Tag Archives: paolo bacigalupi

The Water Knife

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.

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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.

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The Windup Girl

The winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, my partner came across this book last year while we were in one of my favourite shops in Melbourne – Minotaur. It had been sitting quietly on the bookshelf until I read Oryx and Crake and discovered the term “biopunk”. I came across it on list after list of recommended biopunk novels and remembered that we already had a copy. I added it to my current “to-read” list, but was so intrigued that I sneaked a read of the first page before regaining my self-control and putting it back in the stack. However I did read enough at that point to tell that the book opens with a scene of one of the main characters, Anderson, bargaining for rare fruit in a dystopian Thai market. I knew at once that this was going to be a book I would enjoy.

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“The Windup Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi is a biopunk novel set in a future where fossl fuels have been depleted and genetic diversity in plants has been all but decimated. Many species are now extinct, and humans are only barely not one of them. It is set in Bangkok, Thailand – a city struggling to keep the rising ocean at bay but still managing to maintain some semblance of order despite all odds. The book follows a number of different characters from a number of different ethnicities and social strata which gives the reader a multi-faceted experience into Bacigalupi’s world. It also gives a rich insight to civil unrest and ethnic tension in South-East Asia, as well as some very interesting perspectives on the morality of genetic modification.

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To be honest, there was never any chance that I was not going to enjoy this book. I love the genre, and as a graduate in a Bachelors, Masters and Graduate Diploma in Asia-Pacific studies, it is safe to say that I am passionate about the region as well. This is a fast-paced, action-packed book with diverse characters. In fact, one of the most interesting things about it is that none of the characters are particularly likeable, but all of the characters are extremely relateable. Bacigalupi is an enthralling writer and you can just tell from this book that he has been to Thailand, and he kept his eyes and his mind open the entire time. He has an original and quite amusing turn of phrase which makes it even better.

The book canvasses a whole range of issues from morality, the environment, politics, ethnicity, climate change and making money. Bacigalupi injects a real sense of holding back the tide, and as a reader the anxiety and at times the futility experienced by the characters is almost palpable. This book definitely contains some extremely adult themes and some fairly disturbing scenes, so be warned.

This book also inspired me to find some rambutan, a key fruit from the novel, in Canberra to photograph. After the first couple of fruitless (pun intended) days, I put out a public call for assistance and finally managed to find some right at the back of a shop at the Belconnen Markets. While I was looking, I found myself marveling at the sheer diversity of fruit and vegetables we have available here, many of which even I haven’t tried yet, and was filled with a sense of appreciation.

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Anyway, this book is just phenomenal and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in human nature, science fiction, food security, climate change, genetics, ethics, bureaucracy and governance or Thailand. Another fabulous contribution to the biopunk genre.

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