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The Water Knife Paperback – April 5, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of June 2015: Three very different characters—an orphaned Texan teen marooned in Phoenix; the “water knife” Angel from Las Vegas who will break any law he needs to in order to pave the way for his boss to gain the water rights she wants; and journalist Lucy Monroe, who has adopted drought-decimated Phoenix as her own—thrust Bacigalupi’s near-future tale through violence and betrayal toward a blockbuster conclusion that could well be one of the best endings of the year. Murder and torture are everyday events in dusty Phoenix, which is loosely controlled by a sociopathic crime lord, a Chinese construction company that’s offering the only jobs in town, Californian interests, and Las Vegas’ shadowy water knives—former criminals and ex-military who enforce the water rights bought or extorted by their powerful boss. When a rumor surfaces of water rights so senior that they would trump all existing rights and give Phoenix a chance to bloom instead of continue its rampant slide into death by drought, the race is on to find the rights, and no one will survive unharmed. Bleak, troubling, and at the same time deeply hopeful as Bacigalupi’s complex characters define and defend their loyalties, The Water Knife delivers a final scene as unexpected as it is satisfying. --Adrian Liang--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
· Amazon.com, Best Books of 2015
· NPR Book Concierge, Best Books of 2015
· Kansas City Star, Best Fiction of 2015
· Paste Magazine, Best Fiction of 2015
“[A] fresh, genre-bending thriller. . . . Reading Paolo Bacigalupi's richly imagined novel The Water Knife brings to mind the movie Chinatown. Although one is set in the past and the other in a dystopian future, both are neo-noir tales with jaded antiheroes and ruthless kingpins who wield water as lethal weapons to control life—and mete out death. . . . Bacigalupi weaves page-turning action with zeitgeisty themes. . . . His use of water as sacred currency evokes Frank Herbert's Dune. The casual violence and slang may bring to mind A Clockwork Orange. The book's nervous energy recalls William Gibson at his cyberpunk best. Its visual imagery evokes Dust Bowl Okies in the Great Depression and the catastrophic 1928 failure of the St. Francis Dam that killed 600 people and haunted its builder, Mulholland, into the grave. . . . Reading the novel in 93-degree March weather while L.A. newscasts warned of water rationing and extended drought, I felt the hot panting breath of the desert on my nape and I shivered, hoping that Bacigalupi's vision of the future won't be ours.” —Denise Hamilton, Los Angeles Times
“[A] water-wars thriller set in the Southwest only a few decades from now. . . . While Bacigalupi's environmental message could not be more powerful, it's neatly embedded in a nonstop action plot, full of murders and betrayals, that should satisfy thriller readers who didn't even think they cared about these issues.” —Gary K. Wolfe, The Chicago Tribune
“Mr. Bacigalupi’s is the most thought-provoking of the recent apocalypses. It’s a very timely read for policy-makers, as well as anyone living in the threatened American West. That’s the thing about sci-fi authors: Some of them really mean it.” —Tom Shippey, The Wall Street Journal
“Residents in the southwestern United States enduring that water crisis will appreciate the precision with which Bacigalupi imagines our thirsty future. . . . Bacigalupi is a grim, efficient and polished narrator. . . . Our waterless future looks hot—and filled with conflict.”—Hector Tobar, The Washington Post
“Bacigalupi's characters are engagingly unpredictable, and his story blasts along like a twin-battery Tesla. The Water Knife is splendid near-future fiction, a compelling thriller–and inordinately fun.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A noir-ish, cinematic thriller set in the midst of a water war between Las Vegas and Phoenix. . . . Think Chinatown meets Mad Max.”—NPR, All Things Considered
“Paolo Bagicalupi's new near-future thriller arrives at a depressingly appropriate moment. . . . The Water Knife is a carefully constructed thriller, with elements ofChinatown and The Maltese Falcon. But the novel ultimately transcends its pulpier origins. Bacigalupi offers a carefully calibrated warning of what might happen if the US refuses to address global climate change and its own water-wasting ways. It's one we ignore at our peril.” —Michael Berry, Earth Island Journal
"These days are coming, and as always fiction explains them better than fact. This is a spectacular thriller, wonderfully imagined and written, and racing through it will make you think—and make you thirsty.” —Lee Child, author of Personal
"An intense thriller and a deeply insightful vision of the coming century, laid out in all its pain and glory. It's a water knife indeed, right to the heart." —Kim Stanley Robinson, author of Aurora
"Anyone can write about the future. Paolo Bacigalupi writes about the future that we're making today, if we keep going the way we are. It makes his writing beautiful . . . and terrifying."—John Scalzi, author of Lock In
"The Water Knife is an noir-tinged, apocalyptic vision of the near-future: What will the world be like, and how will we live in it? Bacigalupi already seems to live there. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down.” —Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble
“A fresh cautionary tale classic, depicting an America newly shaped by scarcity of our most vital resource. The pages practically turn themselves in a tense, taut plot of crosses and double-crosses, given added depth by riveting characters. This brutal near-future thriller seems so plausible in the world it depicts that you will want to stock up on bottled water.”—Library Journal, starred review
"The frightening details of how the world might suffer from catastrophic drought are vividly imagined. The way the novel's environmental nightmare affects society, as individuals and larger entities—both official and criminal—vie for a limited and essential resource, feels solid, plausible, and disturbingly believable. The dust storms, Texan refugees, skyrocketing murder rate, and momentary hysteria of a public ravenous for quick hits of sensational news seem like logical extensions of our current reality. An absorbing . . . thriller full of violent action."--Kirkus
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Top customer reviews
Bacigalupi has crafted quite a good story around the very present, very real quagmire of a privatized, interstate water rights market governed by nothing more than seniority and muscle. These laws are real and the consequences, if a bit dramatized here, are not that far off.
It was very easy to imagine this happening within the next century in the West. One wonders just how long a drought it would take before states upstream begin to cut into water reserves marked for downstream end users... Texan rice farmers irrigating fields of dry land where rice shouldn't grow. Mojave metropolii that never should have been built in the first place.
Unfortunately for the author, that close resemblance to our present day was a bit distracting at times. It may be a personal preference, but to read about Targets and REIs or publications like the Kindle Post and Google/New York Times would break the fourth wall for me. Didn't much care for that.
I particularly loved the mix and blend of cultures - Texan refugees, Mexican cartels, Chinese biotects and arcology experts - no group felt forced and all fit very nicely into Bacigalupi's mosaic of a world we know going down the drain.
Overall a decent read. Suffered from a few predictable character and story tropes which I won't spoil, but I enjoyed the "what-if" enough to digest it in less than a week.
"The Water Knife" continues Bacigalupi's ecological collapse stories, this time in an American Southwest running chronically short on water. California, Nevada, and Arizona are at each others throats for what remains of the Colorado River. Texas is already gone, 'Merry Perry' refugees trying to filter north and west while they pray for rain to bring their lives back. The Feds don't care, as long as the violence stays below a plausible level of deniability, but that level of deniability is pretty high. Legal action can deny a whole city water, well over a hundred people are murdered in an average week in Phoenix, and the book opens with the Nevada National Guard carrying out a helicopter assault on an Arizona pumping station (cue ride of the Valkeries).
The plot follows the interlocking stories of three people caught up a fatal game over some very very valuable water rights. Angel is the top water knife for Nevada's Catherine Case; a cold-blooded Mexican ex-gangster willing to cut anybody out so Las Vegas can keep drinking. Luck Monroe is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist riding #PhoenixDowntheTubes, knowing that Phoenix will kill her but unable to let go of the story. Maria is a teenage Texan refugee just trying to survive.
The setting is top-notch. The rich live in Chinese arcologies with perfect recycling and guarded and sealed entrances; the poor cluster around Red Cross wells in decaying suburbs. Apocalyptic dust storms roll across the sky, burying solar farms in drifts of Inland Empire topsoil. Bacigalupi nails the carnival-of-death atmosphere of a longterm refugee camp, the idea that the apocalypse might happen so slowly that we won't notice, until it all happens to fast to stop. There's a tension between Old Eyes and New Eyes, between seeing the world as it used to be (the United States of America, green lawns, law and order) and how it has become (drone strikes in cities, dust storms, plata o plomo for whole cities.)
This is some of the best, and most compelling near future ecological fiction being written. My main problem is that the character beats track too closely Bacigalupi's own "The Windup Girl": Here's the corporate hatchet man with his last scruple of humanity; here's the idealist who should run but can't; here's the innocent whore; this is when they fall in love despite themselves; this is when Murphy's Law proves supreme and social tension breaks; and fin. And unlike his last novel, in this one Bacigalupi goes with the Old Eyes. Who cares which side of a line in the desert you're from, or what Arizona promised some Indians 150 years ago. This is the now, and what matters is where your next sip of water is coming from, and who has to get cut so you can get it.