If you’re not familiar with Bacigalupi’s first novel, The Windup Girl (which won just about every award under the sun), this is an excellent taste: a piece that might be the back-story to one of the characters, capturing the future Bangkok and the suffering within the novel.
Tranh used to be the head of a multinational company, but when the world economy collapsed there was a purge of the ethnic Chinese. He lost his company and his family. He has gradually pawned everything he has except a suitcase with a clean suit, which he is saving in the hopes of being hired for some menial secretarial job. When he finally hears of a job opening it is too late, there are already hundreds of refugees just as overqualified in line. On the way back he runs across Ma, who he’d once fired for stealing from the company. Ma has managed to stay wealthy, and even wears an inscribed Rolex that Tranh had been forced to pawn, as a memento mori. But just because Ma does not believe in fortune, just self-made luck, does not mean that Tranh may finally have some luck of his own.
This is a powerful, immersive story. Tranh’s despair is made all the more real in this vividly described setting, where it is so humid that even existence is torment, where the dense population is a constant reminder that Tranh is one of many thousands in a similar situation.
Yellow Card Man by Paolo Bacigalupi
Word count: 19,800
Universe: The Windup Girl (no prior knowledge necessary)
Awards: Nominated for Hugo Award 2007, nominated for Sturgeon Award 2007, first place in Asimov’s Readers Poll 2007
First published: Asimov’s Science Fiction, Dec 2006,
Where to find it: It, and The Calorie Man (also in The Windup Girl universe) are available in a free PDF from Night Shade Books here.
Pump Six and Other Stories, collection, 2010, Night Shade Books
The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Vol 1, ed. Jonathan Strahan, 2007, Night Shade Books
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fourth Annual Collection, ed. Gardner Dozois, 2007, St Martin’s Griffin