving nothing but ruin and despair in your wake. Doubly so when chasing after personal glory of the most fearsome conqueror that ever lived.
  • A Pupil of Mine Until He Turned to Evil: Gawar was himself trained as a Pasho in his youth. However, since he was unwilling to adopt peaceful ways and tried to join the order solely for gaining access to its vast knowledge for military conquest, he was politely asked to leave. He returned some time later. With an army of Jai and napalm to burn everything to the ground. He almost succeeded and is still the thing out of nightmares in the consciousness of both Pasho and Keli people.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Subverted in Pump Six. The pumping station the entire region depends on to recycle all the toxic mutating waste - which would otherwise flood the area and generate no end of death and Body Horror - has been running for decades with minimal maintenance by an increasingly indifferent authority made out of increasingly stupider humans. As the pumps finally start to die, the resident tech - the only one to have a grasp on how serious the emergency is - discovers that they have been running way out of spec for far longer than they were meant to, with more and more malfunctions and alarms, until critical parts have begun to fail. And spares haven't been available in a long time...
  • Riches to Rags: Tranh was once wealthy head of the multi-national "Three Prosperities" trading company. Now he's a homeless refugee in a future Bangkok. And it's a common situation for Malay-Chinese people in the story, with the city filled with extremely overqualified people doing menial jobs - if they are lucky enough to get one in the first place.
  • Ruins of the Modern Age: Plentiful, all over the stories in the collection. New York falling apart, suburbs being completely deserted once there is no fuel to drive so far away from city center, holiday resorts being just piles of rubble, Bangkok being somewhere in the middle between huge sweat-shop and archeological site for the "ancient" tech...
  • Rule of Cool: Humanity developing complex spring mechanisms and using bio-engineered animals as source of power - muscle power - rather than, you know, using wind and watermills. Or turning all that grain into alcohol, which can run engines pretty well. It takes a hefty dose of Willing Suspension of Disbelief to take certain settings seriously.
  • Running Gag: "A biojob with no hands?"
  • Schizo Tech:
    • In stories taking place Post-Peak Oil, technology is just plain weird. Genetically modified pack animals are powering massive capstans, transmitting mechanical energy to spring-based storage devices. Said springs are then used to power the engines of barges, transporting huge quantities of patented GMO seeds. Mandatory Zeppelins from Another World and clippers are the main means of long-range transportation. And let's not forget about computers being powered by treadles. While industrial complexes and factories still exist, they are just huge glorified sweat-shops, operating only during daylight, to save on the energy required for factory lights.
    • Jai are tribalistic culture of Proud Warrior Race Guys using iconing hook knives... and napalm, because screw those Keli thinking building cities over water is going to prevent being burned down. There are various other modern appliances used by seemingly Bronze-Age culture of Jai, including radio. Considering the setting is Future Imperfect, they have just bits and pieces of technology and technological know-how of pre-Cleansing world, applying them as their "traditions".
  • Science Is Bad: Pasho examines a very specific take on the trope: the science by itself isn't bad, quite the contrary. It's the "quickly quickly, like ants" way of studying and applying new technologies, without a second of reflection of their effects, that leads to misery and war. Given how in-universe it lead to Cleansing, which destroyed human civilization and almost managed to wipe out human race itself, with residual damage still being around, the cautious nature of applying "new" technology is justified. Especially when one side sees no other applications than war.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: Burson from The Fluted Girl knew all the time about the secret hiding place of Lidia, but just toyed around with her... and then allowed her to keep it in his only display of humanity.
  • Shown Their Work: The most fundamental tenets of Pasho believe system are clearly following mnemotechniques for oral passage of information. In-universe they were created in times when writing instructions, not to mention books, was nigh impossible.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Despite most of the stories taking place in Crapsack Worlds that are one-step away from completely falling apart, the final message of each of them tends to be almost unbearably optimistic, as if Bacigalupi was pulling his punches or try to force a Happy Ending, giving really bizarre results. Some of them are more guilty of this than others:
    • In Pump Six conclusion Travis decides to try once more reading through the manuals he can't even grasp, all while being aware there is no hope for humanity left. Why? Because his indifference would make things only worse, so keep reading.
    • MegaCorps took over Earth long ago in The Calorie Man, Bowman is dead and his research data lost, but Lalji has a shipment of grain on his deck, so not all is lost yet. Never mind the artificial locust and plagues wiped out most of plants, Earth is experiencing complete biosphere collapse, humanity is starving and scavenging to just get by, oil run out and there is no real replacement, almost all governments cease to exist, transgenic animals are running amok, clone rebellion is immanent...
    • Small Offerings' world is so badly polluted, breathing through a double hazmat mask is still a health hazard, but hey, a new treatment allows to give birth to slightly less mutated babies, hurray.
  • The Sociopath:
    • Pretty much all lords and ladies in The Fluted Girl are bored, rich people that have complete control over their servants, including doing whatever they please with their bodies. For their own personal amusement, treating those people as nothing else than self-propelled tools at their disposal. Cold-Blooded Torture and terror are their standard way of installing order and boy, oh boy, they are one vindictive bunch.
    • To his complete surprise, Jonathan Lilly from Softer feels absolutely nothing after murdering his wife. No sadness, no grief, no joy, no relief. Just complete nothing, all while his thoughts roam from subject to subject. He then realises even any sort of guilt is absent.
  • Something Completely Different: Softer is a very short story of a man mudering his wife in a random fit and wondering what to do next. No hi-tech, no futuristic stuff, no post-apo vibes. Just average Joe in his average life, in full horror glory.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Burson in Fluted Girl has military-grade augmentations and training. He routinely appears and disappears in the thin air, further helped by his Chameleon Camouflage skin.
  • Stewed Alive: The ultimate fate of Stephen in The Fluted Girl. The sweetened meat served at the banquet is his. And it's strongly suggested he was kept conscious through the punishment.
  • Stupid Future People: Pump Six is The Marching Morons without eugenics involved. The handful of people with anything even resembling intellect are doing their very best to maintain the world populated by lethally stupid humanity, only to get more and more tired and less and less caring in the process.
  • Team Pet: Subverted with the dog from The People of Sand and Slag - after realising how much hassle it is to keep one around and not willing to pay for it, the characters decide to eat the dog instead. Then the main character comments how he can't see what's so special about eating organic food.
  • Terminally Dependent Society: Pump Six takes place somewhere in the 2130s. Humanity is cruising solely on the momentum build three-four generations ago, if not earlier. They are all depending on machines they can't build or maintain (to the point of getting glass for windows is impossible) and the people in charge are completely indifferent toward it. Unlike Idiocracy (which the story is shamelessly ripping off for its comedic bits), there is no advanced automation nor AI to still keep things running, so once the last few people that care about maintenance retire or die, the whole system is going to crash down the very next day.
  • They Don't Make Them Like They Used To: Played for some very, very dark laughs in Pump Six. The world doesn't have actual Ragnarök Proofing and the technology in it was predominately built in 2020s (which was 20 Minutes into the Future when the story was published), yet everyone treats it with semi-sacred admiration for how durable it is.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Jonathan Lilly finds out that nobody can tell he's a wife-killer and the world around him just continues as if nothing happened. And it will continue even once they find out.
  • Title Drop Anthology: This collection contains eleven stories, including "Pump Six".
  • Too Dumb to Live: The entire human race from Pump Six is one step away from being Idiocracy dumb. Highlights include putting forks into electric outlets to fix them or using child stickers as a way to gain immunity to pollution in water. The main character is your regular, not particulary smart blue-collar repairman diligently doing his job, but compared with just about everyone around him, he's the epitome of genius.
    Travis Alvarez: The entire Upper West Side doesn't have sewage processing since LAST NIGHT? Why didn't you call me? (...) So you had a toilet paper fight while Pump Six was down?
  • Ungrateful Bastard: In-universe of The Fluted Girl, the "commoners" within fiefs are considered this whenever they step up or even suggest that they are human beings. Rights? Objects don't have rights, how dare those things even question their lord, if they are being fed and not even hurt that bad lately?!
  • Unreliable Expositor: In Softer, everything is presented within Jonathan's stream of consciousness, so eventually he himself isn't even sure what happened and what he only thought about.
  • Vain Sorceress: Keeping in theme with all the feudal and fairy-tale references, lady Berali is a beauty-and-immortality obsessed woman that will stop at nothing to retain her position. And since said position depends on being a forever young actress, and Revitia treatment is expensive...
  • Vorpal Pillow: How Jonathan murders Pia in the opening of Softer. Reality Ensues, since she trashes for a really, really long time, desperately fighting for her life and even almost escapes at one point.
  • While Rome Burns: The main premise of "Pump Six" - the world is falling apart due to lack of maintenance, pollution and lethal levels of stupidity, but the few people that still are intelligent enough to notice are busy partying hard to forget how horrible everything around is.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: While present in all stories, it's especially prominent in The People of Sand and Slag, where humanity is no longer even a biological lifeform and due to Nigh-Invulnerability it is absolutely indifferent to completely killing life on Earth. The planet is a toxic wasteland, where non-augmented life-forms can only survive in highly controlled and artificially maintained environments. But nobody cares.
  • Working-Class Hero: A recurring trait of leads is being from working class background, but Travis Alvarez from Pump Six is the most shining example. He's the most intelligent and competent person in the entire city of New York... by the virtue of being a pipe repairman doing his duty and keeping the city sevage system running. And also thanks to being the only person from his generation that seems to care about anything else than his own physiological needs.
  • Writer on Board: If you somehow didn't notice, Bacigalupi is an environmental activist.
  • Written by the Winners: Extensively discussed in Pasho, along with importance of having writing as such to preserve knowledge of the past for future generations. Gawar's biggest desire is to wipe out all his enemies and make sure that in the future only Jai are remembered... while constantly giving Keli crap for "eroding" other tribes with their wicked influences.


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