The Water Knife
Review by: Mark Palm
It seems like you can’t walk five feet in a bookstore without running into a dystopian novel. I have been reading about so many different ways that the world is going to end that a book better be special to grab my attention. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi does that, and more. Having lived through a drought for years in Texas, the world created by Mr. Bacigalupi seems all-too believable for me. It also gives this book a good deal of resonance and power because the subject is so relevant.
In the near future the Southwestern United States are so bereft of water that Texas has collapsed and states like Nevada, Arizona and California are fighting a barely-clandestine war for what little is left. Armed militias guard the borders, and fight endless small civil-wars. Dust-storms and wildfires rage out of control, and the entire region is waiting to collapse into anarchy. The only safe place is in the Arcologies, artificially contained biospheres were the rich and privileged are guaranteed water.
Catherine Case, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, called “The Queen of the Colorado River”, has almost unlimited power. She enforces her will with “The Water Knives”, mercenaries who spy, investigate and even kill at her command. When rumors of a crucial series of documents that could change everything surface in Phoenix, Angel Velasquez, one of her best, is sent in to do whatever is necessary to find the documents. There we encounter journalist Lucy Munroe, who has been covering Phoenix’s collapse, and also hears about the documents, and Maria Villarosa, a young refugee from Texas who struggles to survive in the streets, where murder and torture are everyday occurrences.
This is a troubling and violent book as well. Mr. Bacigalupi doesn't shy away from the ugliness to which people will stoop when their lives, or the lives of people they love, are at stake. There are also people in this book who take every advantage of the collapse of order to simply take advantage of those who are weaker. While the violence is casual and explicit, there is a strong current of hope running through The Water Knife. In the face of so much ugliness Mr. Bacigalupi shows us characters who behave with dignity, kindness, and bravery in the worst possible circumstances. As the lives of the main characters overlap, each character grows, showing more and more depth the longer we see them. Each character is important and their tales interact in surprising and unexpected ways. The supporting cast is also well-rounded and fully-realized. By the end of this blood-soaked story the only real thing of which we are sure, is that each one will never be the same.