Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

First Line: There were stories in sweat.

The American Southwest is locked in never-ending drought. Water is more valuable than gold ever was, and lack of it has already killed Texas. Phoenix is in its death throes, but rumors persist that someone there knows about something that could save the city. 

Catherine Case, the "Queen of the Colorado," has become famous for making sure Las Vegas has the water it needs to stay alive-- or at least the part where the rich folks live. When she hears these rumors, she sends her best "water knife" Angel Velasquez down to Phoenix to see if there's any truth to them, and to ensure that-- if there is-- the only place that will benefit from them is Las Vegas. Water is life, and neither Catherine Case nor Angel Velasquez is squeamish about doing what it takes to remain alive and well.

I read The Water Knife while seated in my swimming pool in Phoenix, Arizona. We've been playing Russian roulette with water here in the Valley of the Sun, actually believing that this stretch of desert can support over five million people forever and ever, amen. The hammer is about to fall on that last, loaded, cylinder, and Paolo Bacigalupi has painted an all-too-believable portrait of the End of Days for the city I love. 

It's not a pretty portrait. It's a brutal one. Life is cheap. Water is what has value. Neighborhood after neighborhood is dead because there is no water to fill the pipes running beneath the streets and up into the houses. China has arrived to build "arcologies"-- tall skyscrapers that are marvels of recycling-- where the rich can live in the luxury of waterfalls, thick tropical foliage, showers, baths, pitchers filled with cool water.... The rest of the city has to fight to get enough to drink, and you can forget about being clean. That's a thing of the past. 

Bacigalupi places three main characters into this gritty, filthy, parched world: Angel, the Water Knife; Maria, the teenage Texas refugee; and Lucy, an investigative journalist who came to Phoenix and now calls it home. The one thing that they all must recognize is that it all boils down to water rights. Catherine Case knows this, and she's been successful in obtaining water rights for her city. However, Case is small potatoes to the real powerhouse in the fight for water: California. What are three of the "little people" going to do in this deadly fight? What chance do they have of survival? 

The Water Knife is cold-blooded and violent in its vision of the future, and the future is bleak indeed for anyone with old eyes. It's a story that made me feel guilty and uncomfortable and thirsty and in need of a shower. It's a story that I won't forget... even as I enjoy my swimming pool each and every day.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
ISBN: 9780385352871
Knopf © 2015
Hardcover, 384 pages

Dystopian Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.



  1. It sounds like a powerful read, Cathy. I think about this issue a lot, living where I live. It's not at all a trivial challenge, and it does make a person uneasy to contemplate it. Glad you thought this book handled it well.

    1. Yes, it did-- although some of the reviews I read of it after I'd finished mine thought it was too violent. What? People would actually kill for water? Perish the thought!

  2. I have read about this book on other blogs and am honestly a little scared to read it. It seems too possible. Water is indeed big news and a topic of interest for all the Southwest. That being said, we'd already had more than our usual amount of rain for the year by early June. Feast or famine. I probably need to read this, but I'd definitely need to be in the right mood. I'd probably also need to be in the midst of a cool, rainy winter.

    1. Probably a good idea, especially since our two states are in a heap of trouble in this book-- yours in particular and mine close on its heels.


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