Sunday, December 27, 2009
Travis Alvarez works at a sewage treatment facility in New York City over a hundred years in the future. He and his wife have been trying to have a child for a while without success. They are hoping for a normal baby. “We’ve just got to stay optimistic,” says Alvarez. Normal birthrates are down. More trogs (de-evolved humans) are born every year. At work Pump Six, a sewage treatment pump, isn’t working correctly and Alvarez is the only one who is able to puzzle through the arcane manual.
Details about life in New York gradually accumulate: the skyscrapers are shedding their skins in a constant concrete rain, no cars are on the road, and most water isn’t safe to drink. Everywhere the trogs, the children of men, are found copulating in the alleyways and parks, beckoning Alvarez to join the fun. The future is going to shit, quite literally if the pumps fail.
Alvarez is a can-do character, ready and willing to solve problems, a character typical of optimistic 1940s and ’50s science fiction, which Bacigalupi seeks to subvert. As the enormity of the situation becomes clear both to Alvarez and the reader the story closes. The mix of emotions that the story ends with: optimism, sadness, sympathy, or pity, will depend to a large part on the individual reader.
“Pump Six” by Paolo Bacigalupi originally appeared in the collection Pump Six and Other Stories (Night Shade Books, 2008)
Link: Year’s Best SF 14 summation and table of contents