Pick of the Week: The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

water knifeThis is an adult dystopian novel that sits just too close for comfort to our current reality.  In the not-too-distant future, the water shortage in the American Southwest has led to all-out chaos: Texas has collapsed, militias guard state borders from refugees seeking shelter and water, and Las Vegas and California have developed almost military states to control scarce water sources.  Only the very wealthy can live in “arcologies,” lush, enclosed complexes protected from heat and drought with extended stores of water and sophisticated recycling procedures.  Outside these protected areas, there is lawlessness, murder and constant violence.  Phoenix, where most of the story is set, is a city in rapid decline.  Most of its residents live in shantytowns, buying water at market price from communal Red Cross pumps and living in fear of the local drug lords.  The main characters, Angel, a “water knife,” Lucy, a journalist, and Maria, a Texas refugee, find themselves unlikely allies in trying to stop a conspiracy that has major consequences for the population of Phoenix.  They both create and fall victim to the terrible violence and corruption that surrounds them, and it will take extraordinary strength for them to survive.

Photo by Liza Groen Trombi

Paolo Bacigalupi. Photo by Liza Groen Trombi

So much in this novel is believable that it had me thanking my lucky stars that I live in a Great Lakes state.  Technically, it’s science fiction, but it just felt like a terrific thriller to me.  Bacigalupi is a master world-builder, creating details so vivid you can imagine the scenes as though you’re present in them.  His characters, while not always sympathetic, are well-drawn and evolve right along with the story.  Atmospheric, gritty, and riveting, this book will draw you in till the very end — and probably make you rethink watering your lawn or taking long showers.

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