09 February 2011

Post 319: Pump Six and Other Stories

"Pocketful of Dharma" in Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi. ISBN: 9781441892201 (audiobook).

 Uh... Spoiler Alert. I just can't talk about the issues I want to without giving away the story, sorry. There's a link to this particular story at the bottom through Google Books preview, so feel free to read it first and then read my post. Fair warning, the story is about 24 pages.

In this short story, a beggar boy is given a task to deliver a data cube. Along the way he discovers that the data cube holds the personality and memories of the Dalai Lama (he has a Twitter account by the way). When the boy learns that the cube will likely be used as a bargaining chip with China he has to decide whether or not to keep the cube for himself or to destroy it and release the Dalai Lama's soul to be reincarnated.

I'm not going to tell you which option he chooses, but I can see where both would be appealing to someone who has so little. On the one hand, the boy might be able to find his own worth by Doing The Right Thing (at least as we perceive it) and having the knowledge that he has done so when others in his society behave in a less moral and/or charitable manner. Or he could achieve a similar goal through the materialistic means of actually keeping the Dalai Lama in his pocket. In all the world, no matter how much richer or better off everyone else is, this tiny beggar boy has something no one else has and cannot have and that makes him unique.

Since the beggar is living in a world where the downtrodden tend to remain that way (Bacigalupi tends to favor writing in this kind of a world), this is the only way that the beggar can actually prove his worth to anyone else. He might actually be more worthy if he released the Dalai Lama's soul, but then he would have no way of showing anyone and no way of reminding himself. And before you judge the boy, remember that we all have something that we cherish that we feel represents our worth and best qualities. It may be something small, like an engagement ring, or something big like a sports car. It might even just be a piece of paper that represents the time and money spent in gaining a certain knowledge.

So, what's your Dalai Lama? And if you were required to, could you let it go?

An excellent review from another Goodreads user can be found here.
LibsNote: Copy borrowed from my library.
Also, if you are curious about steampunk and/or this particular volume you can actually read the first story for free over at Google Books. I freakin' love previews.

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