It’s the end of the world, again. This book was a recommendation on Goodreads after I finished Station Eleven. I can see why. If Station Eleven is the light and breezy dystopian novel, than The Water Knife is the dark, heavy cousin. We, as readers, are following three main characters around in this not-so-distant future dystopian setting. The water is running out and those who control it at it’s start can decide who gets water and how much. There’s Angel, like calling a tall man “shorty”,the spy/soldier who kills to keep his boss happy and the water flowing. Lucy, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, who has made her fight personal. Lastly, there’s Maria, a refugee who will do whatever it takes to get out and stay out. These three will have to work together if anyone is going to make it out alive.
Water has always been a scarce thing out in the West, and a drought can be life changing. California has been in the news constantly because they are running out of water. When they do get rain they have to worry about mudslides and other disasters. The Water Knife is a wonderful addition to the genre of Dystopian fiction because it doesn’t create a problem, or a disaster to set the stage. Paolo Bacigalupi has taken real headlines and world occurrences to a further point. He doesn’t stretch to the furthest point, i.e polar caps melting lead to Waterworld, but while reading this you can see how we could reach the current degree very easily. Bacigalupi has taken our world and simply looked forward into one of our possible timelines. It scares the readers and it leaves them asking the question: How do we stop this from happening?
There is absolutely no sugar coating in this story. It’s brutal and hard. Wonderfully written and gets inside your head, The Water Knife is a heavy book. You could finish it in one sitting but I would advise you to follow it up with something lighter. There is such graphic and vivid language that it is almost like being there. The worst of humanity is on display while any sort of goodness and light seems to be fleeting and far away. The women all seem to be used or threatened to be raped. The men are mostly all heartless and just out for themselves. There may be a lesson to be learned from that but I like to stick to my belief that the good guy will win and the bad guys get their dues. I am tired of women simply being used as fodder and I had hoped that the author would rise above that particular trope.
Bacigalupi has enormous skill and talent, The Water Knife pulled me in and would not let go until it was finished with me. He writes in a manner that shows in such detail that you could almost reach through the page and touch the scars and injuries of the characters. The combination of different languages and dialects came through and made it feel real, rather than a white washed version of disaster. The clear disdain for journalist who feed off of disasters and the quick turnover of the public’s reactions to our now common 24-hour news cycles, is obvious and surprising as he seems to do the same thing in this story with the graphic manner he describes the violence and then moves on to the next scene.
This book has left me highly conflicted. On the one hand, it is well written and will draw you in. The other hand being, that it is depressing and dark. If you can handle the heavy and the emotional drain of reading this book than you should go for it. I’m going to stick with borrowing this from the library but I don’t think this will ever be a book that I re-read for fun, or buy for myself.
Here’s a bit about the Author from his website: Paolo Bacigalupi’s writing has appeared in WIRED Magazine, High Country News, Salon.com, OnEarth Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. His short fiction been anthologized in various “Year’s Best” collections of short science fiction and fantasy, nominated for three Nebula Awards, four Hugo Awards, and won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best science fiction short story of the year. His short story collection Pump Six and Other Stories was a 2008 Locus Award winner for Best Collection and also named a Best Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly
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).