When I read my first novel by Paolo Bacigalupi last year, I was blown away. “The Windup Girl” was a rip-roaring piece of environmental science fiction and Bacigalupi’s post-climate change world set in South-East Asia was eerily familiar and foreign all at once. When I found out that he had a new novel coming out called “The Water Knife” I waited for it to come out in bookstores. When it did come out it was a beautiful-looking book, but it had been released in the larger trade paperback format instead of the smaller size that my copy of “The Windup Girl” was in. I’m a bit finicky when it comes to books matching, and so I held off for a while waiting for it to be released in a smaller edition so they lined up nicely on my bookshelf. A few months went by, and I simply couldn’t wait any longer so I swallowed my book vanity and bought a copy. Ultimately, I think this was the better choice. The smaller edition does match in size, but the trade paperback is just so pretty with the blue-on-black design.
Enough about the cover, now to the content. “The Water Knife” is set in a dystopian USA along the hotly contested Colorado river. Drought is a very real issue and refugees are fleeing Texas in search of water. Angel is a Water Knife who works for Catherine Case, making sure that the only direction the water flows is to her empire in Las Vegas. Lucy is a journalist who reports on injustice in the floundering city of Phoenix. Maria is a young Texas refugee who ends up being in the wrong place in the wrong time. Something is going down in the drought-stricken city of Phoenix, and everyone has an interest in it.
This book is simply fantastic. Bacigalupi has the rare skill of being able to write science fiction that not only seems plausible, but is actually also extremely readable. At its heart, this is a book about bureaucracy and how power divides the wealthy and the poor. While I was reading this, I was actually doing a course on public policy and we were looking at the Murray-Darling Basin – Australia’s biggest water resource. I have never read a book that has made me so interested in bureaucracy. Bacigalupi’s dry, poverty-stricken landscape interspersed with modern technology is extremely rich in detail. The plot is very fast-paced and you’ll race through this novel. However, I think it’s the characters that steal the show. There’s no good and bad in Bacigalupi’s world: only complexity. Every helping hand and every betrayal is perfection.
“The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi is a brilliant book, and I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer to read it. If you’re looking for a novel that merges a thriller plot, science fiction and environmentalism, look no further.