The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi (Book Review)

water knife

The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi is the kind of thought provoking apocalyptic science fiction writing that harkens back to Harry Harrison’s Make Room!Make Room! and Richard Matheson’s I am Legend. The actual books and not the movies, thought Soylent Green wasn’t bad. Only The Water Knife is filled with enough dark and violent moments to make Mad Max Fury Road look like a Disney film. There is terror in this book and the kind of desperation that makes you breathe in short tempered breaths.

Fresh water has become a valuable commodity and not one that can be taken for granted any longer. In the Southwest; Nevada, Arizona and California battle over the rights to the what remains of the Colorado River. The battles are violent and soon the west looks like a wasteland, what remains of Phoenix, Arizona is a city on the brink of chaos. The rich lived protected in their towers and the poor sell themselves for what little they can get to feed themselves and their families. Mass graves are unearthed with tortured and mutilated remains and the countless missing become a myth as the rest of the nation turns a deaf ear to what is happening in the west.

Angel Velasquez is a “Water Knife”. An assassin and black ops soldier. Angel works for Catherine Case, the corporate boss of Las Vegas, and for her he kills and maims and does whatever is necessary to ensure that her power remains strong.

Maria Villarosa is a teenage refugee from what once was Texas and she lives in Phoenix, by her wits and her body as she watches the the strong take and abuse the weak. She dreams of leaving Phoenix behind and finding a way north.

Lucy Monroe is an award winning journalist who has seen the worst of humanity in her stay in Phoenix. She writes what she is allowed but knows that the world outside the desert has no interest in the atrocities that are committed as long as the water continues to flow. But soon, she will no longer be able to turn away from the death surrounding her.

Ancient water rights, of the original people of Arizona, are rumored to be found and Angel is sent to investigate. He knows that California will make a play for these documents and so he must secure them for Vegas first no matter the cost. Lucy, seeing him for what he is, knows she must work to stop him but soon finds that there is no easy answer for who the rights should go to. And Maria, who has come to hate everything about the world around her, on one fateful night, becomes the most important person in the fallen city. Only she doesn’t know it.

The Water Knife is one of the most thought provoking and powerful novels of the effects of the loss of our limited resources that I have read in sometime. This is not a tale of working your way across a devastated country. But of trying to survive in that same country when all the rights of its people are taken away in the name of power. When water becomes more valuable than human life itself, and the riches that come from controlling it, then private corporations become more powerful than a weak and blind government. The unearthed pits of dead described in this novel are reminiscent of the Killing fields of Cambodia and the torture and murder of its citizens are very much like that of the drug cartels of today.

The difference of course is that it is taking place within the United States. When the States themselves war on one another for resources that are dwindling around them. Living in the Southwest I know about the constant back and forth bickering by Arizona, California and Nevada over the Colorado River. Is it really so far fetched to believe that should the resources become scarce that the States themselves would fight over the right use them and control their use? That this would become big business and that in the pursuit of such there would certainly be many instances of violence and the violation of individual rights? The Old West is littered with these wars between farmers and ranchers and the settlements that came into being.

Bacigalupi has written an intense and powerful novel of humanity and the lack of it in the face of death and power. This is one of the best of the year and should not be missed!

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