I am looking for a short story, or a few short stories connected with each other.

I read them around 2012-2015, but they likely were published before. It was in a paper book, possibly a short-stories collection, but I don't remember the cover. I read them in French, but am pretty sure the original author is american.

The elements I recall regarding the general universe are:

  • Energy is (mostly?) stocked in springs.
  • "Calories" as a unit is often used.
  • These springs are wound by animals (elephants?).
  • These animals are fed using grains, and all the cultures in America (in the world?) belong to big companies.

Regarding the events:

  • It is set in the US.
  • There is an allusion to big fields of cereals owned by one or a few major comapanies. I think they own them through patents on the seeds.
  • At some point, two or three protagonists are travelling in a spring-propeled boat (a péniche?). One of them is transporting something unauthorized. (I think it is seeds, in relation with the fact that the cultures are privately owned.)
  • Before the departure of this boat, one character pity the animal(s?) that loads the sping.
  • At some point of their journey, they encounter law enforcement, but I think it went OK.
  • They end up in some kind of city, possibly devastated, and deal with some sort of computer.

In the same "world" (I think in China), is another protagonist, but I don't think he interacts with the American ones:

  • This person has money problems, and wanders around in a city.

Since in my memory the protagonists do not interact, I almost sure there are at least two short stories.

  • 1
    What was the format? Read online (which site?), paper book, in which case what did the cover look like? Was it in English, was it a translation?
    – Jenayah
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 20:10
  • @Jenayah, godd points thank you! I will edit the question.
    – Frédéric
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 20:11
  • See also these guidelines, in case they trigger any more memories to edit in :)
    – Jenayah
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 20:13

1 Answer 1


This sounds like "The Calorie Man" (2005) by Paolo Bacigalupi.

The story opens with the protagonist, Lalji, visiting a kinetic shop; there he collects his springs, recharged by the labours of designed, degenerate beasts known as mulies. Calories have been converted to joules, and now the springs are tightly wound, ready to power his riverboat's engines for another few miles of travel.

The reason for Lalji's journey is to make a strike back at the men in control. He goes upriver to find a man, a calorie man, who may be just another generipper--one of those responsible for the state of things; 'generippers make monoculture', Lalji notes bitterly--or who may be able to help.

If you read it in a collection of similar stories, it was probably Pump Six and Other Stories

Cover of Pump Six and Other Stories

(I read this when it came out and the story "The People of Sand and Slag" still bothers me.)

  • That is exactly it -- I will accept your answer! I guess I read it in the shorts-stories collection "Pump Six and Other Stories". Thanks a lot!
    – Frédéric
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 20:24
  • 1
    I was going to suggest "The Windup Girl" by the same author as it seems to be set in the same universe.
    – Pam
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 20:24
  • A river boat powered by clock-work!! Now I wonder why nobody on this Earth ever tried that out. Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 16:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.