Bleak. Overwhelmingly bleak. To the point where it sucks out all the happiness out of you, leaving you hollow and unsettled.Memorable. To the point where it feels as if it's crawling under your skin to stay with you for a very long time.If you have read The Windup Girl, the worlds that Bacigalupi creates in this collection of short stories - the themes, the mood, the settings - will be quite familiar to you. Two of the stories here, actually, are set in the same world as that novel, and one of them is a direct prequel to it.Almost all the stories in this collection are set in the future dystopian world which appears to be an incredibly bleak and grim place to experience. And they all appear connected by one common thread - the theme of DEFICIT, be that of food/calories, or water, or power, or children, or knowledge, or compassion and understanding. Ecological destruction and devastation - the direct result of the treatment of nature by our species that is supposedly at the top of evolutionary chain - in another motif running through most of the stories."Lisa was a good swimmer. She flashed through the ocean’s metallic sheen like an eel out of history and when she surfaced, her naked body glistened with hundreds of iridescent petroleum jewels. When the Sun started to set, Jaak lit the ocean on fire with his 101. We all sat and watched as the Sun’s great red ball sank through veils of smoke, its light shading deeper crimson with every minute. Waves rushed flaming onto the beach."I would hate to ever be trapped in the world of Paolo Bacigalupi's imagination. It is intense and grim and bleak and full of "you did not just go there!" moments. He does not hesitate to immerse the reader into the aspects of life that are dark and dirty and filthy and repulsive and disgusting and repelling and disturbing. Even seemingly hopeful endings on a closer inspection turn out to be just distractions, and actually the hopelessness remains there and is in no danger of going anywhere. Hopelessness and bleakness are why I was glad that the short stories format provided natural breaks - because this book was not the one to be consumed in one reading binge. No, I needed some time in between each story to recover a bit, to enjoy our world that appears exhilaratingly beautiful next to the worlds that Bacigalupi's merciless imagination creates.All of these stories serve as a warning - about what can happen if humanity continues on its present course of disregard for nature in the chase for profits, the worship of power, the attitude of survival of the fittest, the belief that everything exists to serve our whims. Unlike so many other dystopian worlds, this one feels intimately rooted in our present, seems like quite a probable future to our present, and that is what makes it so bleakly grim and depressingly sad.What I love about Bacigalupi's storytelling is his ability to easily integrate the elements of his dystopian world into the story without resorting to the sections of info-dumping. And another great thing is that he does not talk down to his readers, that he trusts their ability to understand the story without excessive hand-holding. And I love that.=============The stories in this collection that resonated the most with me were Pump Six - the story about the society in the not-so-remote future that suffers from ever-declining intelligence and finds itself lacking the people who can fix what is breaking down, The Pasho - the story of a clash between two cultures - a hardened militant one and a softer but more educated one - and the choice that a member of one of them has to make, and Pop Squad - the society that has discovered immortality but now has to kill the 'illegal' children to prevent overpopulation.The one story that I loathed, the one that seemed absolutely pointless and unnecessary and clashed with the overall tone of the book was Softer - detailing the feelings and emotions of a man who kills his wife. We see way too much domestic violence mostly targeting women. I don't need to see the world through the eyes of a murderer. I did not see the point of this story at all.=============It's hard to rate a collection of short stories that has the easy 5-star pieces, and a 1-star story, and a couple of mediocre ones. But in the end I settled on a solid 4-star rating and high recommendation.Now I'm just curious to see how Bacigalupi would fare if he tried writing outside of the dystopian universe that he appears to be so comfortable with. I have a feeling that he'd still do great.==============And special thanks go to Catie who sent me this book (and her review of it is here).