When Paolo Bacigalupi walked up onto the dais at the Hilton Riverside in New Orleans, there was an endless sea of screaming. A very large portion of it came from all over…but there was some serious excitement coming from the corner he later pointed toward when thanking his fabulous people at Little Brown Publishing. There was a little fuss and photography as he received his award–a beautiful bronze upright placard–and then he moved on to speaking.
He began with the idea that standing in front of all five hundred of us was both beautiful and terrifying, as a writer’s place is behind a computer screen, hidden from faces. But he fell into things with a few fascinated looks at his new trophy and a few well-placed expletives (“I just won a f*cking Printz award!”), and moved on to thanking everyone who stood with him during production and publishing of Ship Breaker, no matter how crazy and different and unsettling things got, including his wife, his editors, and the Posse at Little Brown.
The biggest thank you was to his father, who introduced him to Science Fiction–or more, to reading. Science Fiction was not just his gateway drug to reading, but the drug. â€œFantasy and Science Fiction were my crack,â€ he says, â€œand I smoked a lot of it.â€ He was certain that without it he would have lived a much less engaged life, and that because of his winning the Printz, Science Fiction has won the Printz. He believes that because of Genre Fiction gaining more and more status in the world of â€œliterature,â€ more kids will believe that reading is not just about English Class and large ideas that some kids aren’t ready for, but also great stories. Books like Ship Breaker can help promote the concept that books are cool and can beat out the video games that are fighting for their attention (an obvious thing for us readers, not so much for those who didn’t grow up reading).
Right now is the time we need more readers and more thinkers. Science Fiction in particular is about what the world is like now and shows us where we might be headed. â€œIf this goes on, what will it look like?â€ He wrote Ship Breaker as a stepping stone to these greater questions. Science Fiction especially, beyond the other genres in the genre world, ask the questions of What if? What’s Next? and Where are we going? Paolo definitely believes these questions are worth asking and worth exploring, especially in the context of the world we actually live in. The implications of these questions are not going to be felt by us, but by the following generations. â€œSo the sooner our young people start asking these questions of us, the sooner they will realize we are not their friends,â€ and start working towards improving the future we have created for them.
â€œI’d rather be wrong than right about everything I fear about where we’re headed,â€ he says, after apologizing for being a downer for the evening. But as he watches the rich get richer (â€œwealth withers empathy,â€ he reminds us), and schools and libraries closing or being underfunded, he greatly fears a world like that of Nailer in Ship Breaker, where we find awesome kids we don’t give a damn about. â€œIt’s not like there’s anything inherently wrong with them, it’s that we don’t care,â€ he says of a group of kids in an underfunded high school where he recently spoke.
He expressed being greatly honored by this award, particularly because it was given by librarians, the people who keep spreading knowledge in a rising tide of ignorance, who answer the questions kids need answered most, and who get kids to read, and think, and dream, and also take deep pleasure in reading.
â€œIf I was going to extrapolate in the future,â€ he concludes, â€œI would say that whither our libraries go we all go.â€ I think we are all with him in hoping it’s not at the bottom of the sea with the rest of his drowned cities.
And if you haven’t read Ship Breaker yet, you need to get on that.
Jessica Pryde, currently reading Heartless by Gail Carriger while everything else is at a standstill.
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