Paolo Bacigalupi first stormed his way into the world of YA sci-fi with SHIP BREAKER, an award-winning and richly imagined tale of scavengers in a post-apocalyptic future. It was vivid, hyper-detailed in its world-building and characterization, and told with verve and a crackling, dangerous energy.

He has returned to this world with a companion novel — not a direct sequel — called THE DROWNED CITIES.

And it’s somehow even more immersive, propulsive and compulsive.


Bacigalupi has crafted a narrative that is more dangerous, more richly imagined, and wider in scope than that in SHIP BREAKER, even as he hones his focus. It’s a rare achievement.


THE DROWNED CITIES explodes out of the gate with an extraordinarily visceral and thrillingly sustained reintroduction to one of SHIP BREAKER’s most fascinating characters, the genetically engineered, ferocious, mythic and complex half-man called Tool. Although the story takes a few beats after that, crunching gears to suddenly slow down its pace as we meet the new characters Mahlia and Mouse, it picks up again steadily, and then just doesn’t stop building its intensity and pace. Seriously, it just gets bigger and badder and faster and more overwhelming until it reaches its crazy, symphonic crescendo of a conclusion.

It’s one of those stories that propels you through it, making you care about every character, every detail. Bacigalupi has a natural affinity for the rough-hewn poetry of his brutal, hybrid future-state America. The environment and atmosphere, the humanity, the tech, are all grounded in a gritty, visceral reality. It really does feel like a believable, if terrifying, future. The apex of this kind of YA literature must surely be Melvin Burgess’s BLOODTIDE, which fused Norse myths with the burnt-out tech of a dystopian future London to create a stunningly imaginative and rawly poetic YA tour-de-force.


It’s to Bacigalupi’s credit that he builds his powerfully imagined world pretty much from the ground up, and reaches those same innovative, poetic heights of violence and mayhem, sadness and hope.

THE DROWNED CITIES is powerful, hypnotic story that will consume you, and stay with you. We can only hope that Bacigalupi has plans for a third novel set in this world. The velocity and trajectory of this novel demand it. Come on, Paolo. You know you want to!

Getting Altered: Genetic Experimentation and Freaky Science in YA

Inspired by a recent tweet of Jessica Khoury’s, which posed the question why does there seem to be a rise in the number of ‘freaky science’ YA novels, we got to thinking… Firstly, that Freaky Science is a brilliant category title which should immediately be a section in all bookstores and added to Amazon’s list of categories. Secondly, that’s a really great question.

Here’s our take:

The possibilities of genetic experimentation have always been flowing through popular culture (The Fly, Jurassic Park), and they’ve particularly been in the air since 1999, when scientists first mapped the human genome. But recently, as observed in the great post that Khoury was referencing, it seems to be exploding in YA.

So why now?

Because YA hasn’t fully gone there yet. It’s still relatively unexplored, fertile territory. It’s a new planet, ready for our Curiosity rovers. And no one loves new planets like a YA writer.

Fiction is a beautifully insatiable hungry beast, always looking for the new. And YA is like fiction on steroids. And probably a couple of Red Bulls. That’s why YA is so damn great: it searches out the new and finds endless ways to use it, expand upon it, and mash it up with something else. It dives into the wonderful depths between genres and returns to the surface with tales of wonder. YA writers are, at their core, pioneers.

Genetic engineering and experimentation is basically a fantastic metaphor for YA. There are those in the industry who can get stuffy about genre/category boundaries. But as Donald Maass said last year, genre is dead. YA writers laugh in the face of boundaries. YA writing loves to combine the DNA of multiple genres to create beautiful, unique creatures. And let’s face it, if we “behaved” and didn’t break the genre rules, there would be no Buffy, no Firefly, no Doctor Who. Species survive by evolving, by changing their DNA. Literature is no different; and YA is the thrilling, defining example of that.

So bring on the genetic experimentation YA — it’s not just a metaphor for everything we do as writers, it’s also an extraordinarily rich source of creative potential. Just like life itself, there are endless possibilities.

We can’t wait to read all of them, starting with Khoury’s own Origin!