Paolo Bacigalupi, New York Times best-selling author of The Windup Girl and National Book Award finalist, delivers a near-future thriller that casts new light on how we live today—and what may be in store for us tomorrow.
The American Southwest has been decimated by drought. Nevada and Arizona skirmish over dwindling shares of the Colorado River, while California watches, deciding if it should just take the whole river all for itself. Into the fray steps Las Vegas water knife Angel Velasquez. Detective, assassin, and spy, Angel “cuts” water for the Southern Nevada Water Authority and its boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her lush, luxurious arcology developments can bloom in the desert and that anyone who challenges her is left in the gutted-suburban dust.
When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in Phoenix, Angel is sent to investigate. With a wallet full of identities and a tricked-out Tesla, Angel arrows south, hunting for answers that seem to evaporate as the heat index soars and the landscape becomes more and more oppressive. There, Angel encounters Lucy Monroe, a hardened journalist, who knows far more about Phoenix’s water secrets than she admits, and Maria Villarosa, a young Texas migrant, who dreams of escaping north to those places where water still falls from the sky.
As bodies begin to pile up and bullets start flying, the three find themselves pawns in a game far bigger, more corrupt, and dirtier than any of them could have imagined. With Phoenix teetering on the verge of collapse and time running out for Angel, Lucy, and Maria, their only hope for survival rests in one another’s hands. But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only truth in the desert is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.
Paolo Bacigalupi is an award-winning author of novels for adults and young people.
His debut novel THE WINDUP GIRL was named by TIME Magazine as one of the ten best novels of 2009, and also won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Compton Crook, and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. Internationally, it has won the Seiun Award (Japan), The Ignotus Award (Spain), The Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis (Germany), and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire (France).
His debut young adult novel, SHIP BREAKER, was a Micheal L. Printz Award Winner, and a National Book Award Finalist, and its sequel, THE DROWNED CITIES, was a 2012 Kirkus Reviews Best of YA Book, A 2012 VOYA Perfect Ten Book, and 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist. The final book in the series, TOOL OF WAR, will release in October of 2017.
His latest novel for adults is The New York Times Bestseller THE WATER KNIFE, a near-future thriller about climate change and drought in the southwestern United States.
As with Brave New World, I think I'm inviting insults to my intelligence by saying this, but sometimes Mr Bacigalupi is just a little too heavy for me.
I really like and appreciate what the author tries to do, both the strength of his writing and his focus on the dystopian but not unrealistic futures that could occur due to climate change. I enjoyed The Windup Girl and I especially loved The Drowned Cities. The latter was such a powerful and horrifying book about the effects of war, particularly on kids.
There were things about The Water Knife that I can and will praise highly. Things that made me want to thrust it into the hands of anyone who bothers to listen to my recommendations.
And then there are passages like this:
"Numbers flickering over the various catchment basins of the Rocky Mountains - red, amber, green - monitoring how much snow cover remained and variation off the norm as it melted. Other numbers, displaying the depths of reservoirs and dams, from the Blue Mesa Dam on the Gunnison, to the Navajo Dam on the San Juan, to the Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green. Over it all, emergency purchase prices on streamflows and futures offers scrolled via NASDAQ, available open-market purchase options if she needed to recharge the depth in Lake Mead[...]"
that made me think...
You see, whatever kind of pretty label we try to dress Bacigalupi's books up in - like "dystopian", "post-apocalyptic" or "steampunk" - the truth is that he writes old-fashioned, hard, sciencey science-fiction. It seems wrong to criticize the guy just for being so much smarter than me, but his frequent descriptions of the climate, water scarcity, and its economic impact had me completely lost and made the book so slow at times. I had flashbacks to when I was in college and had to write an essay on the water wars between India and Pakistan.
The reason I probably don't fall in love with a lot of traditional sci-fi is because I like people-based stories. Even the most inventive of plot ideas can leave me feeling cold if I don't give a damn who it's happening to. Which is actually why I still really enjoyed a lot of this book. When we're not learning about the environment, we get to meet some damn interesting characters.
This is a world where water shortages have given rise to the water equivalent of drug lords and the spies/terrorists who work for them - water knifes. Angel Velasquez is one of the best and baddest water knifes and he's been sent to Phoenix to investigate the rumours of a new water source. But he's going to have to get past Lucy Monroe, a strong and badass character who I liked immediately.
In fact, the author has created some fascinating characters here. His action scenes are perfectly-constructed, his dialogue is realistic and a pleasure to read. He adds just the right amount of grit and creep factor to a few chapters that had me on the edge of my seat. It's just a shame that roughly half of this book was a struggle to get through. The fact that I kept pushing through the mind-numbing bits to get to the good stuff should tell you how much I thought it was worth it.
“If I could put my finger on the moment we genuinely f**ked ourselves, it was the moment we decided that data was something you could use words like believe or disbelieve around.”
Massive Dust storms from abandoned farmland add to the misery of those left alive.
Water is going to be more expensive than gasoline.
Water is going to be more precious than gold.
Water is going to be fought over.
“Some people had to bleed so other people could drink. Simple as that.”
The world in the future is going to tilt sideways and only a few are going to be able to hold on.
When I lived in Phoenix in the 1990s, the city was in constant litigation with Los Angeles. Both communities were/are dependent on the Colorado River. L.A. was ascerting that Phoenix kept more than their share of the water from the Colorado River. This was true. The boom of large cities like Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas moved a lot of people from places that had adequate sources of water to places where water is scarce. The weather in these communities, though too warm for some people during the summer, is a dry heat, and for most of the year the temperatures are moderate. It is easy to live there. I was meeting people all the time who gave up great paying jobs in Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. etc. to come live in The Valley even though they made considerably less money.
In 1986 (revised 1993), a reporter by the name of Marc Reisner wrote a book called Cadillac Desert that talked about a coming apocalypse in the West over water. “In the West, it is said, water flows uphill toward money. And it literally does, as it leaps three thousand feet across the Tehachapi Mountains in gigantic siphons to slake the thirst of Los Angeles, as it is shoved a thousand feet out of Colorado River canyons to water Phoenix and Palm Springs and the irrigated lands around them.” Water, worth billions then, is worth more now and will be worth an incalculable amount in the near future.
But then, ultimately, we can put a dollar amount on just about anything. The problem is that you and I may not have enough.
”The Doomsday preppers will be fine though right?
Angel snorted. ‘F**king preppers.’
‘You have issues with them?’
‘Just when we pump their wells dry.’ He laughed cynically. ‘Never could figure out why people would think they could survive all out on their lonesome like that. All of them sitting in their little bunkers, thinking they’re going to ride out the apocalypse alone.’
‘Maybe they watch too many old Westerns.’
‘Nobody survives on their own.’ Angel’s vehemence made Lucy suspect he wasn’t really talking about preppers.”
There is speculation in the book about the ability of Americans, even those that are not batshit crazy doomsday preppers, to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. ”...people are alone here in America. They’re all alone. And they don’t trust anyone except themselves, and they don’t rely on anyone except themselves. He said that is why India would survive all this apocalyptic shit, but America wouldn’t.” We have become so fearful of co-dependency issues that we have become tribal units of one or in a best case scenario a tribe of immediate family. We are certainly vulnerable to catastrophe. I agree with those thoughts, but I also think we have always proven ourselves adaptable. The question will be will we change fast enough to save ourselves.
NOAH an arcology system designed for New Orleans. In the book New Orleans collapses very early.
Angel Velasquez has survived the water collapse. He was plucked out of prison by Catherine Case, who has become the most powerful woman in the West. She controls the Nevada water from her stronghold in Las Vegas. She builds arcology habitats that are self-sufficient for water and also for all the other needs of the residents. These lucky arcology people are isolated, living in a bubble, immune to the suffering and dying going on mere yards away from their habitat. They are not for people like you and me. We are merely: ”Human spackle, filling the cracks of disaster.”The people living in these safe havens are very, very wealthy people. Angel is one of Case’s most trusted Water Knives. He and other loyal hand-picked members go out and enforce her water rights, and ensure the continued Disneyland existence of her arcology residents.
She makes towns die.
Phoenix is next on her list.
She dispatches Angel to Phoenix to see what is going on. Zona is up to their eyeballs in Texans and holy rollers. The city is coming apart at the seams. Coyotes are taking people’s money to take them North and then executing them in the desert. Desperation colors everything and everyone. Bangbang girls (Texas teenagers) are prostituting themselves with wealthy executives just for an opportunity to take a shower and wash their clothes in a hotel. Who actually controls the water is being disputed. The man who had the papers with the ancient water rights (written on actual paper) has been mutilated, tortured, killed. The papers are in the wind, and it is Angel’s job to get them back.
He meets Lucy Monroe, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, who made her first mark writing Collapse Porn. The world couldn’t get enough of all the scenes of degradation and death. They are an unlikely pair, but then Lucy has certainly become someone she didn’t expect to be. Phoenix has changed her. ”Phoenix made people crazy…. Sometimes it turned people into devils so bad they weren’t recognizable as human. And other times it turned them into goddamn saints.”
She was more saint than devil, but she couldn’t deny that she had a bit too much of both to have much of a chance of surviving in a place where it is becoming apparent that no one is in charge. The whole city is going tribal.
”It never rains in Phoenix, except when it’s raining bodies.”
Alliances are changing and re-forming. Gut wrenching betrayals are making it hard for anyone to trust anyone. California is working against Las Vegas. Las Vegas is working against Phoenix. States are controlling their borders, keeping the parched refugees from the Southern states from invading. Everyone has spies gathering information that can mean the difference between a community flourishing or a community declining. Cadillac Desert has become a water Bible as people try to understand exactly what has happened to them and what is continuing to happen to them.
It is logical to cut off water to the rural areas when water becomes scarce. The problem is that it creates a food shortage. Land that is not being used for crops drys out and begins to blow creating massive, dangerous dust storms.
This book is set in the near future. The plot of this novel could be the harbinger of a future prize winning work of nonfiction. The book gave me shivers because the possibilities of this becoming reality are all too probable. It is such a compulsive read that I read the last 220 pages in one sitting interrupted only by the need for a glass of water to parch the thirst the book inspired. Noir is hardboiled into the inflections of speech, into the scars, into the actions of the characters. Bodies pile up, massive dust storms blanket the city, and uncontrollable fires greedily eat up the dry tinder of abandoned buildings. Phoenix has become hell on Earth. Water has become something no one has enough of.
Bacigalupi is the master of ecological dystopian novels. He describes the world after climate meltdown in frighteningly believable detail. I loved his novel of a drowned Bangkok, The Windup Girl, and his two young adult novels set in the wastelands of the former U.S. – Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities. The Water Knife is set closer to our own time. The United States still exists, but it is frayed and crumbling. The Western states are competing for scarce water supplies, and the competition is getting ruthless: legal battles, sabotage, paramilitary raids, everything sort of outright war. Given what is happening to our water supplies in America and worldwide, the scenario is scary and gripping. This is not so much science fiction as “this could be us in about forty years if we don’t stop being idiots” fiction.
The story revolves around three characters – a disillusioned reporter who is covering the slow violent death of Phoenix, Arizona, a young girl who is a refugee from the collapsed state of Texas, and a ruthless “water knife” who works for the Las Vegas government to procure water rights at any cost. When someone in Phoenix finds legal documents that could completely change the balance of power, all the players will stop at nothing to get them, and our three protagonists must scramble to make a score before they are destroyed in the crossfire. The plot is great, the characters relatable, but what will really haunt you is how well the author builds this near-future world. It reads less like a fantasy and more like an augury of what will happen to us – and the prediction is not pretty.
One: I like Nenia Campbell and she suggested a friend-read.
Two: I like giving authors second chances.
If you love reading about rape, torture, murder, sexual slavery and forced prostitution, have I got an author for you! Paolo Bacigalupi loves those things as well and always makes sure to put as many of these aspects as he can in his novels.
I, however, am not a fan of reading about these things. If I want to read about women and men who are raped and murdered, women and men who are tortured (oftentimes to death), refugees being slaughtered man woman and child simply for trying to flee the hell they are living in, and evil evil pimps forcing women and teenaged girls into prostitution... I would simply read the newspaper every morning. And I do read the newspaper every morning, so I get quite enough of that. I don't need to read fictionalized versions of "humans are scum" in my free time.
And Paolo Bacigalupi is absolutely convinced that human beings are horrible scum and monsters who, when pressed, will revert to rape/torture/death/kill/betrayal.
What is this book actually about?
Ostensibly this book is about a future world, let's say 2100s, in which water has become a very rare and valuable resource which leads governments, corporations, and everyday people to murder each other for. Texans are "dirty", hated refugees fleeing from their waterless state and they are spit on, despised, often murdered, and seen as less than human simply for being desperate refugees. (Read: Syrians.) The United States of America is actually breaking up as each individual states goes to war for whatever water it has.
People living in Arizona pay coyotes tons of money to smuggle them into a wetter northern state, but are often simply murdered and left in the desert after being raped while the coyote makes off with their money. (read: Mexico/U.S. border).
The book focuses on
1.) Maria, a teenaged girl who is trying to hustle any way she can to earn money WITHOUT turning to prostitution, which every single male in power wants for her, to sell her on the street. And they are trying to do everything in their power to force her into a life of prostitution.
A very brutal story. No mercy is shown. Typical way Bacigalupi treats a female character.
2.) Lucy, a journalist who came to Arizona to make some cash on Arizona's imminent collapse but ends up loving Arizona and the people who live there. In fighting for them, she begins to be targeted by corporations and governments who want to shut her up and stop her from writing the ugly truth about what is happening in Arizona.
She also is not spared from the typical Bacigalupi treatment of women. Brace yourself.
3.) Angel Velasquez, a Mexican former-gang-member-turned-assassin who works for one of the leaders of the water industry.
Despite being a monster who has destroyed the lives of countless people and not lost a second's sleep over it, SUDDENLY, upon meeting Lucy, Bacigalupi tries desperately to convince us that Angel now has a conscience and feelings.
What follows is the most disgusting pseudo-romantic bullshit that I have EVER seen, in which Angel mildly attempts to not be a monster and to seduce Lucy. I wasn't buying it for one second, this switcho/chango that Bacigalupi basically pulls out of his ass with no notice. Worst thing is, Lucy actually leading to one of the most hated four-page sex scenes I've ever read.
Now. If I am reading about kissing and instead of melting I am going "Ew. Stop that right now. Gosh, I hope these people don't procreate," well, then you're doing it wrong. I am EXTREMELY EASY. I am a huge soft-touch for kissing and romance. It takes SERIOUS SKILL to write a romance that I am NOT on board with. So Bacigalupi's leveled of fucked-up must be sky-high. If you know me at all, you know that Bacigalupi must be severely fucked-up for me not to be happy here.
Let's break it down a little more.
Is Bacigalupi bad at writing kissing and sex scenes?
NO. When Bacigalupi actually decides to write about consensual sex and not rape (which is very rare), he does a fine job of describing kissing and sex, which is to say not something that makes me laugh. HOWEVER, I still hated the kiss scenes and sex scene 100% because Bacigalupi's world is very disgusting. And his characters are horrible, horrible people. He doesn't write about love, trust, respect, peace, kindness or even bother giving his characters basic human rights.
He loves and wallows in every character's suffering. Each character is either raped, tortured, shot, betrayed and/or murdered (or any combinations of these, Bacigalupi loves to mix-and-match) in the book. No one is allowed any happiness. So you can see why the prospect of kissing and sex is just making me retch. It can only lead to more misery and suffering.
We also need to talk about sexism and gender roles.
All women are raped or threatened with rape or forced into prostitution.
What about men?
Ah, here's where it gets interesting.
It's true one man is brutally raped and tortured to death in this novel. However, I would like to point out two things:
ONE: He was gay. This is a common ploy of authors. The rape of a gay man is seen as 'less important' or 'not as traumatizing' as the rape of a straight man because of some misguided and fucked-up notion that 'they're used to it' or some shit like "it's not being gay if I rape this guy, it's somehow mocking his gayness and giving him what was coming to him, after all they do this willingly, blah blah blah hatred". It's a disgusting ploy and one I have no tolerance for.
TWO: He is raped with a blunt instrument... someone suggests it was a police baton, because, you know. Gay sex is 'icky.' Our characters, even our evil ones, are not, you know, ACTUALLY going to participate in a male-on-male rape using their actually penises. Because that would be 'yucky.'
I don't even have to tell you how disturbing and completely revolting I view this kind of "plot device."
Anyway, as I was saying, "women are made to be used sexually and of course it's natural and right they be forced in to sex work... I mean, what else are bitches good for, right? But we're going to ignore male-on-male rape because, well, you know, that's JUST WRONG. Unless the man in question is gay, in which case, he completely had it coming and also probably secretly enjoyed it. Am I right or am I right?"
Straight men in the book are either horrible monsters who engage in rape and torture, or they are weak optimistic fools who end up being murdered or tortured while watching the women they love get raped and tortured.
What about the actual writing?
Bacigalupi tends to go off on these mega-depressing, melodramatic rants which I find frankly laughable (which is good, not much to get a laugh in this novel...)
Maybe she'd forgotten the color blue, and it existed only in her imagination now. Maybe she'd been down in Phoenix for so long that she now made up names for all sorts of things that no longer existed.
Blue. Gray. Clear. Cloudy. Life. Death. Safety.
She could call the sky blue, and maybe it was. She could call her life safe, and maybe she'd survive. But really, maybe none of those things existed anymore.
I mean, COME ON. o.O
He also really paints hyenas as mystical animals who are an embodiment of evil. This goes on and on. There are multiple passages like this one in the book:
Their yellow eyes seemed to hold ancient knowledge, as if their memories of want and drought and survival were so much more than Maria's. As they paced her, they seemed to say that she would soon be dead, but they would last forever.
I hate to break it to you, but hyenas are just animals. I'm getting rather annoyed that hyenas are always used as "the representation of mega evil" or something.
Here's a typical description of the "monster" type of men (one of the two forms of straight men that exist in Bacigalupi's world):
Maria suddenly understood her mistake. The Vet wasn't a person at all. He was something else. A demon, climbed up out of the earth. Some kind of creature that ate and ate and ate, and now the demon was staring into her. Licking his lips. The fence was nothing as far as a barrier. He could reach through and take her.
"Kind" (read: weak) straight men are described more like dogs: hopelessly delusional, ridiculously optimistic, easily broken, and always looking at the female characters "sadly."
There's also this kind of weird, lesbian, Christian-guilt subplot that might have become interesting if it had lasted longer than two seconds, which of course it didn't because Bacigalupi had to start the killing and raping again.
Tl;dr - I thought that perhaps the things like public, paid-entry gangrapes being used as a "stage show," and sexual slavery and torture that were in The Windup Girl were just a one-off. Like Paolo Bacigalupi had a bad day or something. BUT NO. Apparently, rape, torture, murder, and humans being the lowest forms of life on Earth are just really his jam.
No thank you. I'll pass. It'll take more than my adoration of Nenia Campbell to make me give Bacigalupi a THIRD try. This book is a bunch of brutal violence-porn. I honestly have no idea why Bacigalupi is so popular. I find his books very difficult to get through, much less enjoy.
P.S. I would like to thank Nenia for helping me get through my horrific journey of reading The Water Knife. It's much more tolerable when you have support. :)
I've spent a grand portion of my life living in the desert so I've always been aware of water issues, but honestly, this novel freaked me out with just how bad things have gotten in this near-future SF. I mean, this is really all about the fate of whole cities and the struggle for every single person to survive the collapse when there just isn't enough to drink. I kept reaching for my water every few seconds just to make sure that I was okay.
Truly. This is really good for what it is. Thriller, dystopia, commentary on human nature with things get really bad? Sure. It's all of that. But do you know what it is, really?
It's a western.
Not only that, it's a good western.
Future SF, absolutely, but it has all the makings of some of the best westerns I've ever watched on TV. Who's the white hat, who's the black hat, watching the sharp as roles and situations reverse, the realization that you might have been rooting for the wrong guys and, possibly, the wrong reveals.
I had a really good time reading this. It's not for the faint of heart or the dehydrated, although if you do want to add a little realism to your read, then by all means STOP DRINKING. Do you feel that headache coming on, the slightly euphoric sense of desperation? Amplify it.
The novel might also be a commentary on water rights and the crazy lengths that anyone will go to secure them when water becomes more precious than gold, but more than that, it's a classic western worthy of Sergio Leone. :)
It's almost impossible for me to review Bacigalupi. Check my other reviews, you'll see. The Windup Girl, Pump Six and Other Stories; the only one I did justice to was Ship Breaker, his YA book. In a nutshell, it's because once I am out of his world, I really don't want to go back in. I work rather hard at maintaining both knowledge and optimism--without thought of 'moral dessert' (someone finally just watched The Good Place)--and Bacigalupi sends me right into the pit of despair (and not the good kind, with an albino with a cold).
Here's why: Life, all around her. Struggling and surging and trying so very hard to survive in the face of all the horrors the world had to offer. On this ragged edge, she was alive...
She'd come to Phoenix to see a place dying, but she'd stayed for the living. Trying to divine something meaningful from this place's suffering. What does a place that falls apart look like? What did it mean?
Nothing. It doesn't mean anything. It just tells me how badly I want to live.
I persevered reading because out of his adult books, this one had the most hope (ha! A relative term). But there is environmental devastation, purposeful destruction, casual cruelty, deliberate cruelty, poverty, prostitution, torture, mutilation, and even the sex is masochism. And no one really gets just desserts, and no one is really magically saved. It's like... the worse possible version of the world. Which is, indeed, the world, but without the leavening of hope, positivism, or vision. There is a little compassion in here, which most genuinely--oh shit, I just realized--might be from a magical Negro. Damn it.
There's a line from somewhere--not here, certainly--about how the mirror someone holds up shows us the version that makes us want to cut our hearts out. That's what Bacigalupi does here, but the way he does it seems also to hold up the worst version of himself.
Technically, probably a four-star book in quality (fast plotting, world-building, word-smithing), much less in 'enjoyment.' I don't think I can rate this one at the moment. I'll probably keep my hard copy for awhile, but I'm definitely ditching The Windup Girl.
Many thanks to Jennifer for motivating me to get this off my TBR list.
Bacigalupi is On Point with this new thriller. This is the first book I've read this year that kept me compulsively turning the pages till way after my bedtime 'cause I absolutely needed to find out what was going to happen.
It's a near-future sci-fi dystopia - however, I have to say that every time I updated my partner as to 'what I was reading about,' he kept saying, "Umm, that's not science fiction, that's NOW."
Well, the situation in the book is a little worse than 'now' - but it's the direction we're headed. Due to extreme water shortages in the American West, political fighting over water rights has gone to drastic measures, including military-style actions. States' borders have been closed, to halt the flood of water refugees fleeing a drying landscape. The wealthy 1% live in closed arcologies where everything is recycled and a 'normal' lifestyle is maintained - but the vast majority of the population is scraping by, reduced to drinking filtered pee and paying by the liter for water at 'gas station'-style pumps.
Here we meet Lucy, a woman who's in a minority in Arizona because she's there by choice. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist; she's covering the human side of the situation in the West - but she's gradually 'gone native' - making friends and becoming invested in the community.
We also meet Angel - the title's 'water knife.' A mobster-style enforcer, he works for boss Catherine Case, the woman who ruthlessly controls the state's water supply.
And then, there's Maria - a refugee from Texas who needs to scheme just as hard as Catherine Case ever has just to survive. The difference is; she's working for pennies, not billions.
Lucy's always got her eye out for a story. Murder's not uncommon in this world, but now bodies are turning up in conjunction with rumors about some water rights being up for sale - rights which could overturn the existing order and power structure completely. While Lucy tries to find out what's really going on, others jockey for power and survival around her; desperation making strange bedfellows.
The book's plot is somewhat standard for the genre, but is excellently paced, creating great tension. My one quibble is that an essential turning point of the plot hangs on one of our characters making a deduction that is really an intuitive leap of faith rather than a logical conclusion... but it's good enough that I'll forgive that one thing. The characters are clearly each picked to illustrate a different segment of society, but are all fully humanized - even the terrifyingly awful ones are all too believable. Overall, the book achieves the perfect balance of dealing insightfully with important and timely social, economic and environmental issues, while still providing a highly entertaining, keep-you-up-till-the-last-page story.
Many, many thanks to Knopf and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book by one of the most important writers currently publishing in this genre. As always, my opinion is solely my own.
Best quote: "If I could put my finger on the moment we genuinely fucked ourselves, it was the moment we decided that data was something you could use words like 'believe' or 'disbelieve' around."
I got to the morgue scene (around page 120, in case there are several and this was only the first) and I'm stopping because I've fucking had enough. And here's why:
"Jamie's executioners had carved a story into his ruined flesh, and in the chill of the morgue...his torture stood out, intimate and nasty."
Really? Tell me more -- j/k, don't. Really, please don't.
"Christine pointed with a rubber-gloved hand. 'Electrical burns on the genitals. Adrenaline injected into the body. Sings of trauma at the anus. Rape with blunt object. Probably a club of some kind.'"
Jesus. OK, we're done though, right?
"She plunged on. 'He was probably killed several times, then revived. The adrenaline in his system points to revivification. The eyes were removed pre-mortem. Of the other body parts, only the hands and feet were removed pre-mortem. The legs and the rest happened after he was dead. It appears that there was some attempt to tourniquet the limbs and prolong life longer still.'"
I was willing to bear with this relentlessly dark story, but now I am not, because I have had enough of this shit. I'm guessing if you are a writer and you are not lazy, there are ways to raise the stakes, to make us afraid of your villains and convey that a situation is serious, without resulting to what is essentially torture porn. But especially in television and now, god help us, in books, these unspeakable acts and their attendant "oh, isn't this horrible, here, smell it" unveilings are reliable additions to the story, casually thrown in like you might add more salt to a sauce. If you were to believe our pop culture, humans do nothing but run around devising increasingly sinister ways to inflict pain on each other. When, in fact, what we do instead is run around looking for our next fix, for the next primetime drama or mystery/thriller that will give us a little thrill, a little peek at a person being hurt, nice and slow.
Don't believe me? No, you do believe me. You can't dodge the evidence. Crime shows, cop shows, legal shows, all hunting for an excuse to show you someone duct-taped to a chair, sweating with fear. Even Scandal, a show that should be about political intrigue and excellent clothes, feels compelled to bust out its rusty torture toolbox almost every episode. And in books, the mysteries! Just check Publisher's Weekly. I could make a Mad Libs for these plot summaries: The corpse was discovered on the ______ with signs of a struggle, her _____ cut off and ______ carved into her _____. And yes, that corpse is usually a woman.
Who was it proposed the theory that the Novel, perhaps by inspiring empathy in readers, has over the centuries curbed the incidence of wars and other violence? That's a nice theory. It's hard to believe it can hold in the face of this much glorification of creative suffering -- not just something horrible, but something horrible devised by another human in order to bring maximum pain. As we read these scenes, over and over again, I can't believe we become anything other than desensitized. All of our landscapes become hellscapes, with a psychopath lurking somewhere, toting a coil of rope and a selection of exacto knives. But we don't mind, we're used to it.
I realize my complaints about escalation are similar to complaints about the escalation of sex in books and visual media. There is generally more sex now, and it's more graphic. The comparison is worth discussing. But most sex is a joyful thing, and this...
"Lucy leaned close, staring at his mangled face. He'd bitten off his own tongue. The blood was still in his teeth."
'Some people had to bleed so other people could drink. Simple as that.'
The water knife is a pretty torrential but enjoyable take on the apocalypse, there's no virus, no nuclear fallout, it's much easier to imagine than that.
It’s all about Water.
The good old USA is suffering from a distinct lack of rain, so much so that the southern states, Texas and New Mexico are all but abandoned, the Texans are struggling to survive along with the other unfortunates of society.
Unless you've got the funds, water is bought by the cup full and there's a battle for control of the south-west between California and Las Vegas, right in the middle of it all is Phoenix, a pressure cooker that's about to blow.
Catherine Case is the queen of the Colorado, she runs Vegas and the surrounding water empire with a calculated ruthlessness and it’s all about power, money and the new elixir of life, water.
People dream of Godwater, that which falls from the sky of its own volition, not queuing at a water pump knowing that one day someone's going to turn off the supply, the inevitability of every day's existence.
There are three main POV characters in this story, all from different sides of the fence, one thinking of survival, one with ever increasing awareness of the problems and one caught up in his job, solving the problems but not it seems for the good of everyone.
Angel Velasquez is the queen of the Colorado's chief water knife and he'd done some precipitous cutting depending on where the Queen needed a knife. Angel took on roles as easily as a chameleon, changing colors to fit each new task, shedding identities as easily as a snake sheds skin and infiltrating other cities’ water departments with nefarious intention was one of his talents. His next job Phoenix and hell.
Lucy Monroe, the award winning journalist whose critics said she was just another collapse pornographer, and on her bad days she agreed: just another journo hunting for salacious imagery, like a vulture. A woman with a ticket out of Phoenix whenever she needed it but she'd never use it, she'd grown into the place, accepted the almost dystopian atmosphere and it was a place that just needed a gentle push to bring judgement a step closer.
And Marie, struggling to make ends meet, desperately trying to avoid the local gangsters and sell some water for a bit of profit but nothing's ever that easy.
These three will meet amidst violence, murder and torture, everyone’s fighting for the right to prosper and something from the past that could change the battle, to survive or just to get the hell out of Phoenix.
I really enjoyed The Water Knife and if you’re looking for something a little different in your apocalyptic dream then this is well worth checking out.
I received The Water Knife from the Little, Brown Book Group & Netgalley in exchange for an honest review and that’s what you’ve got.
This was my first book by Paolo Bacigalupi. I requested it -by choice - 'carefully'. I had a hunch it might be a challenge for me -- yet wanted to stretch my brain. Living in California with a clear memory of my first experience of a serious drought in the 70's -when I was living in Berkeley, Calif. (not flushing our toilets after each use wasn't pleasant for me as a young maiden in any shape of form). Plant stores closing was sad. Letting go of 'my' plants was sad. My little world -coming out of High School -just starting college -was 'already' a big adjustment. Now --our water supply was scarce....and I needed to 'man-up'!
So..The plot premise of "Water Knife" was appealing to me. (we are also facing another drought right now in California). However, I struggled with this book for about the first 30%. It was 'over-my-head'. I felt insecure to what I was reading. I also couldn't get pass the choppers and the bureaucrat dedication to intentionally take out hundreds of thousands of people. I kept saying to myself.. Who in their right mind, could sleep at night, with such a job? Whole cities were being destroyed....and I felt helpless 'reading' this book... Then I remembered THIS is a FICTION story....(I had too)... I was feeling a little sick. --
My personal feelings at the start was 'this is crazy'. I didn't understand any of the 'statistics', and felt frustrated. (but then I figured I could let that go).
At some point this novel did a complete change. "about 30% in"! WOW.....It became a page-turning chilling-thriller ride. By now, I was getting numb (somewhat) to the disturbing -vividly graphic descriptive horrific torture (I had to --in order to keep sane)....but I couldn't stop reading either.
I'll say this. I've never in my life read a more graphic book of violence -murder -and torture.
The characters --ALL of them --are developed well. The Water War was on. The characters each generated 'heat & power' .... personalities that felt real on and off the battlefield.
I had two favorite characters: Angel and Lucy. Given their rolls in the book, I wondered if the author had chosen their names with a purpose. I'm guessing he might have.
The name Angel (his job was to cut water supplies) -- means "Messenger of God" The holly messenger.
The name Lucy (the journalist) --means "Light" & "Clarity".
This book goes to the core of many ardent tensions in our troubled modernity.
DNF - 30%. Buddy read with carol., who managed to actually finish it.
I'm finding this book extraordinarily unpleasant. Not unrealistic. Not poorly written. Just viscerally, creatively offputting. I considered putting it down after a scene in which massive piles of bodies have been discovered, but the emphasis is on the photographer, intent on getting the photos that will get the most clicks. I put it down for good a few pages later, when the body of someone who has been tortured in strikingly thorough and creative ways, is described in stomach-churning detail. By page 115, I could find nothing attractive enough in this book to keep reading: not the characters, not the plot, not the world.
In short, The Water Knife takes one of the less rosy climate change models for the west that puts fresh water in extreme short supply, and uses it to explore the least savory tendencies of human behavior under stress. Bacigalupi is both imaginative and extremely cynical in that regard. The science is fine (nothing too surprising for anyone paying attention to climate research), but honestly, I'd rather read the latest IPCC report on climate change. Depressing as it is, at least in that report, the crappiness of humans as a species is implicit rather than laid out in excruciating detail. And as a biologist working in restoration, I don't even like humans as a species very much. Bacigalupi's opinion of them is evidently several notches below mine.
I commented in my reading notes about a side quibble I had with The Water Knife: the token, inaccurate Chinese phrases stuck in to make a point about Chinese economic dominance. This seems to be a fairly popular move in recent SF, but it's almost like white authors don't anticipate having readers who both read SF and speak Chinese better than they do. (What? Non-white people read science fiction? No!) FYI: 'bullshit' is much more likely to be expressed by 'fei hua' (nonsense) than 'fang pi' (to fart, which isn't even the right part of speech). You're welcome.
I'm taking a hard pass on Bacigalupi. Smart but deeply unpleasant stuff; even a shower won't make you feel clean afterward.
What an incredible American West story! Who would believe this ridiculous fantasy occurring in water-rich America? People wouldn't behave like these characters, you know, being desperate for water to drink and willing to do anything! The United States would never fall apart because of a water shortage! The states would never operate as if they don't have to listen to the Federal government because they can’t get water, especially from a river that 7 states use! Citizens would never forget we are all Americans! America is great! The Colorado River will always be there! Big rivers never go dry!
This is a novel of a fictionalized future about the dying city of Phoenix, Arizona in a water-starved Western United States. Ha! It couldn’t ever happen! Really! Who would believe that Nevada, Arizona, Texas, and California will struggle as adversaries in a water war, committing murder over water rights to the Colorado River? Or that civilized Americans would act like competing predatory animals to survive because of drought conditions? That here in America, hunger and thirst would drive mass numbers of ordinary people to desperate emigrations, despite being made illegal by neighboring state laws? Or that people would sell themselves and their families to business interests or criminal gangs for drinking water, and no one lucky enough to live in neighboring states with water would help? That the Federal Government would be helpless because the states would tie up the government's weakened hands in legal court battles fighting over senior water rights given in treaties and contracts signed in the 19th and 20th centuries? That each state involved would build fences manned by private contractors and police to keep American refugees out of their resource-strained states?
What drivel! This book's premise is beyond belief! People living and slowly dying in the wrecked, dry, dust-diseased, hungry city of Phoenix, Arizona, because Nevada and California conspires to cut off Arizona's water? Come on! This is simply too too big of a stretch of imagination! Pshaw! Droughts? Underground reservoirs running dry because of over-pumping? Business ventures using cutthroat underhanded, illegal methods to gain legal water rights? Water costing as much as gold?
And what complete waste of time it is to study American history - the past behavior, selfishness and pretended ignorance of our parents is not relevant to our current stewardship. History doesn't matter. Moronic trashtalk by a current bunch of sissy scientist worrywarts is nothing WE can do anything about today anyway! These dust-storms and hurricanes and droughts and other weather-related disasters are temporary conditions! And America does take care of its own! We are committed to a strong united America! Love it or Leave It! Manifest Destiny! I Have a Dream! And we are committed to being Americans, not just Nevadans (All for our Country - The Silver State), Texans (Friendship - The Lone Star State), or Californians (I Have Found It or Eureka - The Golden State), or Arizonians (God Enriches - The Grand Canyon State)! Don't Mess with Texas! Home of the Brave! Don't Tread on Me! Of the People, By the People, For the People! Read my Lips, No New Taxes!
The Feds will fix everything, besides. Even if historically only the rich and politically connected got the federal wink and nod occasionally....and the states would NEVER, and have never in the past, fought each other bloody over a silly resource thing like water, which everyone knows flows forever in our rivers and lakes, fed by endless Spring rainfall and god's blessings!
All we have to do is ignore it. It isn't our problem anyway. Our grandkids will have to worry about it, not us...
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva don’t agree on much, but both worry California could take Arizona’s water.
The conservative governor and the liberal congressman say Arizona must be vigilant to ensure its drought-parched neighbor doesn’t use federal action to grab some of Arizona’s Colorado River supply.
Of particular concern is a California drought bill that’s been quietly negotiated for months in the U.S. Senate.
“The secrecy generates concern and nervousness. Nobody I know in Arizona knows what’s in this bill at this point,” says Chuck Cullom, who manages Colorado River issues for the Central Arizona Project, the canal system that brings the river water to Phoenix, Tucson, tribes and farms.
The two states have fought over water many times, and any threat from giant California has always been a potent Arizona rallying cry. California, after all, has much more political clout: 53 members in the House of Representatives compared to Arizona’s nine. And California’s water situation is much worse than Arizona’s, which has done far more than its neighbor over the years to conserve water and prepare for shortages.
That’s why Democratic Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton added his voice to the concerns a few days ago, saying in Washington, D.C., that his city must be ready for a fight with California.
But outside Arizona, this view is disputed by many water experts. Four say Arizona has no reason to worry about a California water grab. It’s “ludicrous” to suggest California could undo the historic contract divvying up Colorado River water that was signed by seven governors and the president, says Patricia Mulroy, a researcher who used to run Las Vegas’ water utility. And so far, Arizona officials have offered no evidence California even plans to make a run at our water.
Still, when Tucson water conservation activist Val Little heard California’s governor proclaim emergency water cutbacks this year, her first thought was: Anything bad that happens to California is a threat to Arizona.
“Things are so unknown, on the tipping point and on the edge, that anything can happen,” said Little, director of the Water Conservation Alliance of Southern Arizona.
FORCED TO CUT BACK
History shows Arizona has reason to worry about California.
In 1922, Arizona balked at signing the Colorado River Compact splitting water among the seven river basin states because it felt California got too much.
In 1934 came the abortive effort by Arizona Gov. Benjamin Moeur to stop construction of Parker Dam on the river by calling out the Arizona National Guard. He felt — rightly, it turned out — that the dam would be a conduit, siphoning river water to Los Angeles.
Even after Arizona signed the compact in 1944, California kept arguing it had the legal right to more water than Arizona believed it did. California blocked approval of the Central Arizona Project at every turn for nearly 25 years.
Then came the landmark Arizona vs. California court case, which the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Arizona’s favor in 1963. It found Arizona had rights to 2.8 million acre feet of river water it had long claimed. California was awarded 4.4 million, although it was using much more.
In 1968, when Congress finally authorized the CAP, California’s political muscle forced Arizona’s delegation to give California first priority and the CAP last priority to river water during any shortage.
Even into the early 2000s, California was using far more than its 4.4 million acre feet. The Interior Department had to prod the state into finally cutting back.
“WE MUST BE VIGILANT”
Ducey first raised the latest specter of a California water grab during a water policy speech in Tempe on June 9.
“We must be vigilant as we deal with the federal government to address these issues,” he said. “We need to impress upon them what Arizona has already done with water … so their actions to aid California don’t reduce Arizona’s flexibility or ability to manage our own water.
“There should be no fallout from the water situation that might limit or affect Arizona by the Interior secretary. Arizona already takes the lion’s share of Colorado River shortages.”
If California did covet Arizona’s Colorado River water, experts say it would take a congressional act to get it, because the Interior Department couldn’t overturn the 1922 compact or the Supreme Court ruling.
While Congress hasn’t dealt much with water rights issues since 1968, Grijalva agrees it’s time to be vigilant — especially of the powerful Imperial Valley Irrigation District west of Yuma. But the Tucson congressman says he has no knowledge that a water grab is forthcoming.
“With the extreme drought in California, the fact remains that the Colorado River does become a target to relieve central California and the Imperial Valley farms, agribusiness,” Grijalva said. “I think we need to be very conscious of that and be prepared to fight that.”
Although a water grab wouldn’t float through Congress easily, “as the political and drought situation gets more intense there, you know California will look at more and more sources,” Grijalva added.
The California drought relief bill is being drawn up under the direction of Sen. Dianne Feinstein of that state. Her press secretary, Tom Mentzer, didn’t respond to questions from the Star about the bill.
Although no California water officials have exerted direct pressure on Arizona, “we’ve heard California water managers say Arizona can take deeper shortages over the years because we have so much groundwater,” said the CAP’s Cullom.
The fear is that California would pressure the Interior secretary to force Arizona to use more groundwater so California could take more river water, he said.
Californians also point out that Arizona has about 9 million acre-feet of Colorado River water stored underground for times of shortage. That’s enough to serve roughly 18 million households for a year. Officials here counter that Arizona shouldn’t be punished for saving water for the future.
At a D.C. panel discussion held last week by The Washington Post, Stanton said Phoenix must be ready to “fight to protect our water rights.”
“There’s an old saying … that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over,” Stanton said. “We hope not to get to that point, but we’d better get ready in case.”
With California’s drought hitting unprecedented levels, Arizona must be a part of any conversations about water in this region, Stanton said in a follow-up interview.
“We want to make sure, first and foremost, that we protect what our forefathers were able to get for us,” he said.
CALIFORNIA HOLDS CARDS
Outside experts say a California water grab is unlikely.
The 242-mile California Aqueduct that brings in river water to Southern California’s six-county Metropolitan Water District has no room for more water, said Bill Hasencamp, the district’s Colorado River resource manager. The aqueduct already carries the district’s own allocation, plus extra that it’s bought from Southern California farming districts as well as water it set aside in Lake Mead years ago to use in droughts, he said.
Controversy over such a bill would explode across the West, with other river basin states taking Arizona’s side, fearful of setting a precedent for future grabs, said Douglas Kenney, a University of Colorado water policy researcher.
Environmentalists would also gear up to fight California on any such move, said Joan Clayburgh of the group Western Resource Advocates and Jennifer Pitt of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Collaboration between the states and between the U.S. and Mexico has helped Colorado River management for 15 years, increasing the reliability of everyone’s water supply, while starting to solve some of the river’s worst environmental problems, said Pitt, the fund’s Colorado River program director. “Creating winners and losers threatens that progress.”
Most importantly, California already holds all the cards on water due to the 1968 CAP law, said Kenney and water researchers John Fleck in New Mexico and Brad Udall in Colorado.
While Arizona worries about a theoretical risk from California, it actually should be more concerned about ongoing efforts by Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming to build dams and other projects that would take more Colorado River water this state uses, said Kenney. Those states are targeting unused water they already have the legal rights to.
California has the most to lose if the Colorado River compact issue goes back to Congress, said Fleck, who is writing a book on river management that’s scheduled to be published next year by Island Press.
“If anyone has an incentive to break these deals, it’s you guys” in Arizona,” said Fleck, a writer for the University of New Mexico’s water resources program.
Mulroy, a Brookings Institution researcher, says for Arizona “to beat the war drums” against California will drive “even the moderate voices in that state into the bunkers,” which could backfire. She’s concerned that Arizona’s rhetoric could disrupt ongoing negotiations among the seven river-basin states to prevent Lake Mead from dropping to dangerously low levels.
Brad Udall’s father, the late U.S. Rep. Morris Udall, spent nearly 30 years getting the CAP canal built to cover the 336 miles from the river to Tucson, where it now provides our drinking water.
Now, Brad Udall says California essentially owns the rights to Arizona’s CAP water due to the 1968 agreement that his father and uncle, then-Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, signed off on.
As the agreement stands, Arizona will lose all its CAP water once river shortages happen before California loses any of its 4.4 million acre-feet.
So California might not want to fight over Arizona’s CAP rights because when the shortages start in a few years — due to drought and over-allocation — the rights won’t be worth much.
By going after Arizona’s CAP water, said Brad Udall, a Colorado State University research scientist, “California gets nothing at this point.”
SPOILER - the ending sucks. It is a hopeless parched and shrunken outlook about our future. Dry your tears, gentle reader. Really. Don't waste your water.
In this day and age where one can’t even walk into a bookstore’s sci-fi section without a few dozen dystopian titles getting thrown in your face, I have to say Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife really impacted me in a big way. It put me in mind of an eccentric high school teacher I once had, who was a little obsessed with doomsday scenarios. He used to be fond of saying that if the civilizations were to crumble or if the whole world were to go to war, it wouldn’t be over things like a pandemic or nuclear war. No, it would be for water – fresh, drinkable water without which none of us can survive.
Indeed, Bacigalupi paints a rather bleak, hellish picture of a place where water is scarce and more valuable than gold, a resource for which people are willing to kill and destroy. Drought has ravaged the American Southwest, changing the physical and political landscape. States like Nevada and Arizona clash viciously over shares of the Colorado River while bigwig California looks on, and states like Texas and New Mexico have long since given up the ghost. Las Vegas employs mercenaries like Angel Velasquez as “Water Knives”, hired to “cut” water for the Southern Nevada Water Authority and its boss, Catherine Case. This ensures continued survival for her lush arcology developments in the hot desert, where the rich luxuriate in cushy comfort while elsewhere cities like Phoenix dry up and stagnate for lack of water.
This book follows Angel as he travels to Phoenix to investigate rumors of a new water source for his boss. The story is told through two other perspectives, including a journalist named Lucy Monroe, as well as a young Texan refugee named Maria Villarosa. Desperate and destitute folk like Maria are struggling to make a living in the city while dreaming of one day having enough money to escape north. Lucy, on the other hand, could have left any time she pleased, but years of living in Phoenix has led her to adopt it as her home, and you get a sense that she’d do what she can to try to help the city. When it appears that California is finally making its move to monopolize the river, Angel, Lucy and Maria end up coming together in a precarious alliance to stop a conspiracy and secure a future for the people of Phoenix.
There are many unsettling themes in this book, and not least of all because the scarcity of potable water is a reality for many people in the world. Talk of droughts in California and in the American Southwest in the news today makes The Water Knife seem less like science fiction and more like a commentary on current issues. If seeing pictures of the immaculate green lawns and freshly filled-pools of the rich and famous during a drought make your blood boil, then this book will take that fury to a whole new level. It’s really hard to read about this divided America where characters like Maria were driven out of Texas after their water got shut off, only to be treated like interlopers when they have no choice but to migrate to Arizona. Girls like Maria’s friend Sarah turn to prostitution as a last resort, servicing those wealthy corporate types for whom a single shower may use up more water than a poor person in Phoenix might see in an entire week. Then to rub salt in the wound, the girls’ money gets taken away by the local gangsters, never allowing anyone a fair shot to work themselves out of this nightmarish situation. There’s a lot in this book that’s hard to take.
It’s also heavy on graphic violence, descriptions of torture both during and after the act, and generally features many scenes of groups of people doing terrible, unspeakable things to other groups of people. If you are squeamish about such things, you should probably go in prepared to read some pretty sick stuff. To the book’s credit, while there’s certainly no shortage of examples in here when it comes humanity’s lowest moments, there are nonetheless many instances of characters stepping up to show an extraordinary amount of bravery and compassion. Despite being categorized as a sci-fi thriller, The Water Knife is also a very human story, where characters are intimately touched by plot events as well as the lives of other people.
The book isn’t exactly a light read, even in the audiobook format I listened to, with its heavy themes and also some parts which are quite drawn out with descriptions. But for all their lengthiness, I think I have these sections to thank for making the world of The Water Knife one of the most detailed and fleshed out dystopians I’ve read. Southwestern America has reverted back to a kind of wildness, a melting pot of disparate rhythms and cultures where Red Cross aid workers, rich Chinese businessmen, underworld crooks, poverty-stricken refugees, sensationalist media journalists, religious evangelists, and dangerous mercenaries all commingled together in a dying city. This also makes the audiobook of The Water Knife worth experiencing, as narrator Almarie Guerra delivers a performance filled with a great variety of accents and voices, and it’s one of the best I’ve ever heard.
This is the first book by Paolo Bacigalupi I’ve ever read, but if this is the kind of originality and well-rounded quality I can expect from his writing, it certainly won’t be the last. I really enjoyed The Water Knife, and I look forward to checking out the author’s previous work as well as his future books.
Виждате ли тази тъжна снимка? Правена е през 2011 г. в Тексас по време на едногодишна суша. Тогава щата Тексас предприема спешни мерки за предотвратяване на последствията от засушаване и една от тези предложени мерки е събиране на данък от приблизително три долара, който ще се използва за фонд за устойчиво развитие на водните ресурси.
Говернаторът на Тексас по това време - Рик Пери - се обявява против този данък и по правен път осуетява гласуването му в местната камара. Призовава гражданите на Тексас да се молят за дъжд, вместо да положат активни усилия за устойчиво развитие на земята, в която живеят.
Рик Пери през същата година се бори за номинация за президент от Републиканската партия. Това обяснява напълно логично защо Рик Пери прибягва към този популизъм - неграмотното тексаско население, всички земеделци, всички онези, които предпочитат да се молят, пред това да полагат усилия за каузи, от които зависи бъдещето - се връзват на религиозната реторика на Пери.
Този случай от аналите на новата световна история е едно от събитията, които дефинират бъдещето в романа на Паоло Бачигалупи "Водосрез". Темата е изчерпването на водните ресурси. Обстановката е югозападните щати - който е бил в Калифорния в близките години може би е наясно, че в градове като Сан Франциско има режим на водата и голяма суша целогодишно. Темата е съчетана с трилър сюжет и три интересни гледни точки, които превръщат Водосрез в едно от най-добрите неща, които са ми попадали тази година.
Няма да преразказвам сюжета, но ще спомена няколко неща, които ми харесаха:
- Събитията в книгата се случват на принципа на "ехото" в литературата. Авторът умело залага капани - ситуации, дилеми, връзки между героите - които в определен и неочакван момент хлопват и завъртят вихрушка от последствия, които те карат да съпреживяваш всичко и наистина да погледнеш към темата на романа от гледната точка на бъдещето.
- Много фантастики представят свой версии на религиозна фанатичност в бъдещето. Много ми хареса начинът, по който Бачигалупи критикува Рик Пери и кръщата религиозните фанатици в света на Водосрез на него - Merry-Perrys, или както са преведени от бг преводачът - пери-веселяци.
- страхотен превод, страхотно издание без грешки. Четох ревюта, че на разни хора им била тежка и не разбрали обясненията за климата и т.н. Ами тия хора да вземата да се гръмнат, всичко си става ясно, а книгата не е толкова тежка, колкото я описват.
Не ми хареса:
- може би леко романтичната нишка в отношенията между някои от главните герои. Щях да съм доволен, ако беше по-леко изразена. - някои фразни клишета ме подразниха - "По очите я позна каква е.". Бачигалупи компенсира със страхотен стил, така че тези клишета не успяха да му вземат петата звезда от ревюто ми.
Определено ще прочета и Момиче на пружина от същия автор.
Paolo Bacigalupi, the WAY cool author of The Windup Girl delivers in his 2015 novel another near future post-apocalyptic tale of Malthusian scarcity and people’s tenacious ability to keep on keeping on.
Set in the American southwest, we find a world where water and water rights have taken the front seat to narcotics and any other vice and is now the coin of power. Rival states like Arizona, Texas, California and Nevada vie for senior riparian rights and the players of the game use hired thugs to get what they and their city-state need.
The United States still exists as a federal entity, but the states have developed near autonomy, especially in the underworld of water acquisition. Bacigalupi’s world building is mesmerizing as he describes a slow decent into something else – the world ending in a whimper not a bang. But like his 2009 book, the world is not ending tidily but is rather evolving (or devolving) into a more feral commonality. Like Philip K. Dick, he chooses to explore the journey towards a post-apocalyptic setting in a near future that is too close to home.
Some readers will be put off by his violence as this can get creepily sanguinary. In many ways this read as crime fiction and most of the characters are some degree of bad guy.
This is also somewhat disjointed, with some oddly annoying holes in the plot and some scenes that stretched the speculative fiction allowance thin. While Bacigalupi demonstrates his great talent and in some ways this is a better written novel than The Windup Girl, the story itself is not as stimulating.
Still very good SF fiction and I’ll read more from him.
This is a gruesome and bleak picture of civilization circling the drain, where our humanity has dried up as quickly as the water. I enjoyed The Windup Girl more, partly I think because of Bacigalupi's creativity in building the world there. The world of The Water Knife on the other hand feels like what scientists and environmentalists tell us our future with extreme global warming will look like. Extremely visceral, but with few truly speculative elements that grab hold of the imagination. It's brutal in the way that Cormac McCarthy can be, though Bacigalupi likes to throw out thin strands of sympathy and hope, yet those these tend to evaporate rapidly. That's part of the reason I think so many people find this a tough read, it just cuts too close to home. Collapse porn indeed.
Awesome premise. Action packed. Brutal. Good characters. And then the ending gets away from the author and it devolves a bit. Like really? Ohhhkay. The last fifty pages just felt so wildly implausible within this world. Unearned perhaps. Also the sex scene between the two main characters is kind of hilarious but it isn't supposed to be. Very fun read though.
The only reason I read this was because it's set partly in Las Vegas. And the subject matter terrifies me. Yes, it's true. I'm terrified of having to move away from my home one day because there isn't enough water to go around, and take up residence in a state that has income tax and summers with highs below 100 degrees.
Okay, but seriously, I am really scared of the water thing. I read a book about the early years of Las Vegas as we know it today, and even back then, water was a concern. The Mob indiscriminately used up tons of water from the city's aquifer with no plans to replace it. Only in recent years have we begun taking steps to conserve seriously. If someone has grass in their yard instead of desert landscaping or dirt, you know they're an asshole.
This book's version of the future in the Southwest was so much more frightening than I could imagine and I want no part of it. Nope. None.
So, the author was effective in creating this dry, ruthless, hellish landscape where people die a lot, mostly from getting shot or tortured because reasons. However, there was something about the writing that pissed me off. It was technically competent, but kind of awkward nonetheless. Every time the characters spoke to each other, their dialogue was full of Meaning and Lessons and The Way Things Used to Be and The Way Things Are Now. Also the author was like, "Hey! Look how many Life Metaphors I can cram in here!"
Not enjoyable, I tell you.
It took a while to get into the story. And by a while, I mean like the last 100 pages. And then it got boring again. And then it ended.
If you're interested in the subject matter, I think this is worth a read. Especially if you live in the Southwest. Stop watering your grass, jackass.
Ripped from the headlines of today, The Water Knife breaks the mold of typical dystopian fiction in a masterful telling of an extremely bleak near-future, fragmented America. The set-up is very long – over 30% of the book – but it was well worth the effort to get through it.
The reality portrayed in The Water Knife reveals the consequences of [so-called] climate change and the resulting water scarcity on the American Southwest. The author, with his limitless imagination, creates a sad, violence-ridden world abounding in colorful detail, in sharp contrast to the bleak desert landscape that dominates the story. And this is what makes this book so impressive: the world building. There is enough of the familiar to make it real. We’ve all read or heard the current news about the years-long drought that California and other states are suffering through, the dust storms plaguing Phoenix, and the legal battles gearing up over water rights between the states of the American southwest, the states in the southern plains, and various other entities such as American Indian tribes. (There is a near constant stream of television commercials about the water rights of the tribes here in Oklahoma; the rhetoric from both sides is simply amazing to hear.)
Prolonged drought, the draining of the aquifers, and violent political winds have combined to return most of the desert southwest back into its natural form, while the states of the Eastern seaboard, the Gulf Coast, and the Midwest are succumbing to the rising sea levels, monster hurricanes, and severe tornadic storms that dwarf anything previously known in American history. A weakened federal government has caved to demands that the states be permitted to forcibly close their borders, which now use National Guard and local militias to violently prevent entry into their state.
Mr. Bacigalupi has an exceptional talent of creating characters that are complex and believable. The “water knife” — a hit man who cuts off water to farms, towns, and cities — is a tough, clever Mexican immigrant who works for Catherine Case, the powerful ruler of the Southern Nevada Water District. Using a small army of thugs, she has channeled most of the water of the Colorado River into Las Vegas, when she has built massive vertical towns that are virtually self-contained. In these privileged communities, thousands of wealthy people live in luxury unknown to the rest of the population.
Angel’s boss sends him to Phoenix to further solidify her hold on the waters of the Colorado River. In the course of his dirty work, his path intersects with a teenage refugee from Texas, and an investigative reporter who is pursuing the story of Arizona’s water politics at great risk to her life. The intertwined stories of these three characters form the core of this extremely well-written novel.
The depth of the characters is what one would expect in such an example--actually a pretty superior example--of “after-the-collapse-apocalypse-fiction” -- a sub-genre becoming increasingly formulaic. The Water Knife describes people increasingly on edge, people in trouble, and twisted people who take advantage of the chaos to create their own tyrannical kingdoms. The violence is explicit, and may be disturbing to some readers. There’s explicit sex, too. This is a book for adults, period. This book is about what is in today’s headlines, leaving the reader to wonder and worry about its predictive value like readers have done with 1984, Brave New World, and Atlas Shrugged, among others.
Paolo Bacigalupi is among the most gifted of current science fiction writers. His best-known work, The Windup Girl, is a masterpiece of the imagination, painting a picture of a grim, far-future reality of GMOs that illuminates the world in which we now live. The Water Knife is as equally compelling, another look at the potential future of our world, and is highly recommended.
The beginning of this book was a bit slow moving. Up until around the 20% mark I was actually considering giving up. However, when it got going, it really got going! It became a really fun book to read! Gun fights, gangs, torture! Once it got going I didn't want it to stop, just wanted to keep going onto the next chapter to see what happens next. I would definitely recommend this to people to read, just get through the slow beginning and then you're on for a fun ride!
I received this book in exchange for an honest review from negalley
" Живей, както искаш да умреш, и умри, както си живял. Вадиш си хляба, като режеш водата на хората, и в един момент везните ще ти изравнят дълга."
Впечатляваща антиутопия. Първото нещо, което ме привлече беше страхотната корица- истински разкош. Съдържанието обаче изобщо не отстъпва на прекрасната визия на " Водосрез". След прочита на " Момиче на пружина", останах очарована от стила на Бачигалупи. Нямах очаквания към " Водосрез", просто се надявах авторът да е запазил способността си да описва толкова натуралистично. Е, надеждите ми не просто се сбъднаха, дори повече- " Водосрез" ми хареса с една идея отгоре и като сюжет, и като разгръщане на самата история. Бачигалупи изгражда доста автентичен пустинен свят, в който водата е кът, а животът се крепи на безмилостна борба за всяка капка. Авторът много умело насочва вниманието на обществото към процес, който вече е започнал, развива се постепенно и може да се превърне в коварно бъдеще, ако не се вземат мерки, а именно засушаването. За да се избегне тази участ, която грози човечеството не е нужно да се осланяме само на молитви, върху които се базира концепцията на политикът Рик Пери, с който Бачигалупи се заиграва доста саркастично във "Водосрез", но и да се предприемат съответните действия. Отдавна се знае някъде върви света, от нас зависи върху какво бъдеще ще си постелем.
Историята се развива в няколко сюжетни линии. Преводът е много добър, въпреки че ми се набиваха на очи някои англицизми, които нямат точен аналог на български и е трудно да бъдат преведени с една дума. Все пак, би било добре да се изнесат в бележките като пояснения, защото има немалко хора, които не са англо-говорящи и биха изпитали затруднение в точната интерпретация, при все, че са глобални като значение. Скролнаха- превъртяха, преминаха. Логна- влезе, регистрира се Фийда- лента със съобщения, обновления, новини Клик- натискане, цъкане Хаштаг- маркер, маркиране Джойнтвенчър- съвместно предприятие, свързване/ обединяване на две или повече компании в едно Имаше и доста креативни български думички като гаднееха, шибантии, журнота( аналог на журналисти), ченгеджийски, мършояди, вестничоци( аналог на вестници), нарковци, фаца/офацани :)
"Водосрез" определено си заслужава и я препоръчвам с две ръце.
A great story about potentially what our world could be like after our water starts to run out. Of course the one percenters aren't affected but the rests of us are pushed to the limits. Politics and money prevail as humanity is pushed to the brink.
A rousing adventure with lots of action. WARNING - graphic violence throughout
An imagined near-future where the American Southwest is a virtual dust bowl, water is completely privatized, and gangs, militias and refugees roam, hustling anything to stay alive and hydrated.
My first Bacigalupi - I've seen and been intrigued by his books for years, and I am glad I read this one first - but it is not for the faint of heart! Neo-noir dystopian, shades of Chinatown, Dune, Mad Max, even Clockwork Orange, with the underworld of Sicario and Breaking Bad (how's that for some comparisons?) All these film / TV references - underlines what I thought several times while reading "This would be such an amazing film!". Now you've got the feel - and if none of that interests you in the slightest, it's probably best to steer clear.
Colorado River aerial view
The book is dark, gritty as the sandstorms that engulf Phoenix, and shows the survivalist mentality of the characters. The book's three main characters are solidly developed: Angel, a Mexican "Water Knife"/ghost employed by a privatized company to ensure water access to the 1%-ers of Las Vegas, by any means necessary; Lucy Monroe, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist working in Phoenix documenting the death of the city; and Maria Villarosa, a young orphaned Texas refugee who hustles schemes to make money. Their stories converge in dramatic fashion with explosions of gun fire.
The world is richly imagined, and although it is not a *pleasant* place to be, it is intriguing: "Zoners" (Arizona residents), "Texas bang bangs" (Texas refugees who turn to prostitution for the chance to take a shower and drink from the tap), "Calis" (Californians who were ahead of the curve and claimed the Colorado River rights first thing), Mexican cartels, associated religious cults of "Merry Perrys", and the devotion to Santa Muerte, the angel of death.
I'm hoping that Bacigalupi returns to this world again - I feel that there's a lot more story to tell here. I know I'd snatch that up in a second.
This story honestly really surprised me. I hadn't heard much buzz about this book, but I had heard the author's name and it has been sat on my shelf for a fair while actually. I finally was prompted to pick it up becuase I joined a book club and this was their choice for this month's book. I'm really glad that I did go for it, because I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed it.
This follows a near-future world where water has become quite a rarity. Big corporations created by private investors have taken over control of the water and aqueducts, and this means that many gangs have formed to back these various leaders. The world is far from what it once was. Paying through the roof just to get water to survive, and living rough becuase the rest of the world also hasn't been going so strong, well, it's tough.
We follow three major characters: - Angel - A water Knife who's essentially a PI and assassin for a charming (not really) lady called Catherine Case. She's a big investor in water and the leader of an extremely dangerous and fraught gang who are controlling much of the resources near to Phoenix, Vegas and California. - Maria - A woman who's living life rough. She's trying to scrape by on selling water to people at the local market, but she's got barely any family/friends left and those she does have are mixed up in criminal activity and sex work. - Lucy - A reporter who is working in Phoenix covering the crazy loss of life and immense poverty. She's kind of trapped there thanks to border control enforcement, and she's trying her best to stay afloat and report real news, but it's a hard gig to work.
When these three characters all get caught up in a conspiracy over water rights they have to figure out what's going on and who has the rights as fast as possible before they all end up dead. In fact, the pacing of this book felt entirely dramatic throughout and I found myself getting drawn ever deeper into the storyline.
Overall, I was pleasantly (if brutally) surprised by the harsh but thoughtful look at this dystopian future. It's definitely not a world I would wish to live in, but it's a world that is scarily possible and quite devastating to contemplate. The action and intensity of the story kept a driving force throughout, and I found I did connect with and enjoy the characters and their lives even though I've never experienced any of the many horrors they encounter.
A solid 4* read :) I will certainly try out Bacigalupi's other works.
For people who like their thrillers with a heavy dose of depth.
Seriously, The Water Knife is a thriller for “the thinking person.” If you’ve read many of my reviews, you might have noticed that I rail against thrillers on a semi-regular basis. I like to say I’m a semi-reformed literature snob—that is, I don’t like partitioning books into genres, but sometimes they are convenient labels for discussion and critique. Now, I’ve read some good thrillers in my time. But The Water Knife is definitely one of the best I’ve read.
It’s the near future, and water shortages have devastated the American Southwest. Think Mad Max: Fury Road without the Max. Or the fury. But plenty of mad roads. Like, mad people … on dusty … never mind; I haven’t even seen that movie, so I’m not sure I’m really getting the comparison right. Next paragraph!
Paolo Bacigalupi’s other near-future eco-thriller The Windup Girl is notable for how he deals with the dominance of corporations that produce GMOs, and the way we are failing to manage the planet’s biosphere. For The Water Knife, Bacigalupi narrows the scope a little bit. This is less a global problem (although global warming is obviously behind it) and more a regional one. Mismanagement of the aquifers west of the Mississipi mean that entire states and millions of people are living in desert, third-world conditions. We get the sense that the eastern United States is, much like our glimpse of Vancouver, B.C., not as badly affected. This is a localized issue that has nevertheless torn the United States apart.
I want to emphasize that last part, and at the same time I want to highlight that this is not a post-apocalyptic book. No huge disaster wiped out those good ol’ United States. This is the prelude to the apocalypse, the long, slow rearranging of the deck chairs while everyone blames everyone else, tries to steal everyone else’s water, and generally continues to ignore the problem. Florida would be doing the same thing, except I imagine Florida is largely underwater in this book, as it will be in reality in decades.
It’s tempting for those of us who have led sheltered lives to believe that no matter how bad it gets elsewhere in the world, we are somehow safe. That these walls and the social niceties cushioning us can’t come crashing down. I’m not saying they necessarily will. But part of the reason The Water Knife works so well is because it feels true. It’s not what will happen, but it’s what could happen. Because it’s very similar to how our world is now: the rich use their money to insulate themselves from upheaval while the middle class become poor and the poor get dead.
In the midst of this, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like any of the main characters. Angel is technically a “bad guy” in the sense that he is a mercenary (albeit one who is “going soft” in his own words). Lucy seemed like a generic journalist at first. And while Maria’s story is heart-wrenching, I was so saddened by the string of bad fortune she experiences that I almost couldn’t keep reading. I thought to myself, “Bacigalupi is not going to let her off the hook here; this is not going to end well for her.”
This is a bleak book. My friend Rob over at Random Comments examines this from several angles. In particular, I agree that the ending—which is actually a “happy ending” from the perspective of at least some of our characters—betrays a deeper cynicism than it might otherwise appear to have. In particular, Bacigalupi seems to be saying that realism and self-interest is the only route towards survival in this wasteland. In that desert show-off, Angel is poised to be an angel—but he can only act as such after one of the characters gives him the opportunity by shooting another.
Bacigalupi also channels William Gibson in the way he weaves this possible near-future. He’s got the lingo down: “water knife” and “cutting” to talk about rerouting or otherwise obtaining water from another reservoir; “wet” and “Zoner” as pejorative terms. These are great from a narrative standpoint, because they make the world feel more authentic. But, like Gibson, Bacigalupi has the ability to make this world fit like a strange glove you never knew you owned. Catherine Case (who, in another life, might have become a Marvel superhero) is much like businesspeople who exist today. Gibson’s work is so powerful because he draws upon threads that already exist, plucks them from the quotidian, and rotates and remixes them until they become noticeable, troubling, and bizarre in how real they nevertheless feel.
Because even though cyberspace cowboys or water knives might never actually exist, the people who inhabit these roles already do. As we change our planet and our societies shift, crumble, and reform in response, we don’t see the emergence of new types of people, just new structures for them to inhabit. With Angel, Lucy, and Maria, Bacigalupi demonstrates how these structures oppress even those who appear to have some kind of power. At one point, Angel tells Lucy he believes people are basically the same, and that circumstances dictate who they become: grow up with a silver spoon and you’re a doctor; grow up in the hood, and you join a gang. Bacigalupi parallels this with Damien in Maria’s story, and how he seems to have more of a conscience than those higher up in the gang’s ranks—but that’s not enough to give him courage.
This self-reinforcing style of writing is powerful, and it’s why The Water Knife is a damn good thriller. You want action and shoot-em-up? It’s in here too. There’s politicking and conniving. Terrible situations where men and women are forced to compromise their ethics for the sake of survival. People driven the breaking point—and beyond. And man, it is depressing. But it’s also so very good.
Water scarcity has pushed USA to the brink of civil war. The states still having access to water like California and Nevada have maintained relative prosperity while states like Arizona and Texas have fallen down the wayside. A macguffin in Phoenix that will change the power equation completely sets the plot in motion. The writing is average, neither distracting nor memorable. Bacigalupi has a tendency to lay it on a bit thick when he goes all Nihilistic but otherwise it's okay. The world building is the best part of the book.
The Water Knife creates this cautionary tale of a dystopia that is simultaneously nightmarish and real. Bacigalupi's world feels so lived in and authentic because he assumes the worst about humanity. He sees us as venal, selfish and rotten. The bleakness and brutality, specially sexual violence against women is omnipresent. If those are red flags for any reader, my advice will be to stay away. There are books that are worth reading in spite of excessive depravity but The Water Knife is not one of them. It does not really have the character depth or dark humor or great writing that will help a squeamish reader look past its claustrophobic torture scenes.
I personally liked Bacigalupi's approach. I live in a country that has given me a true appreciation of what levels of bigotry and desperation can be conjured up by decades of poverty, illiteracy and hopelessness. Incidentally I will do something I seldom do in my reviews, go on a tangent. A news report here in India mentioned a few months ago how a couple of members of a family were raped because they were suspected of selling beef. It didn't get anything more than a few paras as it happened in the hinterlands which is practically a different country to the urban populace. So while some readers might feel the author is essentially writing misery porn, his worldview is not as farfetched as it might seem. However his sex scenes feel like erotica or at the very least written with the express purpose of titillation. Bacigalupi's main aim might have been to be as shocking as possible but he chanced upon a plausible future that rings pretty true to me.
Anyway away from the doom and gloom, my problems lie with plotting and characters. Nevada's most experienced water knife (goon/ bagman who will do anything to retain a state's water rights) Angel Velasquez is supposed to be as tough and amoral as they come. But he develops a conscience at the most opportune moments of the plot and falls in love at the drop of a hat. Lucy Monroe, award winning journalist has no reason to stay in Phoenix. She does not like yellow journalism and she can't write about the truth if she wants to live. She almost dies about 1500 times and her most common refrain is her sister would never understand her motivation for staying in a war zone. To tell the truth neither did I. And once she is tortured for hours, a few minutes later she shrugs it off and wisecracks. His atmosphere is ruined by the action movie characters.
The Water Knife is either an above average action thriller or a below average science fiction book that intends to say something meaningful. Bacigalupi was probably trying to write the second one, so it will go down as a missed opportunity. Rating - 3/5.
I am a huge fan of Paolo Bacigalupi and highly recommend him to all my friends. The Water Knife is no exception to that. I enjoyed this book from start to finish and felt that it does just enough to make it worth your time and money. The world building is sufficient and the dry post apocalyptic world is interesting and believable. The characters are good. The story and mystery is fun. I liked this book a lot but never loved anything about it. A good read, not a great one.
Joder, Bacigalupi, que oscuro eres y como me gustan tus historias. No sé si la novela es de cinco, pero a mi me ha gustado con esa intensidad. Sobre todo todo el pesimismo, la ambientación chunga, el realismo que desprende... A su favor también diré que hasta la última página no estaba segura de como acabaría, algo que dice mucho de Bacigalupi como narrador. Espero que sus próximas novelas tengan este nivel, pues me ha gustado mucho más que La chica mecánica.
In honor of the Water Knife being basically a near-future Western, I’m going to break my review down into the GOOD, the BAD, and the FUGLY (future ugly).
When I cast my mind back to Paolo Bacigalupi’s other more famous book, The Windup Girl, which I read about six years ago, I find what I primarily remember is not plot, the characters, or the writing, but the setting. Bangkok’s sea walls. The giant beasts being used to wind up energy coils. Calories as currency. Agricultural corporatocracy. Mutated GMOs running amok. For all its faults, The Windup Girl evoked a climate changed future in a way that I’d never encountered up to that point. It felt real and perilous and in many ways kind of wonderful and beautiful, like some glittering dragon rearing up, moments before it annihilates you with its fiery exhalation.
In The Water Knife, Bacigalpui’s talent for world-building remains intact. The book is set in southwest United States, in a future where drought has made water scarcity the prime issue of the time. Plumbing has become non-existent, so vehicular porta-potties called Jonnytrucks travel around, collecting people’s wastes so as to reclaim their water. Most people carry around a ‘Clearsac,’ which can filter urine on the fly. The wealthy elite either move north where there’s more water or live in Arcologies, these massive condo complexes designed to be self-sustaining with a genetically customized indoor ecosystem that is able to filter and re-use 99.9999% of water (I visualized them as something like the Opryland Hotel). The poorest, however, cluster around Red Cross sponsored Charity Pumps, where they can buy their water one liter at a time. It all seems real and well-considered, but whereas the world of The Windup Girl felt exotic and interesting, this one feels far more oppressive. Despair, thirst, anarchy pervades everything.
Meanwhile, the geopolitical landscape has changed considerably.
Texas has become all but inhospitable, so that the word ‘Texan’ is synonymous with ‘Refugee.’ In fact, the United States has become rather more like the ‘Dis-United States’, so that every state strives against every other state in a battle royale to secure sources of water. California, in particular, plays the role of the nemesis. It’s never really explained why, but they pretty much do what they want when it comes to water. Still, the Federal government looms over all, as a sort of boogeyman. It’s occasionally trotted out as this, “Well we individual states have to be careful to avoid OBVIOUS conflict – or else the federal government will send in the troops.”
Actually, this role of the Federal government is probably the weakest aspect of the plot, which involves a MacGuffin of the highest order. Basically, ‘legal’ access to water involves one entity demonstrating that it has ‘senior’ water rights. So if California can show that they have a ‘legal’ claim that predates Nevada’s claim to, e.g., Lake Tahoe, then they get first dibs on that water. Well, The Water Knife is set primarily in Phoenix, Arizona – which is running perilously low on water – and revolves around the discovery of some SUPER OLD & therefore ‘senior’ water rights. But in order for that to mean anything, there must be some larger federal apparatus to enforce them, i.e. the federal government. But we NEVER see the federal government in the book. EVER.
So the world-building – insofar as its ability to evoke a real and tangible culture of water scarcity – is great. But the world-building when it comes to believable, yet thrilling plot mechanics is a little less impressive.
The titular ‘Water Knife’ Angel: He’s an ex-con, so he’s um tough. Book constantly describes him as tough. Definitely a psychopath. But he’s very trusting? Well, not really. Selectively trusting. Are tough people trusting or are they cynical? He’s not really cynical though, not like other hardboiled protags. In some ways, he’s almost childlike. Rationally, he’s very clearly an evil person, but the book struggles to paint him in a sympathetic light. So… not sure.
Maria, the Texan teenager: She’s naïve. Except she’s got a friend & roommate, Sarah, who is Maria’s foil and is really naïve. So Maria is supposed to be clever. A survivor. But she follows up her cleverness with dumbness. She’s a teenager – even though I had to be told that she was one to realize it – and I think ultimately she’s meant to represent the corruption of innocence, or of the innocent worldview, anyway. But that’d be describing her role, not her character. So maybe she’s not naïve, but optimistic, and that optimism rots away throughout the book.
Lucy, the New England journalist: She’s a thrill-seeker in denial. And ummm… she has a dog? Yep, the author did actually use the ol’ “give a character a pet to make em sympathetic” trick. Classic! I’m tempted to call Lucy ‘brave’ but really she’s just stubborn, like a good journalist. Won’t let the story go, follows it to the end. She’s from New England (which still has water) but has sorta gone native since coming to Arizona to work. Ostensibly, she’s a force for good but doesn’t really stick by those convictions. So a realist maybe? But not really. Idealism motivates her pretty heavily. So… not sure again?
So I wouldn’t say the characterization is terrible. Certainly not Star Wars prequels quality, but I found it pretty lackluster. Angel, in particular, is wholly unsatisfying as the leading man. It’s really difficult to write a sympathetic psychopath, and I don’t think Bacigalupi succeeds. Angel comes across as inconsistent rather than complex. One minute he’s remorseless about condemning a whole city to death by thirst, the next he’s risking his neck to help out a rando stranger. One minute he’ll be highly paranoid, the next he’ll be in la la land. I found Lucy to be very bland and while I liked Maria, she’s involved in this whole gang subplot that ends up going nowhere.
I think that while Bacigalupi is a master at imagining and describing a milieu, he struggles to populate it with worthwhile characters.
The (future) ugly
If you’re just interested in the book, you can stop reading now, as this is about the reality of some of Bacigalupi’s ideas.
At first, I was tempted to talk about Climate Change and how perplexing I find it. Coz I mean, we’ve been having this debate about whether it’s “man-made.” But does that even matter? Not really. Fact: climate is changing. Fact: this changing climate is effing us up currently (see: death toll from heat waves in India) and is gonna continue to eff us up even more. We’ve designed our civilization to work within certain climate parameters, so it’s really not good if they change too quickly or drastically. So if humankind wasn’t already having an effect on the climate, then we better start having one. I mean it’s an EXISTENTIAL CRISIS. We could possibly GO EXTINCT. Maybe just maybe that’s not something we should mess around with?
But honestly, what’d be the point? If you don’t take it seriously yet, some rando guy talking about it in a book review isn’t going to have an effect.
Instead, let’s return to the idea of a Dis-United States because I want to ponder whether that’s a thing that’s possible. I’d say, Yes, it’s about as possible as Britain exiting the EU, and to explain why I want to talk about The Beatles! Yep, The Beatles.
When they played in 1965 at Shea Stadium, NY Times described it thusly, “…immature lungs [of their fans] produced a sound so staggering, so massive, so shrill and sustained that it crossed the line from enthusiasm into hysteria and soon it was in the area of the classic Greek meaning of the word pandemonium—the region of the demons.” Love that description.
I wasn’t alive back then, but my mother tells me that EVERYONE listened to The Beatles. Maybe not everyone went as wild as the above fans, but they were a cultural phenomenon. But it’s one that’s never going to be repeated because the way we find and access music has fragmented the musical landscape. There are so many sources to find your music – and so many ways for a band to monetize their sound – that now everyone can find a hundred different bands fitting their exact desired musical aesthetic. You (by which I particularly mean Americans) can get exactly what you want in music, and that’s true of everything else now. TV, movies, video games, news, type of food, social contacts, etc. We all get to be very picky. For example, there are between 600k to 1 million books published a year in the US. Meanwhile, in 1865, there were only something like 10k books published in France, leading to the cultural phenomenon of The Count of Monte Cristo, which was read by EVERYONE (in Paris, at least), much like The Beatles was listened to by EVERYONE.
So we’ve become accustomed to being able to have things our way, without needing to compromise. Well, why not government? Already anti-establishment politicians are growing in popularity throughout the western world. How long until we say, why bother with a federal government? They don’t fit me. I’ll stick with just my state and if I don’t like my state, I can move to a different one.
Before you scoff, consider some realities: there is a HUGE disparity between the amount of revenue that individual states provide to the Federal gov’t versus the amount of aid they receive from the federal gov’t. For example, in FY2012, Mississippi provided the second LOWEST revenue per capita at $3503 to the federal gov’t, yet relied the most on federal aid, with 45.3% of their state revenue coming from aid. Whereas in that same year, Connecticut provided the third HIGHEST revenue per capita at $13163, while ranking #46 for reliance on federal aid, with only 23.6% of their state revenue coming from aid.
Whatcha think is gonna happen when, say, Trump stops providing federal aid to California, and they go: OKAY LOL we’ll stop paying federal taxes then and federally dependent states like Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri, South Dakota, etc can go screw themselves. Combine this with the fact that the American Electoral System ‘punishes’ states that vote overwhelmingly one party or another: since Clinton won huge margins in many of her states (e.g. 61.5% of California vs. Trump’s 33.2%), America ended up in the awkward situation of its president actually losing the popular vote. All of this wrapped up with the neat little fact that partisanship is at an all time high. In 1960, just 5% of Republicans and 4% of Democrats said they would be unhappy if their children married someone of the opposing party. Today it is HALF – 50%!!! – of Republicans and a third of Democrats. In 2016, 45% of Republicans and 41% of Democrats said that the other side’s policies were a THREAT to the nation. Not just misguided. A THREAT.
So not only would I say it’s *possible* that the United States will fracture (dramatically or otherwise), but I consider it *probable*, especially as environmental and population pressures continue to increase.
In summary, The Water Knife is an easy book to recommend. It’s highly flawed, but it’s such a smooth read – and with such a thought-provoking setting – that even despite the flaws, the reading experience is a good one.