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Ship Breaker is a science-fiction novel by Paolo Bacigalupi. Set after the polar icecaps have melted, it tells a story of a world where oil is rarer than gold, scavenging is a way of life, and a few rich people (or "swanks") have all the power.

Nailer, our protagonist, is a light crew member, who makes his living scavenging ships and oil rigs, supporting his drug-addicted father, and dreaming of his "Lucky Strike". When he and his friend Pima find a shipwrecked clipper that no one else knows about, they think they've struck it rich. The situation is complicated though, by the presence of Nita, a swank girl who was the only survivor of the wreck. Nailer hopes to ransom the girl, but before he can put his plan in motion, his father, Richard, arrives with a crew of thugs who plan to take the ship--and Nita--for themselves. Nailer and Nita are forced to make a run for it, with Richard, and diverse others, in hot pursuit.


This Novel Provides Examples Of:

  • Abusive Dad: Nailer's father, Richard, who regularly beats him and threatens to kill him.
  • Action Girl: Pima
  • Action Mom: Sadna, Pima's mother, who stands up to Richard, and takes on the machete-armed Blue Eyes using only her hands.
  • After the End
  • The Alcoholic: Richard is this, among other things.
  • Archnemesis Dad: Richard Lopez is a drug-addicted ex-pit fighter, who uses and abuses his son at every turn, long before he takes over as the main antagonist. He displays no empathy for anyone, and while Nailer repeatedly states that he used to be a better person, we're never really shown any hints of it; in the end, Nailer is forced to kill him.
  • Axe Crazy: Richard and the even more insane Blue Eyes.
  • Badass: Sadna, Tool, Captain Candless, and yes, Richard Lopez, who lunatic or not, is a force of nature in a fight.
  • Black Best Friend: Pima is Nailer's.
  • Blue Eyes: Displayed by Nailer, Richard, and the appropriately named, Blue Eyes.
  • Broken Aesop: Nailer's act of compassion toward his father causes him, Nita and Pima a world of pain, and though it kicks off a story that ends well it has no directly positive outcomes. So, y'know, don't be compassionate, or the people you save today will want to kill you tomorrow. See No Good Deed Goes Unpunished below.
  • The Brute: Subverted by Tool, who is set up to be this first to Lucky Strike, and then to Richard, but turns out to be The Unfettered, abandoning them to help Nailer before going on his own way.
  • The Captain/The Good Captain: Captain Candless, who is both a Badass and a Reasonable Authority Figure.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Nailer, in sharp contrast to his father.
  • Combat Sadomasochist: Richard demonstrates some aspects of this, with his bloodlust and love of battlescars.
  • Cool Ship: The Dauntless.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Nita's Uncle Pyce.
  • Dark Action Girl: The homicidal Blue Eyes.
  • Dark Chick: Blue Eyes is this to Richard's crew, being the only female member, the only one to also be a part of the Life cult, and an utter loon, even when compared to Richard.
  • Determinator: Captain Candless, who takes a bullet in the shoulder, but still sails the Dauntless home after the battle. His Number Two insists that the only reason he's still alive is because he isn't smart enough to know he's dead.
  • Distressed Damsel: Nita for most of the series. She pulls her weight outside of the action sequences though.
  • Drugs Are Bad: There are a lot of addicts in-series, due to the miserable conditions that people live in. Richard is the worst of them, being almost constantly high.
  • Evil Uncle: Nita's Uncle Pyce, who wants to use her as a bargaining chip against her father.
  • Eye Scream: Narrowly averted. Blue Eyes is plotting to cut out one of Nailer's when Sadna intervenes. Richard frequently talks about his plans to cut out Nita's eyes and sell them to the Harvesters and the Life Cult.
  • The Fettered: Most halfmen, courtesy of their canine instincts.
  • Fragile Speedster: Both Nailer and Richard, who are repeatedly said to be small but very, very fast.
  • Functional Addict: Richard is this in the sense that he can still be an effective criminal and antagonist. That's about as functional as he gets though.
  • Ghost City: The flooded wreckage of New Orleans I and II.
  • Gladiator Games: Pit/ring fighting, in which Richard Lopes was a champion.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Most crew are scarred in one way or another. Sloth has Evil Scars through her crew tattoos, showing her for an oath-breaker, and Blue Eyes has a very Evil Scar down her side, where she cut out an organ and sacrificed it to the Life Cult.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The halfmen, who are created by injecting canine DNA into an egg prior to feritlisation.
  • The Heavy: Richard
  • Hidden Depths: Nita (more resourceful and stubborn than one would expect from a Rich Bitch Distressed Damsel) and Tool (far smarter and more independent than a Dumb Muscle Half-Human Hybrid has a right to be).
  • In-Series Nickname: Nita, whom Nailer and Pima dub "Lucky Girl".
  • Knife Fight: Nailer & Sadna vs. Blue Eyes, Nailer vs. Richard.
  • Knife Nut: Many, with Richard being the craziest.
  • Lean and Mean: Almost all the crew are skinny, but Richard adds an addict's decaying physique and a naturally whippy build to the mix.
  • Machete Mayhem: The most common weapon in series after the knife. Blue Eyes uses one against Nailer and Sadna, and Richard has one during his Knife Fight with Nailer.
  • Missing Mom: Nailer's mom, who died of an infection.
  • Neighbourhood Friendly Gangsters: Lucky Strike has this kind of vibe to him. It's averted hard by most of his henchmen though, especially Blue Eyes and Richard.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Tool has some aspects of this.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Nailer is moved by compassion and saves his abusive dad during the city-killer hurricane. This one merciful action causes most of the trouble he and Nita go through in the rest of the story. The moral: if people are bad to you you should let them die if the occasion presents itself, or you'll be sorry. Wait, what?
  • Number Two: Lieutenant Reynolds to Captain Candless.
  • Offing the Offspring: Richard repeatedly threatens Nailer with this, and actually tries it during the climax.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Captain Candless.
  • Rich Bitch: Nita initially comes off this way.
  • Scavenger World: Old pre-catastrophe tankers and big ships are taken apart bit by bit by the ship breakers with meticulous determination. The poor people make essentially everything with junk left over from shipbreaking and whatever bits and pieces are found around.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Nailer after he kills Richard.
  • Sunken City: the forgotten buildings that eventually sink the Pole Star.
  • The Sociopath: Richard: he's a drug-addicted liar who displays a clear Lack of Empathy and believes It's All About Me.
  • Tattooed Crook: Richard, who sports a very lengthy dragon tattoo across his upper arms.
  • Took a Level In Badass: Both Nita and Nailer over the course of the novel.
  • Undying Loyalty: Captain Candless and the crew of the Dauntless towards Nita. All halfmen are supposed to be this, frequently committing suicide after their master's deaths; Tool averts it by being The Unfettered.
  • The Unfettered: Tool.
  • Uptown Girl: There are some elements of this in Nailer and Nita's friendship. They share one kiss, have a fair amount of Ship Tease, and both Captain Candless and Pima accuse Nailer of being interested. Since she's the daughter of one of the richest people on the planet, and Nailer's a light crew ship breaker, this trope is in full effect.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Nailer has some aspects of this, as demonstrated by his joy when his father gives him his approval. His relationship with Richard is equal parts a desire for his love and a fear of his wrath.
  • World Half Full: Maybe.
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