22 February 2011

Post 332: Pump Six and Other Stories

"The Fluted Girl" in Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi. ISBN: 9781441892201 (audiobook).

In this story, two young girls have been taken from their family and physically altered so they can become Stars. Stars are able to earn "market share" and may eventually earn enough to buy their own shares (i.e. their freedom) and set up their own Fiefdom. Fief rulers are able to run their Fief pretty much any way they want to, and most take complete advantage of that, with the little people being at the complete whim of the rulers.

The alterations that have been inflicted on the girls is extreme. They have been forced to take treatments that have stunted their growth, their bones are so brittle that they can barely walk without fear of breaking one, and holes have been inserted into their bodies to literally turn them into musical instruments. And despite their young years, they have been sexualized and forced to perform in a sexual manner for the entertainment of Fief holders in the hopes of someday being Stars themselves.

I was pretty grossed out but the whole story, but the more I thought about it, the more familiar it seemed. If you take away all the futuristic alterations and situation, it isn't really all that "new." We do that to child stars today. Look at the Miley Cyruses, the Britney Spearses, the Lindsey Lohans, the Mary Kate and Asheley Olsenseseses..es... and even the Drew Barrymores and Judy Garlands. Fame ruins people and the sick thing is that the more ruined and broken these children become the more entertained we are. Some of them turn their lives around, but they all struggle to come to terms with either the pressure of spending a majority of their life in the limelight and then losing it or trying to figure out how to stay there. By the very nature of the business they have to undergo surgeries and crash diets, and they do crazy and harmful things to themselves. Why do we think that's okay?

Why do we think it's moral to consume any kind of entertainment that ruins the mental and physical well being of children? Maybe we just don't want to think about it. We don't want these to be real people, because if they're real people we have to be accountable for what we've done to them. Maybe we didn't sign the contracts with the companies to make them the Stars, but we buy the CDs and watch the TV shows. We read the magazines and take on the harmful language and call one of the Olsen twins "fat" when neither of them is nowhere close. We love seeing those Stars shoot up so high and bright, but even more we love seeing them crash and burn, and when they're done they're done. Most haven't been set up to work in the real world even if a company would hire them for anything except PR and exploitation, so the only thing they can do is work and work and work their young years and hope to set up their own Fiefdom record label, clothing line, perfume, whatever. Or they get mismanaged and left with nothing and are forced to appear on reality TV shows as sad, broken people trying to hold themselves together the only way they know how.

I'm not sure how Hollywood got exempt from child labor laws, but I wonder why no one has raised these questions. Are we so in love with child stars that we can watch them lose fingers to the Hollywood machine? Or do we love children and put an end to the maiming and disfigurement of people who can't legally sign their own contracts? It's bad enough what adult starlets and stars go through to maintain their fame, I don't see how anyone can feel good about putting those pressures on someone underage.

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.


  1. I thought this was one of the better stories in this volume. While you're right about the gross-out factor, you're also right about the way the story calls our own world into question. Even the aspect of physical alteration. How many people have their bodies altered in their pursuit of fame?

  2. I've been so pleased with this collection so far. Bacigalupi is so good at writing very thought provoking and innovative short stories that are just alien enough without being completely unrecognizable. In a way it's like the new settings, etc. have created a sharper image of problems in our own place and time.

    Did you have other favorites from the collection, CB?


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